Transfer, annotate, and edit anything written by hand on your tablet or computer. Sync instantly or at a later time. Audio recorded from smartphone can be synced with notes. Sleek and subtly designed.
One of the more expensive smart pens available. Requires separate purchase of notepad.
The Echo smart pen transfers handwriting to editable text easily, making it a great tool for writers, students, and anyone else who prefers traditional pen and paper to typing. The pen also comes with a starter notepad, and a spare ink cartridge.
Not the most comfortable to hold. Transferring handwriting to editable text requires a Myscript download.
This smart pen model can save handwriting in multiple formats, including PDF, JPG, and SVG. Its form is similar to an actual ink pen, and is therefore easy to hold for a longer period of time. The N professional notebook (not included) makes it easy to sort handwritten notes sequentially.
Only works with the N professional notebook. Some users have complained about ink quality.
As one of the early innovators, Livescribe pens are generally quite affordable. App allows audio recordings to sync with notes. Can recognize over 20 languages. Comes in two different colors.
Requires separate purchase of Livescribe smart pads and notebooks in order to digitize texts. Less comfortable on the hand than other pens.
Optical sensor records writing on specialized paper and uses app to save it as a digital file. Can transform analog writing into text and translate into other languages. Replaceable tip. Comes in multiple colors. Compatible with Windows 10, Android 5.0 and iOS 8.1. 18-hour battery life.
Can't use with standard notebook paper. Can't work without ink.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
For those seeking to make daily life more efficient, convenient, and sensible, there are any number of smart products available. One of the latest developments in smart technology concerns writing, drawing, and everything that happens when a pen hits the paper. Enter the smart pen.
A bridge between the analog and digital worlds, smart pens write with ink like traditional pens, but they copy what you’re writing or drawing and digitally transfer that content to a computer or tablet. While you may be writing in a notebook, your movements are instantaneously copied to a digital source. Smart pens are tiny computers, offering a valuable resource for those who still love using a pen and paper to take notes, share ideas, or write stories.
As smart pens are still a fledgling industry with only a handful of companies offering products, there is a lot to consider before purchasing one. Our buying guide spells out the options and explains in detail what smart pens can do for you now — as well as how they may advance and improve in the near future.
Because smart pens are relatively new, the benefits of their use may not be especially obvious, and new unforeseen uses will spring forward over time. Currently, smart pens are particularly useful for anyone who regularly needs to jot notes quickly and efficiently, such as students or reporters. In certain situations, a laptop or tablet may be too cumbersome or not easily accessible, and a pen and pad are preferred. A smart pen’s compact size may be a boon when while traveling, exploring, or doing nature drawing. As smart pens store what’s written or drawn, they provide an opportunity to use a digital device without actually staring at a screen while using it.
The actual smart pen is only half of the equation: they record and send the information — provided there is a compatible companion device to receive it. Some digital pens use software that enables your computer to accept the notes. Other pens require specialized paper to write on. Not all pens work with all computer systems, of course, so make sure to check the compatibility of any smart pen you are considering.
Some smart pens will transfer what you’re writing in real time to a nearby device of your choosing, such as a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Others will record what you’re writing into the pen’s own self-contained storage system and transfer the data at a later time when it’s connected to a device and ready to sync. Consider which option suits your lifestyle and needs and note the pen’s independent storage capacity.
Like most smart devices and modern electronics, smart pens recharge and may also transmit data through USB cables. Adding yet another item to your inventory that requires a USB cord may be a slight inconvenience, especially as smart pens typically use micro-USB cables, which are less common. Again, be sure the computer you use is compatible with this type of connection.
Transferring handwritten content to a digital device can be done in a few different ways, and there are increasingly more options available that perform functions similar to smart pens. One such device is the air scanner, which is essentially a device that scans what you’ve written in a notebook with a regular pen or pencil and transmits the content via Bluetooth or USB as a digital file. Some companies also sell smart notebooks or smart pads that allow you to overlay a regular piece of paper on the pad, which then records and transfers what you write to your phone or tablet.
Like their traditional analog counterparts, digital smart pens will eventually run out of ink and require refills. While most come with a backup, refills may be hard to find and can be pricey. Smart pens may also require the purchase of a specific smart notebook in order to function properly. Be sure to calculate these additional built-in costs when choosing a smart pen.
Make sure you have a pouch, case, or tether for securing your smart pen when not in use. Smart pens are notoriously easy to misplace.
To assist with taking notes, some pens allow audio recording along with the notes. This may be done through a specialized app or simply by syncing the smart pen with your phone. This is particularly useful for students or reporters who may want to later transcribe an entire session verbatim. It’s also a nice feature for songwriters wanting to capture rough audio of a new tune while writing the lyrics or jotting down the chords or other musical notations.
If the pen comes with associated software, there might be a few fun perks there as well. For example, some software may include a convenient search feature that lets you search your notes for keywords or phrases to help keep what you’ve written organized. This is especially useful for those who jot notes quickly and need to later expand upon them.
Most smart pen software lets you change your handwritten notes into text files or converts them into graphic formats for use with other software. Check the specifications of each pen to see what options are available.
If you’re using an audio recorder with your smart pen, those around you may be unaware of that fact. Be sure you know the laws regarding hidden recording devices in your state before recording audio without the consent of others nearby.
As an emerging technology, smart pens are relatively expensive at the moment with little fluctuation in price. In part, that’s because there aren’t that many companies currently making smart pens. Pricing may vary more in the future as competition intensifies.
Inexpensive: There are a couple of companies that offer smart pens for under $100, though these pens will likely have limited compatibility or require the purchase of a separate digital notebook.
Mid-range: For between $100 and $175, you’ll find quality smart pens that likely come with ink refills and feature greater compatibility than bargain offerings.
Expensive: For over $175, you’ll find the newest smart pens in an ever-evolving world. These will likely come with all the necessary software and notebooks, as well as chargers and ink refills.
Practice your penmanship. Just because your writing will be digitized doesn’t mean it will automatically become more legible.
At the moment, there aren’t many companies manufacturing high-quality smart pens, though that is sure to change. Still, there are a couple more products from the top names in smart pens that are worth considering. A precursor to the Pen + Ellipse, you can check out Moleskin’s Pen + Smart Writing Set, which gets you started with a smart pen and the compatible Moleskine notebook.
Similarly, Neolab Convergence’s Neo Smart pen M1 is a cousin of the N2, with Bluetooth compatibility and 100 megabytes of storage. It also comes in various colors and includes a replaceable ink cartridge.
We also like the Livescribe professional bundle for their Aegir Smart pen, which includes the pen, ink refill, a charger, and a notebook, for those seeking a comprehensive smart-pen purchase.
Q. Do I need a laptop or tablet available when I start writing?
A. While some smarts pens are able to transfer data instantaneously as you write, it’s not necessary. Smart pens all have some storage to save what you’re writing, which can be transferred at a later time. While it’s important to know how large the storage capacity is, most smart pens can hold hundreds if not thousands of pages of notes.
Q. What device and software is a smart pen compatible with?
A. While innovative and useful, smart pens aren’t yet common and universal enough to be compatible with every device. Most smart pens have a specific list of devices they can be used in conjunction with — some may work exclusively with Apple products, for example. Check compatibility carefully to ensure your chosen smart pen works with your system.
Q. What’s the difference between a smart pen and a stylus?
A. A stylus is an instrument used in conjunction with digital devices, such as a tablet, to write or draw directly on a digital screen. It does not have ink and cannot be used on a piece of paper. A smart pen has the qualities of a standard pen with an internal computer that logs the movement of the pen to digitally transfer the content.
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