15 April 2016

Pogo Connect 2 with Sensu Brush

To their eternal credit, Apple has always catered to the creative crowd and delivered. While many of their products, physical and digital, come at a premium that waxes dealbreaker in the eyes of many starving artist types, the trade-off is an unparalleled ease of use. Obviously there's nothing written saying an artist cannot also be technically inclined or adept. It's a matter of reducing hurtles, red tape, and prep time. As much as labor and sacrifice are part of the creative process, the overall goal is still to have as little between the artist and their work as possible. If there are limitations to overcome, it's by the artist's choice and entirely on their terms. 
I liked drawing and painting on my Sony Xperia Z Ultra, especially in PSoft Mobile's Zenbrush, and using the Sensu brush stylus. It helped transition me from traditional media to digital better than an Wacom tablet had. It was portable, convenient, and surprisingly versatile. The downside to the whole setup, though, was I didn't have a lot of options, particularly in terms of hardware. 
The Sensu brush is a special case, the result of a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign to create a brush that could work with a capacitive touchscreen, no software or connectivity required. The trouble with Android is that there are few to no hardware standards, so anything made to work with an app has to either pick and choose which brands and models they're compatible with, or bank on Apple. It's why you'll see hundreds of different iPhone cases (often in bargain bins) but maybe a dozen other designs for maybe three or four specific Android models, such as the Samsung Galaxy, easily the only Android devices that can hold a candle to the iPhone in terms of versatility.  
Sensu not only makes their own stylus/brush combo, as well as a standalone brush with better ergonomics, but also an attachment for a stylus made by Ten One Design, the Pogo Connect 2. The company had a sale recently, so I couldn't help but spring for it. I hadn't yet taken advantage of the pressure sensitivity on my iPad mini 3, and this seemed a good way to jump in without breaking the bank. The device and its additional nib packs arrived in nondescript packaging, and rather vague instructions. It went through how to connect the stylus to the iPad by way of Ten One's app, pairing it via Bluetooth and adjusting pressure settings and nib style, but I had a moment of confusion on how to change out the nibs. I knew the tips were held in place by magnets, but they're deceptively strong, to the point I thought there was another step, like a locking ring or a release button. Fortunately, Ten One's website had a FAQ with that very issue explained. Still wish they'd put something in the instructions, instead of one page devoted to pairing and six pages to all the FCC/Wi-Fi security legalese. 

The R3 tip, the default nib for the Pogo, is big and chunky, bearing an uncanny similarity to the carpenter's pencil-inspired Fifty Three Pencil stylus. It works well enough for navigating menus when you're tired of dealing with fingerprints on your screen, but drawing feels like a soft, mushy crayon at worst and a big piece of chalk or charcoal at best. It might be useful if you're working with straight, point-to-point lines or any other drawing feature that favors a mouse. Otherwise, there's not much here to give the stylus a "must have" quality. If you're tempted to pick up a Pogo, expect to buy at least one of the extra nib packs. I got three. 

The R1 tip, touted as their fine point for its narrow 4.5mm diameter, is disappointment made solid. Basically worthless, the tip only registered on the iPad when pressed down hard enough to turn its fine tip into a rubber stamp. Despite much tweaking of the pressure settings in the app, neither tip in the pack could produce even remotely practical results. I can't imagine anyone using it for drawing, let alone note taking. I'll be returning mine, instead getting a backup Sensu brush tip. 

The Sensu brush tip (B3), which is what led me to the Pogo in the first place, redeems the device on every level, elevating it above passably mediocre. It worked like a dream in both Procreate and Zenbrush 2. I only wish the undo function had worked in Zenbrush 2 as well as Procreate. Rather than having to tap the screen or even flip the stylus over like Fifty Three's Pencil, a simple click of the Bluetooth button instantly erases the most recent stroke. This is immeasurably handy. It genuinely improves on the original Sensu design. While I love my Sensu to death, its portability comes at a price. Even at its full extension in brush mode, it's not very comfortable to hold, like a golf pencil. It's slightly off-balance and requires you to hold it fairly close to the head of the brush, which can be problematic if your app of choice can't offer any sort of palm rejection, so the slightest bump of a knuckle can ruin your otherwise perfectly flowing line. The Pogo, on the other hand, is a big, chunky thing (like its default nib), reminiscent of those primary pencils you had in elementary school, only lightweight like a Bic pen. I can genuinely relax my hand while holding it. That's a big plus. 

There are other brush tips (B1 & B2), made in-house by Ten One Design, but I have yet to try them out. Frankly, I'm not in a big hurry to try them out. I expect they'll perform well enough, as brushes are clearly the Pogo's strength. One issue that came up when I was organizing all the tips was storage. The R1 and R3 nibs are easy enough with their rubber tips and low profiles, but as a rule, brushes have to be stored carefully, lest you bend the bristles too far and get the head misshapen. You also have to consider taking them out and putting them back in, since its best to avoid touching the bristles. It's not a major issue as I don't intend to take Pogo on the go, instead favoring my Sensu, but I'd still be curious to see what others come up with as far as storage. I thought of an Altoids tin, but the magnets might make that tricky. 

While my overall impressions and experience with the Pogo Connect 2 is positive, I can't give it a strong recommendation without some qualifiers. The Sensu brush tip makes it a worthwhile purchase on its own, but the additional tips run the gamut of broken to uninteresting. The device itself is extremely well-built, with good battery life and even a nifty tracking feature to help you locate a misplaced one. If you're looking for a good, all-around versatile stylus for everyday use on your iPad or iPhone, this is not the one. If, however, you want a painterly experience or would like to upgrade your Sensu, the Pogo with the B3 tip is a great combination. Peanut Butter met Chocolate on this one. 
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