We've talked about the Nomad Brush before -- it's a capacitive paintbrush stylus that's designed to be used on a touchscreen canvas, letting you paint across your iPad's (or iPhone's, though the size of that screen makes it a little tougher) touchscreen with your favorite art-making app. Now, Nomad has introduced a new brush they call the Flex, which has a new synthetic brush tip to use, and comes in what seems to me like a slightly longer size (though that may just be my bad memory). The Flex is available to the public starting this week, and Nomad kindly sent a couple along to TUAW for us to try out and review.
In short, the verdict is that this is just another tool for aspiring artists to use. If, like me, you can't draw much more than a stick figure with a smiley face, a house and some of those M-shaped birds, then the Flex won't make you a much better artist.
It might make you feel like one, at least, because the brush's capacitive tip does respond quite well to the iPad's screen. I used the Autodesk Sketchbook app to do some test painting, and when I first started, I mashed the brush down on the screen like a standard stylus, pressing it in and then swiping it around. With a little bit of practice, though, I found that the brush would register on the screen at even the slightest touch, so that when I stopped thinking about it as a stylus and started thinking about the interaction as paint on a canvas, it actually worked fairly well. Again, I have zero experience with real painting outside of what I did in kindergarten, but I do get the impression that in the hands of someone who knows how to wield a paintbrush, the Nomad Flex would be very useful.
As I discussed with the Nomad's makers earlier this year, there are a few drawbacks to a brush like this. First, Nomad itself doesn't make a painting app to work with the brush: They recommend a few, but you're essentially using third-party apps of your own choice, and those each come with certain issues and features of their own. Painters used to blending colors and the physical properties of paint may obviously find problems with digital painting apps, and the paint on screen may not move around they're used to seeing paint on canvas move.
For someone already used to holding a paintbrush while making art, however, the Nomad Flex seems like an excellent tool. I do have one hitch, actually. In Sketchbook, you will sometimes need to just touch on the screen for the app's UI, in order to change around the brush's color, for example, or switch up your brush's width. I instinctively turned the Nomad brush around, thinking that there'd be a capacitive stylus on the opposite end of it. But no dice -- the brush ends in what seems like a metallic stub that could tap on or even crack your screen if it hits hard enough. It seems to me like a no-brainer to turn the other end into a standard stylus, but Nomad hasn't done that for some reason.
Just for the heck of it, I also tried using the Flex for something it's not designed for: Playing the great line-drawning game Jack Lumber. I scored fairly well in the level I played, but I have to admit that by the end of it, I preferred the familiar feeling (and responsiveness) of dragging my finger across the screening. Painting with the brush allows you to be a little more expressive, but games, it seems, are designed for a good old hand-attached digit.
That silliness aside, the Nomad Flex is a great stylus paintbrush, and if you're a painter who prefers swiping some fibers across the screen rather than your own finger, at $29.99, I would definitely recommend trying it out for sure.