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Ink and Slide: Adobe’s new cloud connected stylus review

Yesterday I was invited to join Adobe at Lincoln Center for their Creative Cloud event to announce the functionality that was released for the latest version of Creative Cloud. They also announced that their first foray into making hardware which had been known as Project Mighty had been moved out of the testing stage, the stylus had been renamed Adobe Ink, the ruler had been renamed Slide and they were on sale on Adobe.com.  I was lucky enough to get my hands on one of the first sets and since I am constantly in search of the perfect stylus wanted to put it through its paces to see if it is worth the $199 price tag.

UNBOXING

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When you get the box for Ink and Slide you immediately notice that Adobe took the time to take a page from apple’s playbook and did a lot of thinking about the design of the packaging and how the product is presented when you open it.  You have to slide off a paper wrapped that keeps the clamshell box closed. When you open the box you will find Ink and Slide sitting on a dark grey plastic tray and makes for a suitably dramatic reveal. Lifting the tray reveals another tier which holds the charging case and USB cable for Ink and a tiny quick start manual that feels very out-of-place for such a high-tech device. You then have to go through and pull off a number of clear plastic wrappers that protect the devices for shipping.

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INK IMPRESSIONS

When you pick up the devices you notice that they haven’t changed much since it was debuted at Adobe MAX last year. They’re still wrapped in aluminum with white plastic accents that give them a premium feel and make them look like they belong to the Apple family of accessories. The case for Ink serves as a case and the stylus magnetically attaches to the cap where you can attach a micro-USB for charging and an LED band around the cap shows you its status. It takes the pen about an hour to full charge up if it is completely dead and they say you should get about 8 hours of work per full charge. It is a simple thing but I LOVE that it is rechargeable because I was using a Jot Script that ran on a AAA battery. This meant that I had to carry around spare AAA batteries in my backpack in case the pen died like the old days when I used to have a Walkman or Discman and it was just a pain in the butt.

Using the Ink stylus you come to appreciate the triangular shape and that there is a slight twist as it moves from the top to the bottom of the pen. It feels much better in your hand than the normal round stylus and gives you more to grip so it is easier to control the pen as you draw with it. The button that sits near the bottom of the pen is used to access tools and the Creative Cloud functionality within the Adobe companion apps. I have found myself having to stop, look down at the pen, locate the bottom, rotate it to have the button facing up and then go back to work more times than I would like. If the button was either a little larger, made out of a different material or was a different color it would be easier to see and feel when you are lost in drawing something.

The tip of the stylus is similar to the ones I have used on other stylus from Jot which are about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen. I think they are the best ones of any stylus I have used as they are small enough that they really give you a great level of control and the feel of drawing with a real pen. Ink also has Adonit’s Pixelpoint technology that allows for the pen to have thousands of levels of pressure sensitivity which really help it recreate the feel and responsiveness of a real pen.

SLIDE IMPRESSIONS

The companion Slide digital ruler is interesting and I have found myself using it a lot more than I thought I would. It is about the size of a pack of gum and I was surprised to find that it doesn’t require any connectivity to your device or batteries. When you put Slide done on any of the companion apps like Adobe Line the app will recognize it and display rulers you can use to draw with. Slide also has a concave button on the top which you can use to toggle through different options depending on the app it is being used with. I had worried that its glossy feet would slide around too much, making it hard to hold in place while drawing but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it can be moved around but it doesn’t move when you apply pressure. The only thing I don’t like about Slide is that it has to be loose in my bag and can’t be attached to the Ink case. I know it is a small gripe but to have such a nice case for the stylus and then nothing for the ruler just feels weird and I find myself constantly worrying that I am going to lose my Slide since it is so small and slick.

SETUP

I was really surprised at just how easy it was to pair Ink with any of Adobe;’s companion apps. You just have to turn the Bluetooth on in your device, launch one of their apps, turn on Ink by holding down the top button for a few seconds, touch on the pen icon at the top of the app and then just hold the pen on the target to pair the pen. Once it is connected you can pick a custom color which Ink will light up and display on top of the pen so you don’t get it confused with another pen, you can name your pen, set up your dominant hand, add your favorite Kuler themes and more. Once you have all of this setup to make the pen feel much more personal and it does start to become something much more than just the stylus I have always been used to. I can also see how it could become a powerful Trojan Horse for Adobe to get designers much more invested into their ecosystem by getting them invested in using color palettes in Kuhler, sharing your work seamlessly on Behance and storing assets in Creative Cloud.

Adobe has also done a really nice job is a series of video tutorials that walk you through everything you need to know about the Ink and Slide (you can watch them here).

2 BIG PROBLEMS

So while I really have loved working with Ink and Slide there are two big problems that I think may keep it from finding widespread adoption in the creative community.

The first thing hasn’t been talked about very much and is that Ink and Slide cloud functionality and Bluetooth connection will only work with 4th generation iPad hardware. I think this is going to lead to a lot of really pissed off customers who buy the hardware only to find out that the really cool stuff will not work with their iPad and they just overpaid for a stylus.

That leads me to the other big problem which is the price.  At $199 Ink and Slide are easily 3 times more expensive than any other stylus I have ever owned . If I’m being really honest if I hadn’t been given the hardware I really doubt that I would have purchased it because the price point is just too high.  While the functionality in great, I don’t think that they can really say that the Creative Cloud functionality is worth paying 3 time more than everything else and tI think it is going to keep a huge number of designers from buying it.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I am torn about my final thoughts on Ink and Slide because I really love using it but if I had to spend my own money I doubt I would own it. That should really worry Adobe because I am a senior designer who makes a good living so I am the heart of their target audience who could afford a luxury like this. It is also sad because I think that Ink has huge potential to bring something really different and to mobile creativity through the Adobe Creative Cloud integration. Adobe needs to find a way to lower the price or strengthen the value proposition if they want it to be successful.

I also can’t help but point out that I’ve said things like this in past about other Adobe products and features which leads me to my final thought and ultimate fear. Adobe can’t act like Adobe always does where they launch a big new product, tell us that it is the future, tell us that they really believe in it and then a year later it is nowhere to be found. They have to start treating their products like real products where they are given the time to evolve, to grow up and when the ideas need to be changed then they have to figure out how to evolve that product or feature instead of just abandoning it. Only time will tell if Ink really is the first step down a new path for Adobe and I really hope it is but I’ve been burned by that hope before.

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