Adobe Ink and Slide review: Adobe stylus and app bundle doesn't quite justify its lofty price

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.7
  • Installation and Setup: 8.0
  • Features and Support: 7.0
  • Interface: 8.0
  • Performance: 8.0
Review Date:

The Good The Ink stylus is superbly designed and is one of the best feeling styli for iPad. The Touch Slide Trace and Stamp Packs are quite useful. Creative Cloud subscribers may also find the integration with Photoshop and Illustrator useful.

The Bad For what it offers, it's expensive, and despite working offline, you have to make sure you're logged in to Creative Cloud before you go offline.

The Bottom Line Adobe Ink is a very nice stylus, though $200 is a heavy burden to lay on the entire package's slight shoulders, and the apps are solid if not spectacular.

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Morphing from the more interestingly named Project Mighty and Napoleon, the Adobe Ink and Slide is the company's first attempt at hardware: a stylus and ruler that work with your iPad, plus a pair of apps that take advantage of their features.

Adobe refers to its Ink pressure-sensitive stylus as a "cloud pen", though in its initial incarnation at least the cloud connection seems rather underwhelming. Ink works in conjuction with Slide, which Adobe describes as a "digital ruler," and strikes me as oddly superfluous. It's almost as if the concept for Slide launched the whole development process, but after discovering it was unnecessary they felt compelled to make it a real product anyway.

At least at launch, the hardware will only be available in the US, where it will cost $200 (which converts to around £120 or AU$215). It'll reach Europe and Asia, including the UK and Australia, at some unannounced point in the future. And for now, it's all iOS only, in part because the overlap between Apple and Adobe fans is fairly large.

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The other half of the Ink and Slide package consists of two apps, Adobe Line and Adobe Sketch, both of which will be available for download -- with a Creative Cloud subscription, free or paid -- and those you'll be able to get outside the US. They're both drawing apps, though Line might be considered more of a technical sketch tool (albeit without numeric precision), whereas Sketch is a creative freehand tool intended for sharing sketches on the online portfolio site Behance.

Note that the hardware is really beside the point for Adobe -- the company doesn't want to be in the hardware business as much as it wants to inspire developers to hook into its software, and by extension, Creative Cloud. For better or worse, it's in the business of selling subscriptions. Ink and Slide are ultimately just proof-of-concepts to attract third-party hardware developers to create tools, along with the launch of Adobe's Creative SDK.

The hardware

Ink is an elegantly designed, pressure-sensitive stylus manufactured in conjunction with Adonit. (Ink and Slide sales go through its site.) Made of lightweight hydroformed aluminum with a triangular twisted barrel and a single button, flush with the surface, the stylus fit comfortably in my hand. Like the rest, it connects via Bluetooth 4, which limits it to iPads subsequent to the iPad 2.

On its end sits an LED that you can program to a custom color to identify your Ink out of the potential crowd of other Inks in your vicinity. Other setup options include palm rejection and a choice from six options to tell the apps which way hold the pen. (The latter is to perform parallax correction to more accurately represent where the tip is onscreen.)

inkandslide-43-charger-plus-endcap.jpg
Ink's endcap (inset) charges the stylus via USB. Sarah Tew/CNET

Ink's charger/carrying case is also quite cleverly designed, and when detached from the USB cable intended to be thrown into a bag or pocket. Adobe rates Ink as taking 1 hour to charge and runs for 8 hours of continuous use.

Most iOS styli use either a disc (like the Jot Touch 4) or large round rubberized nub (like the Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus) to combine multiple sensors in order to simulate pressure sensitivity on iOS. Ink's tip has a relatively fine 2mm point that's just a little bigger than a typical Wacom desktop stylus. It makes a big difference in feel -- less friction, more natural -- and feels very much like using a Wacom Intuos stylus.

While only Sketch and Line support pressure sensitivity (for the moment?), Ink will work with any app, with some caveats -- for instance, if you put it down it may go to sleep. But it otherwise worked well in several other apps, such as ArtRage iPad and Autodesk SketchBook MobileX. In fact, TopHatch Concepts actually recognized the stylus as an Adonit Jot.

You access a Pen Tip Menu in both apps by pressing the button on the barrel. It brings up your current color/access to Adobe's Kuler; a clipboard (you can copy sketches and drawings to Creative Cloud and paste them between apps); options for the currently selected tool; and sharing options for copying the image to CC, sending to Photoshop or Illustrator, the typical iOS sharing options, and Get Feedback (which really means share on Behance).

The pen tip has a tiny bit of memory to store a link to your account, but you still have to log in -- it doesn't store your credentials, which would be really useful, if insecure. It does store your palm preferences settings, and I successfully accessed one account's clipboard while logged in under another account.

The LED on the back cycles through colors as it's connecting to the cloud. It is kind of cool to use Send to Photoshop or Illustrator and have it magically launch those apps and open the file, though it's sending as a PNG rather than vectors, at least for now.

During testing, the menu was a little wonky -- sometimes it would come up and sometimes it wouldn't, and I had to shut down and reopen the app -- and it couldn't always access the Cloud Clipboard, though that may be an issue with my pre-mass-production evaluation version.

Slide is another story; it's essentially a dumb device, in that all it does is simulate two-finger contact with the tablet. In fact, the Touch Slide feature in both the supplied apps mimics its entire function, which is to summon and control a series of templates, from drawing aids like straight lines and basic geometic shapes (Trace Packs) to placing more complex forms (Stamp Packs) that the app automatically strokes on commit. Slide's button cycles through the various options in a selected Pack; tapping the concentric circles on Touch Slide does the same.

inkandslide-43-slidevstouchslide.jpg
Slide's functions (left) are completely replicated by Touch Slide, those two red circles under my left hand (right). Sarah Tew/CNET

It is true that Slide is a little easier to maneuver than the two-finger shuffle, but it also takes up valuable visual real estate on the drawing surface.

The apps

The apps are exactly what I've come to expect from Adobe's first-generation subscription-driving mobile products: they're somewhat behind the competition for anything that's not cloud-related. There's just enough to be useful, pique your interest, and allow you to create some very nice work, but because they're intended to fold into a product portfolio and an entire service they tend to be more feature-light than competitors.

For instance, neither one of them supports text. With the competitor app Concepts, by comparison, you can buy text support for $2. There's also only one drawing layer, whereas SketchBookX offers multiple layers. Both those apps also offer upgrade paths to more powerful versions.

Given the accusations of desktop-application-bloat historically hurled at Adobe, I can understand the desire to err on the side of lightweight mobile apps. It just feels like the company's product porfolio is becoming increasingly difficult to parse. I'm hoping that when iOS 8 ships and allows for more interconnectedness among apps, the sense of fragmentation may decrease.

Adobe Line

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Where to Buy

Adobe Ink and Slide

Part Number: CNETadobeInkSlide

MSRP: $199.99

See manufacturer website for availability.

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