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Stylus lets you 'touch' normal screens, except when it won't

Is the pen as mighty as the touch? The Touch8 Smart Pen being shown here at CES 2013 is a stylus that works on non-touch screens, but it's not a pen without problems.

Seth Rosenblatt Former Senior Writer / News
Senior writer Seth Rosenblatt covered Google and security for CNET News, with occasional forays into tech and pop culture. Formerly a CNET Reviews senior editor for software, he has written about nearly every category of software and app available.
Seth Rosenblatt
2 min read
The Apen Touch8 Smart Pen brings touch to non-touch screens -- when it works. Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

LAS VEGAS--Apen's Touch8 Smart Pen is a soft-tip stylus that gives non-touch-screen Windows 8 computers the power of touch. It's a great idea, but it can't quite leave its mark.

The idea is clever. Instead of missing out on touch functionality on an otherwise high-end system that lacks a touch screen, pick up an $80 USB dongle and its connected pen to bring that touchless monitor into the future. There's no word yet on when it will be available.

The Touch8 Smart Pen works on desktop monitors and laptops of up to 17 inches and doesn't require additional drivers, so setup is uncomplicated. The Smart Pen itself connects to a small box that clips onto the side of your monitor, which reads the pen's contact with the screen.

After connecting the box to your computer via USB, you must calibrate the pen by touching four crosshairs on your screen. From there, touching the soft-tip of the pen to your monitor will have the same effect as using your finger on an actual touch screen.

At least, that's how it works in theory. When I tested it this morning, even recalibrating the pen didn't fix problems it had accessing the Charms bar on the right edge of Windows 8, and it worked only about half the time on the apps bar on the left edge.

The pen has other problems, as well. The soft tip that I tested ensured that the monitor wouldn't get scratched, but it also made precision a challenge.

The pen could learn a trick or two from Wacom, too. The drawing tablet-maker's stylii have had mouse buttons on them for years. The Touch8 Smart Pen doesn't, so every time you want to use the mouse you have to put down the pen. It's an annoying extra step that negates much of the pen's utility.

I like the idea of bringing touch-screen functionality to older monitors that are otherwise in excellent condition, especially through a low-cost USB device, but the Touch8 Smart Pen lacks the right...well, touch.

Updated January 24, 2013, at 3:30 p.m. PDT: Although the Touch8 Smart Pen is made by Apen, the company is not licensed to sell it outside of Japan. Targus sells the same device in the U.S. and elsewhere.