Adonit’s Note-M iPad stylus arrives with built in mouse functions, teaching you a trick or two about multitasking

Adonit’s Note-M iPad stylus arrives with built in mouse functions, teaching you a trick or two about multitasking

Tools October 08. 2020

For this review, Adonit was kind enough to supply digitalEPIGRAPHY an Adonit Note-M.

The Note-M’s lightweight, rounded body provides a balanced grip for the user. The rear is flat preventing the stylus from rolling off your desk.

Until a couple of days ago I had rather conflicting feelings about Adonit’s latest iPad stylus, the appropriately named Note-M. The “M” moniker is supposed to stand for mouse, and indeed, the novelty here is the combining of a computer mouse with an iPad stylus. When you think about the concept, you might either go with “this is a genius idea” or “why would I need that”?! Or, in my case, both. On the one hand, now, with iPadOS’ full mouse/trackpad support, it is only natural for accessory makers to move into this space. It is also hard to say no to the promise of multifunctional devices, especially when the alternatives tend to get lost because of their size. On the other hand though, it is quite conflicting to interact with a touch screen using a stylus, your finger and a mouse – all at the same time. 

It is undeniable that Apple’s approach to its entire tablet line is still touch-first. Their whole software ecosystem is built around this principle. Nonetheless, a stylus is far better suited for creating digital art, sketching out ideas, writing handwritten notes or, more recently, entering text within input fields using Scribble. Creative professionals, our colleagues among them, already appreciate the iPad Pro for its capacity to act as a portable design/drawing tool running professional apps, such as Procreate, Adobe Fresco, Affinity Designer etc. However, when a keyboard and a mouse is added, this digital canvas is suddenly transformed into a laptop-like device, making it much easier to accomplish complex tasks, such as photo editing, text input/editing, file management, or browsing the internet for that matter. Here is where the Adonit Note-M steps in, supposedly transforming our creative life by offering a 2-in-1 solution, acting either as a basic stylus or a mouse whenever one is needed.

The pen arrives in a minimalist box containing only the stylus, the user manual and a short charging cable.

An iPad stylus for your basic drawing needs

It is important to mention right away that the Note-M is a non-capacitive drawing device, therefore it is not compatible with Android phones and tablets. The pen is about the same size and weight as the Apple Pencil, it measures 112 x 166 mm and 15 grams to be precise. It has a nice grip, thanks to the smooth, cylindrical body, making it comparable to using a regular ballpoint pen. Just like with the Apple Pencil (and similarly to most of Adonit’s other options in their portfolio), there is no clip, extra nibs or tip protector included in the box. You’ll find only a short USB-C charging cable but nothing else. Luckily, the cone-shaped tip is replaceable, Adonit asks $14.99 for a pack of three. As can be seen below, the Note-M’s pointy tip (about 1mm) is also comparable to Apple’s stylus, giving you a lot of control for fine tuning your sketches and digital pencil drawings. Indeed, this nib allows for quite precise line placement and has a little more friction than Apple’s own solution, which is a welcome improvement considering the attention needed for our work both at the monuments and in the studio. 

The Note-M is a fine point Apple stylus using replaceable tips that provide extra friction and more control over line placement.

Unfortunately, it is not all good news for digital artists, as the Note-M doesn’t support pressure sensitivity or tilt support, therefore you won’t be able to change the shape, thickness or intensity of your brush strokes purely based on pen movements. This might be a letdown for graphic designers and digital artists wanting to paint on their iPad. However, it might not be a dealbreaker for the type of archaeological illustrations required by your epigraphic projects. Also, don’t get misled by the buttons arranged along the barrel of the pen. Although these rockers might look like the shortcut buttons typical of Wacom styli, there is nothing to get excited about as they cannot be remapped or customized to function as hotkeys. In this regard, the Note-M appears somewhat bareboned compared to Adonit’s other professional pen, the excellent Note Plus which digitalEPIGRAPHY reviewed back in January. Essentially, the Adonit Note-M is no more than a fine-point alternative for your finger; however, it very much excels in that regard.

The Adonit Note-M attaches to the latest iPad Pros by magnets; however, it doesn’t allow for wireless charging. 

Prominently, when drawing, digital ink appears instantaneously and there is a well-executed palm-rejection on board, giving you the freedom of drawing without the extra worry of altering the lines with your palm. It doesn’t have to be paired with the iPad either, it just works right out of the box upon first contact. All and all, the Note-M excels both at note taking and drawing alike, as long as you can make do with the lack of customization. I could get around 9 hours of continuous use between charges, which is plenty to last through an average studio day. 

Adonit’s latest stylus can be the ideal inking companion if you use your iPad as a Wacom replacement for your studio.

A mouse for everything else

When you turn the pen around, you’ll find an optical sensor (substituting the usual eraser button / charging port) morphing your average stylus into a funky, but surprisingly capable mouse. This function is activated by pressing the mouse button on the side, that is the one closest to the sensor. Once paired with the iPad over Bluetooth (by long pressing said button until the blue light starts blinking), hovering this end of the pen around can pretty much provide control over iPadOS’ brand new cursor. The optical sensor works on any surface and even at a distance of about five millimeters, although, the cursor becomes harder to control over uneven planes. 

Buttons and features on the Note-M: mouse button (top left), replaceable pen tip (top right), optical mouse sensor (bottom left), power/stylus button (bottom right).

At first, the ergonomics of using the M as a mouse appear rather non-trivial, especially in comparison with a traditional mouse. The “mouse” rocker (conveniently placed at your fingertip when the pen is flipped around) is used for navigating mouse functions. The two sides are utilized as regular left and right mouse buttons, while sliding a finger up and down on its touch-sensitive surface imitates the scroll wheel functionality. Being more of a trackpad-type person, I haven’t used a mouse in ages, so there was no muscle memory to overcome using the Adonit Note-M as my main iPad control. Nonetheless, I can see a certain learning curve in order to master the pen as your tracking device, especially with its distractingly fast movement. Luckily this factory setting can be easily toned down by adjusting the scroll speed slider on the iPad (Settings / Accessibility / Pointer Control / Scrolling Speed).

How do you hold a pen that is a mouse?! A pen-like grip comes first in mind, but a little experimenting is recommended.

While a mouse is typically held in your palm gripped by your fingers, the Note-M supposedly needs to be held like a regular pen while the mouse button is operated by your index finger. I found this position to be slightly awkward as one needs to hold the pen at a certain angle to control pointer movement. What I quickly learned though was that once I set it flat on my desk, it could function as a regular mouse (although a rather skinny one…) with the barrel’s flat area locking in the position and the mouse button appearing right on top, exactly where I’d want it to be. Either way, the Note-M is awkward to operate for long sessions and can’t replace a regular mouse for a busy office day.

That said, the M is still a fully functioning mouse replacement, but - just like with the stylus function – it doesn’t particularly excel at this capacity. My question all along my short time testing the device was that in what type of iPad-specific situation would I prefer using a mouse instead of a stylus or my fingers. Obviously, when drawing at the monuments I lean over my iPad hovering my fingers mere centimeters above the screen so I can operate the iPad through touch input. Including a mouse or keyboard in my field workflow would defy the purpose of using the iPad on the first place. 

Photoshop tethered to the iPad Pro by Astropad Studio is an ideal playground for a 2-in-1 device, as switching between tablet and Mac happens on a regular basis.

However, when I work on the iPad in my office, I do rely a lot on keyboard and mouse support, especially when executing shortcuts or editing photo backgrounds. There is always the option to quickly attach the tablet to Apple’s excellent Magic Keyboard which has a built-in trackpad. Nonetheless, there is one area where Adonit’s 2-in-1 solution could work exceptionally well, and that is when Photoshop is tethered to the iPad. I personally still use Astropad Studio for this particular setup; however, Sidecar also does a fine job extending the desktop canvas to Apple’s tablet. 

Simultaneously interacting with desktop and tablet, using the Adonit Note-M

During my short test period I found the Note-M performing really well as an occasional mouse for the Mac, especially when I already have the stylus in my hand drawing on the iPad. As I said before, this is not a long-term solution for getting everything done in the office, nonetheless, a considerable one if you do a lot of drawing and office work on your devices. If you use the Adonit Note-M exclusively as a mouse, you can get up to five hours from a single charge. As said before, the pen can’t draw power directly from the iPad, instead, it is charged through the USB-C port, found on the barrel. There is a short USB-A to USB-C charging cable included in the box but any modern USB-C cable (including the iPad Pro’s own) can do the job. A full charge takes about 60 minutes.

Adjusting the Note-M’s tracking and double-clicking speed in your Mac / iPad setting is essential for mastering the pen as a mouse.

Conclusion

The Adonit Note-M works with a wide range of Apple tablets. It is compatible with the 2018 iPad, iPad Air (3rd Generation), iPad mini (5th Generation), iPad mini (5th Generation), iPad (6th/7th Generation) and iPad Pro (3rd/4th Generation, 11-inch and 12.9-inch). In order to use Adonit’s latest pen, your iPad is required to be running iOS 13.3 or above. Adonit also built a Windows version for the Microsoft Surface, called the Adonit Ink-M, offering the exact same features as their iPad version.

At $79.99 the Note-M is a cheaper alternative to both the Apple Pencil for iPad ($99) and the Apple Pencil for iPad Pro ($129), while considerably more expensive than Adonit’s regular Note ($49.99) which is attributed with the same stylus features sans the mouse function. If you’re using your iPad for drawing but don’t think that having pressure and tilt sensitivity is essential to your documentation work, the Note-M might be a serious contender to being your iPad stylus. Additionally, with a simple flip, you can transform this pen into a makeshift mouse for your office chores on the go or hybrid studio projects requiring both an iPad and a Mac. Alternatively, you can also make use of it if you connect a keyboard to your tablet but don’t want to invest into Apple’s pricy all-in-one solutions. 

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Written by Krisztián Vértes

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