The Best Smart Pens
If you are a regular note-taker, you probably spend a considerable amount of time transcribing your handwritten notes.
Smart pens are designed to take this pain away.
Thanks to an inbuilt camera or dedicated smart paper notepads, you can automatically digitise your handwritten notes, ready to sync directly to your computer, smartphone or tablet.
You can use AI technology to convert your handwritten notes to text and share with Office 365 – allowing you to make immediate edits.
With this in mind, we’ve looked at some of the best smart pens for 2020 to help you choose the best smart pen for you.
The Livescribe Echo Pro is a perfect pen for those attending lectures or training workshops as you can record the audio of the lecture whilst simultaneously writing your notes. You can even playback the recording quickly and easily.
Once your notes are transcribed, you can use the Livescribe app to digitise your writing, converting to text. You can even choose to share your notes across social media (via email, by USB or directly to the cloud).
The 2GB data storage computes to over 200 hours of audio, or over 1,000 pages of notes. This is hugely effective for those who are looking for a heavy-duty smart pen to manage the bulk of their workload. We can see it being hugely popular amongst journalists who may be interviewing many people throughout the day.
The pen has good accuracy and character recognition when used alongside the Livescribe app. It also has the technology to translate into multiple languages.
The syncing of the pen is quick and easy – within less than a minute, the pen is synced and ready to use. However, the app isn’t the easiest to use, and it takes time to get used to the functionality of the pen.
The pen itself is quite heavy – in part due to the large data storage. It takes a while to feel comfortable in your hand as it is quite bulky. But the sleek design of the pen feels easy to use.
Another drawback is the fact that you need to purchase dedicated Livescribe smart paper notepads.
We feel that this is a pen that is designed to be used heavily – therefore, having to purchase specific notepads does add to the cost implications.
It’s also worth noting that smart paper isn’t a product you can purchase from your local shop – you need to factor in shipping costs and delivery times.
We would highly recommend this as a premium smart pen designed specifically for heavy users.
Like the Livescribe Echo, the Moleskine Pen+ Ellipse is designed to be used heavily by users.
This smart pen is designed to work solely with Moleskine Smart notebooks. This dedicated smart paper is thicker and more resilient than other smart paper notepads we have used. This not only aids the accuracy of the digitisation, but it also adds to the high-end feel of the overall product.
There is also plenty of choice for stationery lovers looking for a good looking notepad, rather than a function-first notebook.
In our view, the Moleskine Pen+ Ellipse Smart Writing set is beautiful, arriving in luxury packaging designed to feel like a decadent treat.
The Moleskine Pen+ Ellipse is easy to write with.
To use the pen, you first have to download the Moleskine Notes app. This allows you to seamlessly transfer digital renderings of your handwritten notes in real-time, direct to your smartphone or tablet.
The pen is charged via USB before use. A full battery charge takes approximately two hours.
There are reports of seemingly poor battery life. Within a few hours, it will start to wane, which could cause issues for heavy users.
In terms of functionality, the Moleskin Pen+ Ellipse allows you to instantly transform your written notes into readable text. The accuracy of the translation is impressive, although those with messier handwriting may find that they have to allocate time to amend character recognition.
We like the Moleskine Notes app which allows you to store, share and edit your text quickly and easily.
An impressive feature is a memory upon activation. Upon opening, the app will ask you if you wish to sync your previous writing session. This memory guarantees that you’ll never lose your work again.
Sharing is simple. Not only can you share directly with Evernote, OneNote and Google Drive, but you can also export directly to Microsoft Office 365. This allows you to upload and immediately work on your transcription. It’s a valuable time saver.
Using the Wacom Bamboo Folio Digital Notepad feels like you’re writing with a traditional pen and paper, but the reality is that, at the push of a button, the notepad can turn your musings into digital, shareable thoughts.
We like the fact that it’s an A4 size notepad and it looks and feels professional rather than gimmicky.
The ease of use means that you can easily update your thoughts and share them with your computer via email or synced with cloud services such as Dropbox, Evernote, Inkspace and OneNote.
Another feature we appreciated was the fact that it is ergonomically designed to suit both left and right-handed people. This accessibility is an understated bonus.
Unlike other smart pen devices, you do not need to use any smart paper with the Wacom Bamboo Folio Digital Notepad. Regular paper works well. To save your work, all you need to do is press a single button before you turn the page. The same button can be used to transfer your work to your iOS or Android device.
Thanks to the Wacom Inkspace app, you can translate your handwriting into text, search for specific notes and share directly with others quickly and easily. Files are converted to a choice of PNG, JPG, PDF, SVG and WILL.
This is a great choice for artists as it converts images very well. It would also be an effective choice for business teams within a brainstorming session. The design of the digital notepad means that it could work effectively as an alternative to a whiteboard.
Ultimately, we loved the look and feel of this product. It felt professional yet welcoming. It also has strong functionality and has a myriad of uses for both business and personal use.
What Is a Smart Pen?
It may feel like smart pens are new to the market for 2020, but the first smart pen was launched by Livescribe back in 2007.
A smart pen may look and write like a normal pen but it is actually a gadget that allows you to save, record and upload your written or spoken words direct to your device.
Functioning as a mini-computer, smart pens are an ideal option for those who like to write handwritten notes but require the information to be uploaded and saved.
You can convert your handwriting straight into text and save your data straight away. What’s more, you can sync your smart pen with cloud-based apps such as Google Drive, Dropbox and Evernote, allowing you to feel confident that your notes will never be lost ever again.
How Does a Smart Pen Work?
Digital pens use an infrared camera which is located near the tip of the pen. When used on special paper which is covered in microscopic dots, the camera can pick up the position of the pen and record the dots on the page. This transmits into an accurate copy of the text that you have just written.
Ultimately, a smart pen can digitise your handwriting.
The data is then stored on the pen directly into its memory, or it can be transmitted via USB to your computer.
Smart pens are used in conjunction with a dedicated app – this can be synced to your favourite cloud-based storage system to automatically save a copy of your written notes.
Additionally, smart pens can also record sounds. They use an in-built microphone to pick up sounds and store them to the memory. These sounds can then be converted into text and uploaded to your computer.
Who Would Benefit From Using a Smart Pen?
Smart pens are perfect tools if you have to regularly type up written notes.
If you work as a journalist and you’re conducting many interviews, or you regularly take minutes/meeting notes for your company or community group, you may benefit from a smart pen.
The ability to automatically upload your written notes and convert them to text is a significant time-saver.
The audio recording functionality is useful – it allows you to record the sound around you whilst you take notes. This is ideal for students or those participating in training workshops as you can replay the sound back and ensure that you haven’t missed any relevant details whilst you were writing.
What Should You Look for When Buying a Smart Pen?
Smart pens typically have similar features but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your research.
As technology has evolved, smart pens have developed niche features. For example, some are designed specifically for note-takers, whilst others are designed to facilitate sketching and drawing.
Whilst the technology is there to assist, the manufacturers of many smart pens have retained sight of its core purpose – to be a pen or pencil.
With this in mind, here are a few considerations that you may wish to consider before purchasing a smart pen:
Unlike traditional pens which allow you to write on anything at any time, smart pens often require special paper.
This is because smart pen notepads have microscopic dots that allow the camera to register the image of your writing.
Whilst many smart pens will come with a small smart paper notepad, you may need larger notebooks for more comprehensive note-taking.
These notepads are priced comparably to traditional notepads (Livescribe sell 4 x A5 pads for £19.99) but there aren’t a lot of choices available. If you’re a stationery lover, you may be disappointed by the range.
You may also need to consider ease of purchase – due to the niche nature of smart paper, you won’t be able to pop out to the local shop as and when required. Instead, you may need to factor in delivery charges and shipping time. This could be considered a drawback to the apparent ease of smart pen technology.
Some smart pens have an auto-sync feature. This means that they can auto-sync your notes and share them with cloud-based devices such as Google Drive or Dropbox.
This is beneficial because you will always know your notes are saved in your preferred location.
For businesses, this could be highly effective – particularly for sales/marketing teams. If one person is using the pen during a meeting/conference, then other team members can have access to that person’s notes direct from their office if they have shared access to the cloud.
Smart pens are mini-computers, therefore you need to feel confident that the pen is fully charged up before you start to write.
Smart pens typically charge via a USB cable. Charging is quick and easy and most pens will have a light that will let you know when charging is required.
You also need to consider how long the battery will last. If you are attending a lengthy training workshop, will your pen retain its battery throughout the whole day? Different pens have different standard battery lives.
The value of a smart pen is its ability to turn your handwriting into text. Therefore, you need to feel confident that it can easily read your writing and use its AI capabilities to accurately transform this into text.
Although you should be looking for a pen that rarely produces errors, a good pen should have an edit function that will allow you to tweak any errors before you save or upload the content.
For your smart pen to work, you will need to download a dedicated partner app onto your smartphone or tablet.
Before purchasing a smart pen, you should check whether this is compatible with Apple/Android or Windows phones. You should also confirm that the app will work on your specific phone – some require the latest updates, meaning that older phones could have compatibility issues.
Each smart pen has in-built data storage. This is because data is stored in the pen before uploading to your computer or sharing with your preferred cloud storage app.
The larger the memory, the more data your smart pen can store. Therefore, if you are planning to use the pen regularly, you may wish to invest in something with a large data storage capacity as well as a long battery life.
Ease of Use
You may find that some smart pens are complicated to use. Not only do you need to sync your smart pen with your computer and smartphone, but you also need to be able to understand the user interface of the corresponding app.
You also should ensure that your chosen pen isn’t too bulky to use and that you can write with ease.
If the smart pen feels too tricky to use, you may be tempted to revert to a traditional pen. Therefore, it’s worth using online guides, forums and video tutorials to understand how to make the most of your smart pen as many issues may be a direct result of user errors.
Microsoft Office Integration
Once your handwritten notes have been digitised, you may be looking to integrate your uploaded data with Microsoft Office.
This is especially useful for companies that use smart pens to transcribe meeting notes or minutes.
Being able to immediately upload into a Word document can be a time-efficient way of working.
Different smart pens have different strengths and they are rarely a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.
Manufacturers have taken into account different nibs and writing techniques to create niche smart pens for specific needs.
For example, some pens have been designed for the sole purpose of note-taking. Whilst others have been designed with drawing and sketching in mind.
You should think about what you want to do with your smart pen and factor this into your purchasing decision.
Smart pens can vary in price. You may wish to have a set budget in mind that you want to stick to.
Many smart pens will allow you to search for your notes within the accompanying app.
If you’re planning to write lots of notes, a search function will be invaluable.
Some also support tagging and categories that allow you to find the notes you need instantly.
Some smart pens will allow you to post directly onto your social media pages.
If you are using a pen to sketch or draw, this can be an effective way of showing your designs.
However, you may require a dedicated social media smart paper notepad for this functionality.
Other Smart Pens We Looked At
The Livescribe Symphony is a stylish looking pen which is manufactured by Livescribe, the market leaders in smart pen technology.
The pen is light to hold and feels comfortable in your hand – although it did take a few moments to get used to the feel when compared to a regular pen.
This is because it was a good ½ inch longer than most typical gel pens or biros.
The initial set up was easy to facilitate – after charging up, it was a question of downloading the Livescribe app and pairing the pen via a Bluetooth connection.
The pairing takes place by tapping your pen against the smart paper device pairing square. This took several taps to pair – it also required re-pairing every time we used the app to sync.
The pen works on Apple and Android phones/tablets and there is also a desktop app available.
The Livescribe Symphony smart pen only works on Livescribe smart paper so you always need to have the specific notepad with you.
Once we’d set up the app, the digitisation process was quick and easy. Your handwriting easily appears on the screen in real-time and you can make notes or doodles to your heart's content.
Converting your writing to text is as easy as simply swiping left or right. Once you’ve converted your text, you can make edits on the screen if the character recognition hasn’t worked.
It struggled a little when reading handwriting and a few edits were required to recognise specific letters. However, we did like the fact that you can easily make edits within the app.
If you are using the app on Windows, you can download a plugin to work alongside Microsoft Office and PowerPoint, allowing you to tidy up your words quickly and easily. It was also easy to share directly with Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote and OneNote.
Files can be saved as PDF, DOCX, TXT, SVG or PNG.
The Livescribe app has lots of functionality but we didn’t find the user interface particularly intuitive – it took a lot of practice to understand how the app worked.
There is a recording feature within the app, rather than the pen. You can use your smartphone microphone to create audio files using the Livescribe app, and you can simply tap your pen on the smart paper to record/pause/stop the recording. With other pens recording directly onto the pen, this felt like a let-down.
Ultimately, we loved the look and style of the pen. There’s no doubt that it’s a beautiful looking smart pen and the packaging and design give it a luxe-feel.
It has the potential to be an effective resource, but we felt that this was more designed with light usage in mind, rather than a smart pen to be used all day, every day.
We would recommend this as an entry-level smart pen.
The NeoLab Smart Pen N2 has been designed with core functionality in mind. With fast processes that record more than 120 frames per second and 90MB of storage, users can quickly and easily export text and drawings.
Like other smart pen manufacturers such as Livescribe and Moleskine, you need to purchase an additional smart paper notepad for the N2 to work.
Designed to work in conjunction with the mobile app, the NeoLab Smart Pen N2 compares well with pricier smart pens.
Character recognition and accuracy are good, although it struggles to recognise messier handwriting. This is a smart pen that is designed for creatives; it syncs directly to Adobe Creative Cloud.
We were impressed with the ease of use of this particular smart pen. The NeoLab N2 paired with our iPhone via Bluetooth in just 30 seconds. The setup was quick and easy and the app is easy to use and understand.
The N2 is a stylish smart pen. It feels light and comfortable in the hand and its metallic shine sets it apart from its competitors.
However, the NeoLab N2 is let down slightly by its five-hour battery life. There isn’t enough charge to last for a long day of note-taking, which makes it more appropriate for shorter, less regular usage.
However, at £125, it is one of the cheaper smart pens available on the market.
The Scanmarker Air Pen Scanner looks different from the rest of the pens available within the smart pen marketplace. This is because it’s not a pen in the traditional sense of the word.
This is a device that allows you to scan text and send it directly to your computer or smartphone. It’s an ideal resource for those who need to refer back to text that they've already read.
For students and professionals, this is an exceptional time saver.
All you have to do is slide the Air Pen Scanner across any printed text.
It retypes text 20 times quicker than regular typing. It also recognises numbers and symbols which instantly appear on your computer or device without any additional steps.
What’s more, there is an integrated text-to-speech function that reads the text back to you whilst scanning. This is a hugely innovative feature that could positively support those impacted by dyslexia or other learning disabilities.
We appreciated the fact that this pen translates over 40 different languages, from font size 6 up to 24pt.
Like the Wacom Bamboo Folio Digital Notepad, it was also good to test a product that was available for left and right-handed people. It provides accessibility and ease of use for all.
This was the most cost-effective option of all of the smart pens that we tested.
Like the Scanmarker Air Pen Scanner, it’s not technically a smart pen, but the Rocketbook Everlast Smart Reusable Notebook is a fantastic device for those who want to test smart technology on a budget.
Described as the 'World’s first endlessly reusable Notebook', it is a 32-page notebook that can be used exclusively with Pilot Frixion pens.
Our first impression is that it’s a stylish A4 notebook that wouldn’t look out of place in any boardroom.
The product is designed to utilise AI technology by digitising your notes and saving to online locations such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Slack and Evernote. The app can also use OCR technology to convert your handwriting into text.
However, when compared to some of the smart pens available on the market, the accuracy and character recognition are much less effective. But considering the much lower price point, this isn’t a surprise.
Whilst looking and feeling like a traditional notepad, the pages are easily wiped clean with a damp cloth. This is a unique concept and one which is new to the smart pen market.
It is a secure device in that it doesn’t store any data directly; everything is sent to the end recipient, whether that’s via email or to your cloud service.
We enjoyed testing this product. It’s a new idea and is perfect for those looking to improve their green credentials.
In our view, the Rocketbook Everlast Smart Reusable Notebook provided value for money – the package arrives with a notebook and one Pilot Frixion pen. Additional pens can be purchased at a low cost (under £10 for a pack of four).
This is a fantastic entry-level product that is ideal for those new to smart pen and text translation technology. We think that due to the low cost, it has the potential to become a mainstream success story.
At a Glance Comparision
|Brand||RRP||Data Storage||Battery Life||Audio Recording||Requirements||Additional Accessories|
|Rocketbook Everlast Smart Reusable Notebook||£35||n/a||n/a||n/a||Pilot Frixion pens|
|Livescribe Symphony||£119||Standby battery life 90 days||Yes – via the Livescribe app||iOS10 or Android 5.0; Windows 7 or Windows 10; MAC OSC 10.1.3||Livescribe smart paper notepads; Livescribe app|
|Scanmarker Air Pen Scanner||£119||n/a||n/a||n/a||Mac OS X 10.10+. BLE 4.0 required for wireless connection (Mac models from 2012 or later); Android 4.3+ (with BLE 4.0); iPhone 4s+/iPad 3+; Windows 7+|
|NeoLab Smart Pen N2||£125||900MB||5 hours||No||Smart paper notepads|
|Wacom Bamboo Folio Digital Notepad||£165||8 hours||No||iOS (8 or later); Android (4.3 or later); Mac OS (X or later)|
|Livescribe Echo||£169||2GB||Continuous use battery life 14 hours||Yes – via the smart pen||Windows 7, Windows 8 and above; Mac OS X 10.8.5 and higher||Livescribe smart paper notepads; Livescribe app|
|Moleskine, Pen+ Ellipse||£179||4–5 hours||No||iOS (8 or later); Android (4.3 or later); Windows OS (10 or later)||Moleskine paper tablet notepads; Moleskine Notes app|
The proliferation of AI and OCR technologies mean it has never been easier to automatically upload and save handwritten notes and convert to text.
We can think of many scenarios and professions that would make effective use of these pens; for example, lecturers and students, journalists, admin assistants, medical professionals, law professionals, and anyone else who is a prolific note-taker.
With many options available on the market, amongst a variety of pricing options, there is something for everyone.
We highly recommend the Livescribe Echo. Although an investment piece, it had the style and functionality that you would expect from the market leader.
For those looking for a more affordable option, the Livescribe Symphony is also highly effective – although we did struggle to intuitively use the Livescribe app with both of these products.
We would also like to highly recommend the Scanmarker Air Pen Scanner and the Rocketbook Everlast Smart Reusable Notebook. Both are notable entrants to the smart pen market and offer effective solutions.
We particularly rated the Wacom Bamboo Folio Digital Notepad for its strong functionality when uploading images and drawings. Not only is this a superb tool for artists and doodlers, but it could consign the humble whiteboard to the history books.