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Once upon a time, touch screen devices were (gasp) new, and all came with a stylus. There was no tolerance for finger prints in those days. Alas, the iPhone came along and spoiled all that with an alternative technology – capacitive touch screens. These screens responded to electrical contact with human skin, instead of requiring pressure from a pointer as the old resistive technology required.
Clearly, recent history showed that this type of interaction had a massive appeal with consumers around the world and now forms the blueprint for all smartphones. It’s understandable; most geeks grew up watching “Star Trek: The Next Generation” where glass displays were all over the star ship Enterprise. It’s funny how Star Trek never showed the crew members who had to wonder around cleaning all the glass though!
Yes, even though we can directly interact with the data on our screens, there is always finger juice to be cleaned up afterwards – bring back the good old stylus!
That’s where Proporta’s Dibber stylus comes in, which I’ve been testing after they kindly offered one to me for review.
If you look on Proporta’s website, you’ll see a zoo of Dibber styluses for difference phones. However, I believe this is just marketing and that they are all indeed the same product. For example, I asked for the Nexus One branded Dibber, but its packaging still featured an iPhone. Indeed, there’s no such thing as a device specific stylus – if there was we’d need different fingers for each smartphone!
The stylus is simply a metal tube with a plastic clip (for securing to a shirt pocket), and the other end is tipped with the magical capacitive tip. Having only used resistive styluses before, it was a surprise to find this had a semi-spherical soft tip.
Part of the advantage of using the old type of stylus was that a hard point was much more accurate than a fingertip or fingernail. However, capacitive screens are made to understand the signal pattern from contact with a squishy human fingertip, and so this stylus simulates that.
That’s not to say the Dibber isn’t more accurate than a finger. I particularly noticed the difference when typing on Symbian’s portrait QWERTY keyboard which is notoriously pokey and narrow.
Scrolling, however, is a different matter. Because you have to simulate a finger press, I found that you have to press the Dibber down quite hard and then drag (rather than slide) it across the screen. There’s a fine balance of pressure to achieve here, because if you press too lightly, touchscreens misinterpret your movements as a tap, but if you press too hard the friction makes dragging too slow. I also found that if you already have an ample dose of finger grease on your screen, the Dibber’s electrical contact with the screen can sometimes be intermittent.
To be honest, it’s probably easier to just use your finger. However, I have come across cases where older people have trouble making a consistent contact with a capacitive screen, and so something like this can be helpful, even though it’s marred by the issues mentioned above.