The iPad is an incredible teaching tool. The hands-on feel is highly intuitive for young people. Plus, there are a deluge of apps that build on the same principles that more official teaching programs pioneered. For instance TouchMath  is a multisensory teaching and learning program for kids in preschool through elementary. The tactile system is intuitive and effective. The program works on Apple Computers but not iPad. Even so, the iPad enjoys a massive library of touch-based teaching tools to support the various ways children learn and thrive.

I know our daughter and other little ones have benefited from this more evolved brain-bending supplement. But now she’s older, more creative and looking to do things the way Mommy and Daddy do them. This is what fueled my expectations and is why I couldn’t wait to tear into the aPen A5 Smart Pen. It’s a sophisticated stylus which uses an included receiver so persons young and old can digitally doodle, handwrite letters (I know. Who still does that?), jot notes and so forth. For all the iPad’s laudable power and technology, one still cannot jot down a simple grocery list unassisted. So let’s see if the A5 Smart Pen can write me a prescription for what ails me.

The aPen A5 Smart Pen comes with the Apen stylus, battery, receiver, 3 Apen pen tips, a protective pouch and the Quick Start guide. Setup is a snap, literally. Just snap the A5 receiver into the charging port of your iPad. Assembly the Smart Pen stylus. Then launch the app Store application. Yup the Apen Smart Pen set only functions with supported applications. Currently available are IdealNotes, FlyNotes and Studio Basic Lite, which I promptly downloaded. The pickings are rather slim at present but the promise of more to come has been cast. For best results, you need to rotate your iPad so the charging port is at top. This is so the receiver can better communicate with the stylus for precision.

That’s certainly a good thing. The included stylus is comfortable enough, but the efficacy of the product is centered squarely on the shoulders of the applications. Sadly, not all apps are created equal. Both FlyNotes and IdealNotes offer simple enough note- taking, saving and emailing features, with varying colors, page types and line thickness. But I would never use either of these apps on a regular basis with the Apen A5 set. Even after calibration, my handwriting would always show up just to the right of where the pen touch the iPad’s surface. Highly disorienting. But what I liked even less is the noticeable delay. A few milliseconds after I write, it appears just off to the right of where I thought I wrote it. An update is desperately needed! I could probably get used to it. But why? The experience was frustrating and off-putting.

Studio Basic is a bit different. It’s definitely not replacing ink and paper but it works better and is more intuitive than the previous two. Studio Basic is also a pretty robust app in its own right. You can handwrite, draw and even import images to manipulate and draw over. It’s actually pretty slick and totally redeemed the Apen A5 set.

The Apen A5 Smart Pen set definitely works and works well with the right application. That lack of precision and the time delay render the unit too frustrating for some adolescents. So I would cross if off the kiddos’ Xmas and Bday lists. Moreover, until all that is worked out and more apps become available, I find it hard to recommend this one to anyone looking to pay homage to digital handwriting.

Editor Rating:

Rating: ★★½☆☆


Bottom Line: This a solid product that is gravely hampered by limited software support. We will try to check in again once the list app partners grows.


  • Neat and fun
  • Handy if using StudioBasic
  • Robust and Free Studio Basic app
  • Five different silicone earbud sizes


  • Limited by app sophistication
  • Few supported applications
  • 2 of the 3 available apps are subpar
  • Over priced

You can buy the Apen A5 Smart Pen set for $129.99.

Shawn Sanders

Shawn loves gadgets, literature, history and games. For 10yrs+ he's straddled both the comic book & video game industries, as a writer, editor, marketing officer & producer. Shawn got his start in tech & games as an editor & Hardware Director for More notable accomplishments include Executive Producer on mobile games Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved & The Shroud.