For taking notes, it's hard to beat the reliability of pen and paper. Even in the smartphone and tablet era, many business users simply prefer to jot things down the old-fashioned way. But you don't have to choose between digital and analog notes anymore. A smartpen is an ink pen that can track the marks you make in a notepad and then recreate your notes in digital form. Digital notes are valuable because they can be backed up and duplicated, and they're easier to share and distribute than paper notes. Read on for five of the best smartpens currently available for business users.
To use the Livescribe 3 smartpen, first sync it with your iPhone or iPad via Bluetooth. Next, boot up the Livescribe app on your mobile device. Once those two steps are complete, simply open up your notebook and start writing. While you write, your physical notes are replicated in digital form in the Livescribe app. If you're taking notes during a meeting or lecture, your mobile device will automatically capture audio from your surroundings.
When you're finished writing, tap on a word or mark in your digital notes to hear the audio that was recorded at that time. You can save your notes for later, or share them via email, social media or a variety of cloud storage platforms. Overall, the Livescribe 3 makes it easy to capture your notes in digital form, but there are a few caveats. First, you must write in a special Livescribe notebook in order for your notes to be captured. Second, the pen is currently compatible only with OS devices, though Livescribe says Android support might arrive this year.
Sky WiFi Smartpen
The Sky WiFi Smartpen is a middle-tier device from Livescribe. Like the Livescribe 3, it can sync your notes wirelessly to an iPhone or iPad in real time. But unlike the more premium pen, which syncs to your mobile device via Bluetooth, the Sky WiFi must be connected to a local Wi-Fi network to sync. If Wi-Fi isn't available, you can also sync your notes using a USB cable. Like all Livescribe pens, you must write in a special notebook for your notes to be recorded. The Sky WiFi pen also captures audio using a speaker on the pen and lets you play back any part of your recording by tapping words or marks made in your Livescribe notebook. However, it doesn't let you play back audio when you're reviewing your digital notes on your mobile device; that feature is exclusive to the newer Livescribe 3.
Livescribe's Echo Smartpen is the company's most affordable pen, but it lacks some of the more advanced functionality found in the Livescribe 3 and the Sky WiFi Smartpen. Notably, the Echo can't sync your notes wirelessly to your mobile device. Instead, it allows you to upload a digital version of your notes to a PC or Mac computer via USB cable. That makes it a good choice for business users who want to save and share notes from a single computer. But there are a few major drawbacks to this approach. Echo Smartpen users must remember to plug it in and sync their data regularly, whereas the Livescribe 3 and other smartpens sync your data wirelessly, and save it to the cloud. If you run out of storage space on the Echo, you can't capture any more notes until your next data dump. Audio recording on the Echo works as it does on the Sky WiFi pen: When you're finished writing, tap on a word in your notebook to hear what was being said at that time from a speaker located on the pen itself.
Like the Livescribe 3 and Sky WiFi Smartpen, the Equil Jot syncs with your iPhone or iPad wirelessly via Bluetooth. But unlike Livescribe pens, the Equil Jot can capture notes written on any kind of paper — even a loose napkin. That's because instead of using special paper to record your marks, the Jot captures your notes with the help of a motion-sensing receiver that you clip to the top of the page on which you're currently writing. Alternatively, you can set it near the top of your notepad on a flat surface. This design has benefits and drawbacks. In theory, the Jot is more versatile because you can capture notes written on any page. But it also takes more time to set up, and requires you to carry around a separate receiver. And if your hand or another object blocks the path between the pen and receiver, your notes may not be recorded correctly. The Jot also lacks audio-recording capabilities altogether. Still, it's a capable tool if you just want to capture, save and share your notes in digital form.
Mobile Notes Pro
Like the Equil Jot, the Mobile Notes Pro records your pen-and-ink notes using a special receiver that you clip to the top of your page. Like the Jot, the Mobile Notes Pro can also capture notes written on any page, without the need to purchase a special notebook. It also has one of the same drawbacks: Bumping the receiver, or obstructing the path between the pen and receiver, can cause errors. The Mobile Notes Pro also lacks the ability to record audio. One advantage it has over many competing devices is that it is compatible with Android smartphones and tablets. Just link your smartpen to your mobile device via Bluetooth, and then watch as your notes are digitally recreated as you write. There's also the option to sync your notes with your desktop PC or Mac using a USB cable.