Samsung introduced some tablets at Mobile World Congress last night. I was there, I listened to the whole thing, and I can’t really tell you much about them other than they exist and they’re technologically advanced. What swept me up in real emotion, however, was the Korean company’s deal with German pencil maker Staedtler to issue an S Pen styled to look like a classic pencil. It was a simple implement of digital writing that immediately triggered a flood of awkward adolescent memories for me.
I’ve never found any great utility in Samsung’s S Pen or Apple’s Pencil, even while I recognize their technical brilliance, but I feel drawn to this digital pencil that’s built exactly like an analogue pencil because it’s so familiar and intuitive. Samsung and Staedtler call it the Noris digital.
The Noris digital is colored black and green, to differentiate it from the traditional black and gold Staedtler color scheme. Other than that and the obviously different tip, this thing’s indistinguishable from an old school, graphite-and-wood pencil. It’s the same size and weight, has the same Staedtler stripes, and using it feels ergonomically natural and immediate for anyone who grew up writing, rather than typing, notes in school.
The established modus operandi in the tech industry is to make new things look like they’ve arrived from the future. Just look at Sony’s extremely angular, reflective, and super-specced Xperia XZ Premium that was just announced here at MWC. But there’s also been a counter movement that seeks to make the latest tech feel more organic by enveloping it in leather and wood cases, as Moto did with its phones, or giving it a familiar design from the past. Sometimes, that latter effort is just for show, but when it comes to input mechanics, it often proves helpful and functional.
Fujifilm’s cameras are presently the favored choice of most photography enthusiasts, and their interface is distinctly physical, providing knobs, dials, and switches for every necessary function. It might not look as lean and futuristic, but it works better than something like Sony’s touchscreen-centric control schemes because it’s more suited for human use. I think the same is true of this Samsung-Staedtler S Pen. It’s double the length of a traditional S Pen and no device has a silo deep enough to accommodate it, but that extra size and the familiarity of its shape make me vastly more likely to use it than the original S Pen.
Samsung has yet to disclose specifics like pricing and availability for the Noris digital, but given the reaction it’s drawn from many people (beside myself) here at MWC, it will surely be a popular accessory to pair with any one of Samsung’s newly expanded range of stylus-friendly tablets or even its next Galaxy Note device.
Photography by Vlad Savov / The Verge