Typing out notes on a laptop might be faster, but physically writing something down helps you remember and learn more. Some of us prefer putting real pen to paper, but having a digital backup is convenient for on-the-go organization and studying.
If you buy something using links in our stories, we may earn a commission. This helps support our journalism. Learn more. Please also consider subscribing to WIRED When you buy a smart pen, you’re actually getting a pen, a notebook, and an accompanying app. An infrared camera near the pen’s point tracks your writing strokes. As you write in the notebook, dotted grids plot the pen’s movements. You then use a Bluetooth connection or USB port to transfer the files to your computer. You won’t be able to use your favorite paper notebooks, which is a bummer for those of us with serious notebook feelings. The pens do also require ink refills eventually.
The Neo Studio app (available on iPhone and Android) is nice, with an easy-to-navigate notebook system and the ability to search for pages by page number or date. You can change the color of the ink and thickness of the lines right on the page as you go, or you can switch them up later and edit the colors of what you’ve written. This pen doesn’t record audio, but if that’s something you want, Neo sells a separate recorder that pairs with the pen.
The Neo Smartpen M1+ is the thinnest and lightest of all the pens I tried, which makes it feel a bit more like your standard pen, and importantly, it feels comfortable in your hand. You should be able to find whatever size and style of notebook you need, like spiral-bound college-ruled ones, as well as planners.
These handy tools combine the ease of jotting notes by hand with the power of saving them digitally.
IN MOST PARTS of the country, students have returned to studying. Some are in classrooms for the first time in a year, while others are continuing to learn from their dining room tables. No matter where you are, school requires taking notes.
A smart pen lets you write by hand and instantly have a digital file. You can save files as PDFs, images, Word Docs, or transcribe to a text file in Google Docs, to make all your notes searchable. Some smart pens can record, too, which is great for lectures and interviews. If your notes need an upgrade, we recommend giving these a try.
★ Alternative: The Neo Smartpen Dimo ($59) is the cheapest and uses replaceable batteries instead of a rechargeable one. It isn’t compatible with Google Calendar, iCal, or Outlook like our other picks. We haven’t tried the Neo Smartpen N2 ($169) yet, and though it looks sleeker, you probably don’t need to spend the extra $40.
Moleskine has a devoted following for its notebooks and journals, and it has moved into smart territory. The Smart Writing Set gets you a notebook and pen bundle, so this is the best option for most people starting out. But you can buy the pen on its own, as well as notebooks and planners in various sizes.
The Moleskine Notes 2.0 app (available on iPhone and Android) was easy to use once I got used to it. There is an older version of the app available for download, but the 2.0 version is nicer and more streamlined. A pop-up let me know that 2.0 is still a work in progress and that I might need to switch back to the older version if my device is having trouble. But my iPhone 11 didn’t have any issue. The Livescribe Symphony has all the features you’d expect from a smart pen, but it places a heavier emphasis on the ability to record. There are even Record, Pause, and Stop labels at the bottom of the notebook pages that you can activate just by pressing with your pen—a feature I really liked. However, the app is a bit clunky, and its transcription tool isn’t as good as the other picks on this list.
The Symphony also doesn’t have a power button. Instead, it turns on when the cap is removed and turns off when the cap is replaced. This is a nice feature, in theory, to make sure you don’t forget to turn it on before you start writing. However, it easily pops off. This means you risk leaving it on and draining the battery.