Whether you're a student sitting through an enthusiastic professor's chemistry lecture or a salesperson you're sitting through an important business presentation, taking notes is a vital skill task for many people. Detailed notes allow you to return to important information continually so that you can benefit from the information the most. The note-taking process has evolved with technology to provide you with more control over how you access, archive, share and edit your important information. Digital pens allow you to take notes where in ways laptops and tablets simply can't.
Digital pens are almost as discreet as a normal ballpoint pen. They use real ink and they write on real paper. The only difference between a digital pen and the pen in your breast pocket is the digitization of your pen strokes – every word, doodle, sketch or scribble is converted to a digital page.
Laptops and tablets have become the preferred note-taking device for many people because the information can be easily edited, archived and shared. However, laptops and tablets are also a distraction that many businesses and classrooms have banned from meetings and lectures. The best digital pens, like the Livescribe 3 Smartpen, Sky Wifi Smartpen and the Neo Smartpen N2, allow you to take comprehensive notes without the distractions of the internet or the clicking of a keyboard. To learn more, read our articles about digital pens.
There are several ways digital pens capture pen strokes. The best digital pens use technology developed by the Anoto Group that uses a camera near the pen tip to track with microdots printed on paper. However, most digital pens use a positional device that clips to the top of your paper and tracks a sensor in the pen's tip as it moves across the paper, allowing you to write on any surface.
Once you've created a digital page and have uploaded it to your computer, you'll want an intuitive desktop program that allows you the most control over how you archive, search, share and edit your notes. The best digital pens provide you with the ability to record the most comprehensive notes for greater retention.
Below are some the criteria you'll want to consider when choosing a digital pen.
A pen, whether it's digital or an antique, must be comfortable to write with. Pen size and weight can affect how long you can take notes without hand fatigue. Unfortunately, this means that the pens with the most features are also the biggest because of the technology packed into the pen's shaft. Many electronic pens are not much bigger than a normal ballpoint pen but lack many of the features that allow you to take comprehensive notes.
After comfort comes accuracy. There's little point in complicating the writing experience with cameras and positional sensors if the digital image of your notes doesn't match the physical image. Accuracy on most pens falls within a 0.3 mm and 0.7 mm spatial difference when compared to the actual pen strokes. However, positional devices can have their accuracy completely distorted if the device moves while you're writing or your finger interferes with the sensor.
When you are finished writing on a page and you turn to the next, you have to also transition from one digital page to another. You want a pen with a smooth transition from page to page so that you don't end up with a single muddled digital page that consists of several physical pages of notes.
The best smart pens provide features like audio recording that syncs to notes to create pencasts – a digital version of your notes that includes the recorded audio. You'll also want to consider battery life and easy syncing features like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. These are important to your pen's performance because you don't want your pen to die in the middle of taking notes. Likewise, wireless syncing allows you to share your notes across a broad platform of devices in real-time.
The features a pen comes with can vary greatly – some are essentially a computer built into a pen capable of downloading apps, while others are little more than a fancy pen. Newer models are starting to prioritize sketches with features that allow you to have pressure sensitivity and multiple layers for depth and easy syncing with programs like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator.
If the digital pen includes optical character recognition software to convert your handwriting to text, the conversion should be reasonably accurate. Most pens are bundled with MyScript Notes in addition to their desktop software. Some programs, like MyScript, include language recognition features that recognize dozens of languages.
Each pen has some form of internal hard drive that stores digital pages until you upload the pages to a computer. Storage capacity varies from 50 digital pages to thousands. The best digital pens track memory in hours because of the recorded audio.
Ease of Use
Adding technology to a pen inherently makes it more complicated to use, so the value a digital pen adds to your notes or sketches must outweigh any complications that come with the added technology.
You don't want a pen that makes you feel like you're required to re-learn skills you mastered in the early years of elementary school or a pen that requires extensive training to operate effectively.
The setup and uploading should be straightforward. Pen manufacturers should offer detailed instructions to get you up and running as quickly as possible. In addition, initial product packages should include all the accessories you need for basic functionality. The best digital pens have versatile accessories that you can purchase separately as you become an expert with all the features.
Help & Support
Manufacturers must provide help and support to make the experience with your digital pen as smooth as possible. This should include tutorials, online forums, FAQs, online technical support and contact information. You also want a manufacturer that makes it easy to purchase ink cartridge refills, paper refills (if required) and other accessories.
Digital pens are a great tool for taking notes or sketches in situations that limit the use of a laptop or tablet because they are less intrusive in classrooms and meetings. In addition, the portability of digital pens make them great for collecting information in situations that would be difficult or impossible for laptops or tablets.