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The best smartpens are ideal for anyone that wants the tactility that comes from physically writing down notes without sacrificing the ability to quickly back up their files on a cloud-based service. Most smartpens use onboard cameras and processors to record your notes as you put them to paper and transcribe them when you sync the pen with a dedicated app.
While the cost of some models like the Livescribe Aegir at Amazon may be cost-prohibitive for some, there are more straightforward options like the Rocketbook Smart Reusable Notebook at Amazon that doesn't require a specialized pen, but still allows you to digitally transcribe notes by using a specialized notepad.
For those who have forsaken pen and paper for a keyboard, make sure to read our collection of the best writing apps. Otherwise, we've jotted down our top picks for the best smart pens below.
Livescribe offers many different smart pens but it's the Livescribe Aegir that's the absolute best of the bunch. Simplicity is the paramount feature here, as the Aegir effortlessly converts handwritten notes to a digital format (provided you use the related Livescribe notebooks to write your notes). You can store up to 1,200 pages of writing before syncing later with your phone. With ten hours of battery life, it’ll last you throughout the day without a problem. It's also possible to record audio using the Livescribe+ app so you can add voice snippets to your notes to playback at a later date.
Once you've finished with a file, you can easily save it to numerous different formats, including TXT text files, PDF, PNG images, and Microsoft Word. Different cloud services are also catered for, like Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneNote, and Evernote so there's no shortage of options for how you want to save your files.
Smartpens are particularly great for writing notes during important meetings or lectures, but they're still dependent on how quickly you can write. The Livescribe Echo Smartpen appreciates that by also recording everything you hear, allowing you to replay everything back simply by tapping on your notes. It has 200 hours of audio content (2GB capacity), so you won’t even need to erase anything that often.
Expect to be able to use it for about six hours before you need to recharge it. It’s an older device than many other smart pens but it’s yet to be beaten when it comes to combining both writing and voice recording all in one neat package. It comes with a micro USB cable, two ink cartridges, and the Echo desktop software for both Mac and Windows.
Another popular name in the smart pen world, the Neo N2 Smartpen is designed specifically for capturing your handwriting as quickly as possible. It has a Dual Core ARM9 processor that captures more than 120 frames per second along with 256 steps of pressure. That means it won't fall behind when you're writing fast on its specialist paper. And speed is certainly possible here as the Neo N2 Smartpen is also very comfortable to use. Unlike some other smar tpens, it almost feels the same as writing with a regular ballpoint pen.
Once your notes have been recorded, you can change font colors around so they stand out more to you, before saving the file to multiple different services such as Dropbox and Evernote. It's also possible to save to SVG - Adobe Illustrator's format - which is sure to be a help for designers. Expect to be able to use it for about five hours constantly with that translating to normal usage of about three days. Its standby time is an impressive 125 days which is convenient for those that use it very infrequently.
Smartpens are immensely useful to the avid graphic designer or sketch artist; no mouse can compare with the tactile quality of holding a pen and drawing that way. Wacom has designed many great graphics tablets over the years and they've extended that thinking to smart pens with the Bamboo Folio Smartpad.
Wrapped up in a folio case, you can write or draw to your heart's content (with up to eight hours of continuous battery life) before turning the results into digital files. It's a great space for letting your imagination run wild before converting images to JPG, PNG, PDF, SVG or WILL files. Best of all, you’re not even tied into using special paper, although that does explain the slightly higher initial price. Use the Wacom app to gain access to more features, which is compatible with your iPad, Samsung, Nokia, Nexus, Fujitsu, or Android device.
The Neo Smartpen M1 is a lightweight ballpoint digital pen that can last you a long while (six hours of writing time and 125 days of standby). The M1 offers extensive multi-lingual support and several colorful designs; you can write in over 14 different languages (includes Korean, Dutch, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, and Turkish, just to name a few) and its Neo Notes app will correctly transcribe it before allowing you to search by date, tag, or keyword.
The pen feels comfortable to hold and use for extended sessions and works just as easily as a regular pen. Just lift the cap off and start writing your next masterpiece, or aim the camera and capture your work for later. It's easy to share both illustrations and notes via e-mail or social networks, as well as in formats such as text, JPG, PDF, or SVG.
The Neo Smartpen N2 uses an internal camera that captures your analog notes and converts them into digital documents when you sync the pen with the Neo Notes app. The N2 features an ultra-responsive processor capable of recording at up to 120 FPS and can sense up to 256 steps of pressure.
The N2's battery can support up to 6 hours of continuous writing with its on-board, rechargeable battery. While the pen itself can't record audio, you can instruct the Neo Notes app to capture audio from your phone while writing.
Because it does serve as a conventional writing implement, the N2 will eventually need to be refilled with ink that's compatible with any standard D1-Type pen tip.
The budget-friendly Rocketbook is a 32 page dotted grid notebook that can be used time and again. Every note and doodle you jot down is can be transcribed to the Rocketbook app, which can export all of your notes to a variety of cloud-based services including Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, and iCloud.
Once you fill up a page, all you do is scan the QR code in the margins, wipe off your notes with a damp cloth and you're good to go. Each page even has specific symbols you can cross out to dictate where pages get uploaded. The additional step of scanning the QR code is a bit cumbersome, but the added benefit of this process is that you can use virtually any erasable gel pen instead of relying on refills or keeping the pen charged.
With its massive battery life and seamless transcription, our favorite smartpen has to be the Livescribe Aegir. While it is slightly bulkier, the Livescribe Echo is a solid alternative with a great capacity for audio recording as well as providing excellent battery life.