Widgets Magazine

Bradford’s Brain Balloons Column #0012 – Hard copies are optional

Title panel for Bradford's Brain Balloon #12. Hard Copies are optional. Sub heading, I lost my notebook but not my data.
This post is a response to a few people’s request for me to review a Internet of Things pen, the Neo smartpen.

A few months ago I purchased the Moleskine Smart Writing Set. The reason is that I want to be able to digitize my notes as I went. Some of the other solutions require an additional step of taking pictures of the notes to import into the software solution. This one simply records what I am writing using special pen and paper. I just have to synchronize every so often.

The desire to digitize my notes was two-fold

  1. Studies show that one has a better information retention rate from taking notes via pen and paper.
  2. Searching through notes by flipping pages was time consuming, especially when having to check multiple notebooks.

I looked at various reviews online and found what I was looking, I purchased the  Smartwriting set and tried it out. The first thing I found out was that I did not like the notebook with the set, It is the form factor of the notebook. The pages are shaped to look like an electronic tablet; they over hang the edge and make a curved surface. It also didn’t have the integrated bookmark. I know that these seem like small things but it surprising how much they do impact the experience.

I went in search of a different notebook to get something more traditional, Moleskine indicates it doesn’t have any other styles. The pen is actually sourced from Neo smartpen. I went to their website and found more styles of notebooks and paper, including print at home versions. They recommend purchasing from Amazon in the United States. I found a few styles I liked at Amazon, including a Moleskine Classic Notebook as well as their own Professional Notebook. You can browse the collection at Amazon.

An important thing to be aware of is how notebooks are identified. Each style of notebook has its own identifier, so having two of the same style of notebook means the data is combined together and written over each other. That little wrinkle just means one needs to pick notebooks carefully. One can also look notebooks to keep different tasks or projects separate. If you look enough you can find notebooks with varying identities just for such occasion. I actually have four different styles, a pocket sized one, the Professional Notebook with the blank pages, the Classic Notebook, and my less than favorite “tablet” style.

I have been synchronizing my writing on a daily basis, if not more often, with both Google Drive and Evernote. I have found that I can search through the notes fairly effectively just looking at the pictures in Evernote. I can also export the text transcribed from the notes. It works pretty well, even given my handwriting. See the samples at the end of the column. The ability to use the search tool in Evernote is very helpful. I use that on a daily basis, as I use Evernote for other note taking. (Evernote does its own transcribing in the background.)

I really appreciated the technology after Infocomm. On Friday, the last day of the show, I lost my notebook. I had been downloading the pen data each night. That was the ultimate moment of understanding how the workflow kept my work backed up as well. I lost the physical notebook. I still had the 42 pages of information, readily accessible in Evernote and Google Drive. Yes, I lost my notebook but kept the data. Pretty cool.

The one thing I would have done differently is purchased the Neo smartpen N2 directly and then selected the options I wanted. I would have picked different notebooks and been better aware of the pairing limits.
Definitely worth the purchase.

There are also some fun things that can be done, such as playing back a video of writing the notes. One may also synchronize an audio recording with writing notes. I have not tried it, but seems interesting. Yes, I wrote the skeleton of this article using the Neo smartpen. You can see various types of output below.

Yes, I would purchase it again.
Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions.

Sped up video of me writing the first draft of this column

The image exported to Evernote

A page that Bradford wrote on

The first pass at transcription

A picture of the text after Moleskine software tried to transcribe my handwdriting.

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