Reviewed by Louise Totton
ApPen is a stylus that connects to a tablet or smartphone, combined with a dedicated app, and marketed as an educational tool to help early writers learn pen control, letter formation and counting skills.
Firstly, the app can be downloaded and used for free from the AppStore by anyone, but the full functionality can only be accessed by owners of the stylus. My first impressions of the product were very positive, it was packaged nicely, none of the excess packaging that many kids’ toys seem to have these days and stylus felt substantial. My daughter (aged 4) had seen the ApPen advertised on TV and so was really excited when she opened the box, she wanted to use it immediately.
Initially, we struggled to download the app, it took nearly an hour to download from Apple’s AppStore, although this may have been an Apple issue it was irritating to say the least with an excited 4 year old. However, once it was downloaded, we calibrated the stylus to the iPad (worked first time and was really simple to do), and my daughter was able to start using the product immediately.
She really enjoyed the drawing part of the app. There were a really good number of different drawing tools, effects and colours for her to use. The stylus is pressure sensitive, so the user can control the thickness of the line drawn by varying the pressure used. For the most part, this function works well and my daughter really enjoyed being able to do this, it certainly engaged her and kept her interest.
Moving on to what (for me as a parent) was the most important part of the product – letter formation and pen control. The stylus is much fatter than a normal pen, and whilst this makes it easy for small hands to grip, it doesn’t teach a natural ‘pen hold’ grip, and I think this is something that possibly needs addressing, it was quite awkward for small hands to hold ‘properly’. It also has to be plugged into the headphone jack, and we did find the wire got in the way somewhat.
There are two stages to the letter tracing section of the app, one with a broad line for beginners to trace and a narrower line for children as they become more skilled in controlling the pen. The visual cues were great, showing the child where to start the letter, and highlighted the path the stylus should take to correctly form the letter. My daughter followed this really well and enjoyed doing it greatly. HOWEVER there were two huge failings with this tool that could very easily be addressed by ApPen but that have stopped me allowing my daughter to use it until they are fixed.
Firstly, the app only uses capital letters. As an experienced early years teacher, I would never teach child uppercase letters first. Lowercase letters form the vast majority of our writing, children will mostly be forming lowercase letters in school and I want my children to learn to write, not to print.
Secondly, the formation of a number of the uppercase letters is not correct. Specifically, the J and I show the ‘hat and feet’ on the image to trace, but when children form the glyph, these parts are missing. They look like they should be there, but the app will not allow them to be added. This is rather confusing, because whilst they aren’t always used in text, they are correct, children will be taught to add them in school and the fact that they are shown but can’t be traced over seems rather a large oversight.
So, what is my overall view of the product? It’s a fantastic idea, the stylus itself is sturdy, pressure sensitive and my daughter loved using it. The app was engaging and she wanted to keep playing with it, so very positive from that point of view. The software just needs fixing. Lowercase letters are absolutely essential, as is correct and consistent letter formation. If this can really be considered an educational aid. If these problems could be fixed, and I imagine this would be a pretty easy fix, this would be a fantastic product. As it stands, I can only give 3/5. If the above issues were fixed, it would 4.5/5.
Suitable for ages 4 years +
Available to buy from www.flairplc.co.uk.