Beyond Ink Pen Review: Stylus, storage, and battery in one

Is there a reviled-to-riches story quite like that of the stylus? Once a mainstay of smartphones, only to be made a laughing-stock by Steve Jobs and then, ironically, rebooted as the Apple Pencil, the humble pen has been on a peripheral rollercoaster. Enter, then, Beyond Ink's take on the stylus, part smartphone peripheral, part James Bond-esque gadget.

$70 seems a lot to spend on a ballpoint pen, but the twist-to-retract Lamy nib is the most mainstream of Beyond Ink's talents. Unscrew the tip, and you can replace it with a spongy, rubber-ended stylus cap for use with a capacitive touchscreen.

Scale down your expectations from Apple Pencil, Surface stylus, or Samsung S Pen, mind. This is the faux-finger technology we've seen from many companies, mimicking a fingertip's touch for displays not really intended for digital penmanship. As a result it's fine for selecting icons, swiping through documents, and signing PDFs, but art enthusiasts should look elsewhere.

Either way, there's a fair amount of heft to it at 2.5 ounces, though it's evenly distributed so doesn't feel too unwieldy in the hand.

Flip to the other end and, if you unscrew the cap, you find a USB plug. It's double-sided, though despite my first thought that's not so you needn't worry about which way around you plug in.

Slotted in one way, and your pen is also a flash drive. Unfortunately, Beyond Ink only saw fit to include 16GB of storage, so it's best to think of this as a backup for the essentials rather than a portable store for all your files.

Turn it 180-degrees, though, and re-insert, and you can charge the pen's internal battery. There's only been room for 1,000 mAh in there, though that's still enough for a roughly 50-percent charge of an iPhone 6s. A green LED flashes behind the pen-clip to show it's charging.

Also behind the clip is a short rubber cable, with either a Lightning connector or a microUSB plug on the end. It's that which you use to power your iPhone or other device; there's no way to switch the plug over, so you'll need to know at the point of ordering whether you want to charge something from the iOS ecosystem or not. Beyond Ink doesn't currently offer a USB-C option.

It's all a clever idea, but I can't help but wish that the different components were better integrated. You can't simultaneously recharge the battery and access the flash storage, for instance, while plugging the Lightning or microUSB into your iPhone only gives you power, not access to whatever's stored on the pen's drive.

Similarly, you have to choose between using it as a pen or using it as a stylus, unless you want to carry around the two different tips.

The biggest problem, though, is that when you can also pick up each of the constituent parts – a $5 16GB flash drive, a $6 iPhone stylus, a $30 battery case, and a $12 Lamy pen – for a little more than fifty bucks, you have to decide whether the premium Beyond Ink charges for its convenience and build quality adds up.

If you're a person who knows you need to carry a handful of essential files, occasionally needs a minor phone top-up – but not to the extent where a Mophie-style battery case would be suitable – and can commit to either a stylus or an actual writing implement, Beyond Ink's combination might fit the bill. The rest of us might do better to wait for a second-generation which will hopefully refine what's at its core a solid idea.