Most people take notes with a regular paper notepad or book and then transcribe into typed notes for a meeting and so on. How could we replace this with digital technology? The basic requirements here:
Some people are actually good at typing on a laptop very fast, so they have moved on from relying on the writing experience.
Typical Writing Use Cases
There are other use cases but these jump out as the lion share of regular writing which will be explored with the various electronic writing options.
Reusable Notebooks and Smartpens
There are several solutions out there that can be considered a step up from the traditional paper
Rocketbook - Allows the user to erase the writings and use a smartphone to copy and send the writings to the cloud - also has the ability to support writing to text conversion. Essentially, the notebook can be used many times over.
Smartpens - These pens use specially designed notebooks (not reusable) but the pen would keep the details and transfer into the cloud wirelessly connecting to a phone or computer.
Most people would have an Ipad or Android (Samsung, Google etc.) tablet as they provide a lot of functions and applications. However, most will agree that even with a pen, writing on these will not give you the paper experience but maybe useful to take some quick notes or demonstrate some concepts. However for real writing these are not ideal.
There are some workarounds on the market especially to add special screens which improves the experience. A popular one is paperlike for the Ipad. Some would complain that this will affect the viewing experience on the tablet while not really solving the ultimate paper experience.
Hands down, tablets are great all round devices and provide lots of benefits but that paper writing experience is not there. The biggest disadvantage with these is that more functions also brings a lot more distractions.
As tablets are here to stay; Is it time to move away from the hand writing approach to taking notes?
E-ink or E-paper Tablets
The concept of E-ink has changed the way we read books, especially popular with Amazon Kindles. However, there are several tablets built with this technology for writing purposes and several popular tablets in this space. The verdict is that these are very close to paper in respect to writing experience with an electronic implementation.
Remarkable - This is a small company that builds this tablet primarily as a notetaker with the ability to read some ebook formats. It also allows marking up on books specially PDFs. There is big buzz on the Remarkable 2 coming out in September 2020 with an improved design. The complaints for these devices is the lack of advanced software features and low on device storage space. However, they get high marks in respect to the writing experience. The size of both generations is 10.3” which is a good sweet spot for portability. This is probable the best candidate for digital note taking out there.
Onyx Boox Tablets - These are similar to the Remarkable in terms of being E-ink devices and they run Android as the main OS. The writing experience on the low end ones are not so great. The Max 3 seems to be the most genuine writer from this company but of course the size is 13.3” which is huge for every day portability.
Sony DPT Family - Sony also has a platform which they sell directly as well as OEM to Fujitsu and Quirklogic. They are very similar to the Boox Max 3 especially in terms of some software features and writing experience. The experience on these are very good but the cost is fairly high running from $700 and up. The Papyr from Quirklogic seems to get very good marks for sharing the writing with others in real time as well as integration with Cloud services.
There are some good options here and it seems the disparity is mostly around software features. The 13.3” tablets could be good for something to keep on a desk for planning and tracking things while the smaller ones are good for doing the regular everyday note taking. The common concern here is cost since they will not give the full functions of a regular tablet. Can one have a regular tablet and still get one of these?
The ideal here is to have a paper like experience in writing, translate the writing materials into readable text and be able to store and share electronically while being sustainable. Looking at the options presented, there seems to be some positives and some negatives about fully replacing the paper notebook while benefiting from new technologies. On the one hand, the E-Ink options are promising but also come at a very high price with limited functions. Traditional tablets have many functions but are very poor in terms of the writing experience.
To keep with the traditional approach, the Rocketbook is a great contender as it keeps the writing feel and provides some technology improvements plus the cost is very affordable. While, it seems the E-inks may be the best choice overall with the potential for automation, it seems there is a gap especially around pricing with a truly electronic solution. Delivering something that keeps the traditional experience and will not break the bank. Ultimately, below $200.
With all of those options it also comes down to the specific writing feel for each individual.
What is your take on this? Have you used one of these devices?