Back in college, I was working as a bank teller between classes and needed an outlet. I didn't want to drink more than I already did, and I already spent too much time reading books I didn't enjoy to enjoy the ones I wanted to read, so I decided to do something else: paint.
At the advice of a friend, I went to an art supply store, got a few canvasses, a variety of brushes, and a smattering of colors, intending to go home and escape to the blissful solitude of visual expression. And express I did: a handful of canvasses awash in energetic colors, splayed randomly and with little care for the finished product. The goal was not to create a work of art, but to create art through work, and by doing so remove me ever so briefly from the monotony of the scholar's life.
I've since graduated and left that mundanity behind, but the call of the canvas is still strong. There was something about the tactility of pressing brush to palette to paper and back again that, despite the end result looking similar to a two-year-old's musings on stewed carrots on a white tile floor, I found profoundly satisfying. It tickled a different part of the brain that keeps me writing creatively and editing fastidiously. The swirls of color take no form but the darkening cloud of mixed primaries; no purpose but the process itself.
It was with great delight, then, that I found buried within the Note 8's Air Command menu a new feature called Coloring, which provides an outlet for painters, real and pretend. Brush work is not new to the Note line, but it's received, well, a fresh coat of paint with the improved S Pen sensitivity, larger display and improved user interface of the PENUP app, which now houses both a dedicated coloring book and a blank canvas with seven brush types, from water color to crayon.
After acquainting myself with the tools, I quickly returned to that familiar feeling I got from painting on a real canvas, the quieting of the brain and slowing of the breath. Doodling on a page is known to have positive effects on the human body, and the addition of a coloring book, replete with dozens of detailed pictograms waiting to be filled in, became my second screen during a half-hour TV show.
Samsung has never been known for elegant software design, but its sparse PENUP coloring interface is exactly that: it provides the appropriate tools and quickly gets out of your way. There are some frustrations — changing brushes always resets the color back to black — but they don't overshadow the work itself.
There is an element of PENUP that lets you submit your works of art to the community, in which thousands of members demonstrate just how much better they are at this than me. That's fine — I'm happy to look in from the outside and keep my creations to myself. I am proud of these terrible doodles, largely because I wouldn't have made them on any other canvas. Instead, I save them to my gallery and use them as home screen wallpapers, taunting me to re-enter the app and try to make something slightly less ugly this time around.
Apple has its Pencil for the iPad Pro, and while I respect its draw for real artists, the S Pen is something that goes with the Note 8, and its incarnation in Samsung's latest phone is nothing short of remarkable. Yes, it still has latency issues on heavy pages, so writing isn't quite as perfect as on a real piece of paper, but Samsung has built a remarkably capable piece of hardware here, one that I find both fulfilling and distracting — and that's without ever having written a note on the thing.
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Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central.