This pressure-sensitive stylus makes almost any iPad mimic the iPad Pro via the headphone jack

Kickstarter of the week: SonarPen

Do you have an iPad Mini or a regular iPad, and find yourself looking enviously at those moneybags show-offs with their fancy iPad Pros and Apple Pencils? This week’s Kickstarter not only gives your iPad a substantial upgrade but does so without breaking the bank in the process.

What is SonarPen?

Back in the days when Steve Jobs didn’t mince his words about styluses, and it looked like the iPad would never have the tools for serious artists, Hong Kong-based designer Elton Leung started working on the SonarPen. His third Kickstarter, Leung had previously created the XStylus for Nintendo DS and the XStylus Touch for the iPad. SonarPen though, is something different altogether, adding the kind of functionality previously seen in the iPad Pro – and doing so for just £21, and to iPads that don’t support the Apple Pencil.

“Around three years ago, when I was playing with the volume control slider on an earphone remote, I accidentally discovered a super simple smart stylus circuitry hidden inside the earphone all these years,” Leung tells me via email. That’s right, SonarPen connects to the iPad via the headphone jack – the very same port that Apple views as obsolete on its recent iPhones. “It’s really sad to see brand names moving away from such a good and open standard,” Leung laments.

But back to the SonarPen. Using the headphone jack, the wired stylus is able to replicate much of the Apple Pencil’s functionality including pressure sensitivity and palm rejection – and every Apple tablet is supported, aside from the very first generation iPad. Plus, unlike the Apple Pencil which is completely wireless, the SonarPen is wired so never requires charging.

“Both SonarPen and Apple Pencil are unique in their own way,” Leung says. “The Apple Pencil looks really nice, is easy to use and has the best compatibility with iPad Pro. On the other hand, SonarPen has the widest compatibility and doesn’t need recharging.

“The one obvious thing that Apple Pencil has over the SonarPen is the real pen-like narrow nib. However, for a lot of amateur artists who are cost-minded, the $29.95 SonarPen is the ideal drawing tool.”this_pressure-sensitive_stylus_makes_almost_any_ipad_mimic_the_ipad_pro_-_1

Because it uses the headphone jack, is there scope for SonarPen going beyond iPads and into Android-based tablets? “Yes, SonarPen is designed to work on iOS, Windows tablets and Android tablets that have a capacitive touchscreen,” Leung says – just not right away, for software reasons. “Due to limited resources, we are only able to create an SDK for iOS,” he explains. The higher customers’ Kickstarter backing, the sooner the SonarPen will work on Android and Windows.

Why should I care?

If you have an iPad Pro, you probably don’t. But if you have an older or cheaper iPad, this is a keenly priced way of getting to draw on your iPad, without needing to shell out for an expensive upgrade.

How much and when would I get it?

If you get in quickly, you can get a SonarPen for HK$195 – relax, that only translates to £18, around £3 lower than the RRP of £21. You can also get a pair of them for £24, should you need more than one for some reason.

Whichever option you pick, you’re looking at a delivery date of June 2018 – but if you really can’t wait, you can pledge £213 to have a prototype model sent right to your door, a week after the campaign is finished. Still, with 35 days to go, that’s still some time away…

Is there anything else like SonarPen out there?this_pressure-sensitive_stylus_makes_almost_any_ipad_mimic_the_ipad_pro_-_4

On one level, there’s plenty. The Apple Pencil, should you have an iPad Pro would be the obvious candidate.

But even with support for older iPads, styluses are nothing new. You can buy ten for under a pound on Amazon right now (though how good they’ll be is questionable.)

The SonarPencil offers a few things that are different: firstly, it’s wired, cleverly working through the headphone jack. Secondly, it’s pressure sensitive, allowing for delicate sketching that feels a bit more like paper – just like the official Apple version (and a few more expensive third-party styluses). Thirdly, it has some official app support. “Despite having a very good software engineer who has created a wonderful SDK for the SonarPen, the biggest challenge is still software related,” Leung revealed.

“When there are not enough users, the apps won’t support the stylus. And when there is no app support, users won’t buy the stylus. That why I am extremely grateful for the trust of the developers who supported SonarPen before the Kickstarter campaign.” Right now that includes Zen Brush 2, the water colour painting app, with others due to follow soon.

How risky is backing SonarPen?this_pressure-sensitive_stylus_makes_almost_any_ipad_mimic_the_ipad_pro_-_2

As ever with crowdfunding, there is no such thing as a guaranteed product. The end result may not be what’s promised, might never see the light of day, or might disappoint in another way. Only pay what you can afford to lose.

Concerns about official long term app support aside, SonarPen is a relatively safe bet in the world of crowdfunding. There’s a working prototype that can be seen in videos and has been tested by certain publications, and this is Leung’s third Kickstarter, with both the other two delivered on time.

It cleared its funding target in the first week, so you should be reasonably secure with your investment. That said, it’s best to back it based on what’s there now – iOS and limited app support – rather than features that may or may not emerge in the future: Android compatibility and universal app support.

Back SonarPen on Kickstarter

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