Smart pens combine traditional writing implements with modern digital technology. The result is a pen that helps capture what youve written in digital form, turning whats traditionally a messy analog medium into organized, structured data that you can keep forever. Some smart pens record what youre writing using tech in the pen itself; others rely on special paper, your tablet, or your smartphone to capture the information.Because there are so many options and because they work quite differently from one another you may need a guide to the right smart pen or stylus for you. Depending upon your note-taking or sketching needs, you might want something like the Livescribe, which has a built-in audio recorder, or a Rocketbook with a Frixion pen which is super inexpensive, but focused on capturing images of your notes. Weve rounded up the best smart pens and styluses for your reading pleasure. And at the end of the article, youll also find a buying guide that highlights the most important criteria to look for when shopping for smart pens and stylusesTL;DR These are the Best Smart Pens
1. Livescribe Symphony
Best Smart Pen
Compatibility: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android Battery Life: 90 days (standby) Max Pages: 1,200 Paper: Livescribe Dot Paper Audio Recording: Yes (through app)
The Livescribe Symphony starts off simple enough. It’s an elegant pen with a bit of heft to it. That extra girth is there to house the Livescribe Symphony’s sensor, which works with Livescribe’s special dot paper. The pen will use the dots to track your pen’s movements and digitally recreate whatever you’ve written or drawn. You can use it on special notebooks or print off your own Livescribe dot paper at home.The Livescribe Symphony can store up to 1,200 pages of your notes directly on the pen’s internal storage. But, you’ll eventually want to offload that data to the Livescribe+ app, which you can run on iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac. The Livescribe+ app can also turn your handwriting into searchable text as well as pair audio recordings with your notes. You can even automatically sync your notes with cloud storage providers such as OneNote, Google Drive, and Evernote.
2. Livescribe Aegir Smartpen
Best Budget Smartpen
Compatibility: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android Battery Life: 10 hours Max Pages: 1,200 Audio Recording: No Paper: Livescribe Dot Paper
Livescribe may have the best smartpen with the Symphony, but that doesn’t mean it has forgotten those who have a tighter budget for this kind of product. The Livescribe Aegir costs around $99 (though prices of many electronics have been inconsistent lately), and it includes a lot of the quality you can expect from Livescribe.The Aegir smartpen will require you to use Livescribe Dot Paper. That might sound like an extra expense, and it could be if you bought the sheets from Livescribe, but just as with the Symphony smartpen, you can make your own Livescribe dot paper by printing it off on your home printer, ensuring you save even more money and can always get more of the special paper when you need it. You’ll be able to go through plenty of that paper with the Aegir, since it can store 1,200 pages worth of your writing and drawing. The pen will work with a variety of operating systems. And, though it lacks a built-in mic, you can still sync voice recordings to your handwritten notes by using the Aegir with Livescribe’s smartphone app to make “pencasts.”
3. Rocketbook Core
Best Erasable Smartpen
Compatibility: iOS, Android Max Pages: 32 (reusable) Audio Recording: No Paper: Rocketbook Paper
Also a contender for best budget smart pen it costs just a couple of Hamiltons the Rocketbook system is a clever and slightly different approach to the smart pen category. Heres the deal: When you buy a Rocketbook, you get a pad or notebook made of special, erasable paper, as well as a Frixion erasable pen. The pen is just a pen one thats filled with erasable ink. The technology is in the paper and the mobile app.There are all sorts of books to choose. The Rocketbook Core is an ordinary notebook, while the Fusion has pages for calendars, to-dos, lists, and general-purpose notetaking. Theres also a mini notebook, letter-size and executive-size books. (Theres also a book called the Wave which you erase in the microwave, but this notebook wears out pretty quickly. You cant erase it more than a few times, so its a poor value.)
Each book is filled with dots, an array of icons across the bottom, and a QR code. When youre done with a page of notes, you can use the Rocketbook app to scan the page and upload it to the app, or send it to a variety of destinations like OneNote, Dropbox, Google Docs, and elsewhere. You can choose the destination manually, or let it happen automatically based on which icons at the bottom of the page that you mark with the pen.
And heres the best part: When youre done, you can erase the page with a little moisture and a microfiber cloth, and then reuse it. The book lasts essentially forever, and youll only need to replace the inexpensive Frixion pens.
4. Wacom Bamboo Folio Smartpad Digital Notebook
Best Regular Paper Smartpen
Compatibility: iOS, Android Battery Life: 8 hours Max Pages: 100 Audio Recording: No Paper: Any
Designed with executives and working professionals who attend a lot of meetings in mind, the Wacom Bamboo Folio Smartpad Digital Notebook has most of its brains in the folio itself. You can use any sort of paper you like with the device, so theres no need to use special micro dotted paper, and running out of paper at a critical moment is never a concern. You do still need to use the special Wacom stylus pen, though if you use another pen, you can write on the paper, but the folio wont recognize your input.Everything you write is captured by the folio, which you can sync with the desktop or mobile app, and can be shared with cloud services like Dropbox and Google Docs. Wacom also offers the ability to convert your handwriting to digital text, though that requires an ongoing monthly subscription.
While the folio pairs with your mobile device via Bluetooth to sync your notes and the folio itself needs to be recharged occasionally, the pen never needs charging, which is a welcome convenience. In addition, the folio is available in two sizes: full letter-size and half-letter size.
5. Neo Smartpen N2
Best Smartpen for Microdot Paper
Compatibility: Windows, iOS, Android Storage: 90MB Battery Life: 5 hours Max Pages: 1,000 Audio Recording: Yes (through smartphone app) Paper: Ncoded Paper
The concept behind the Neo Smartpen N2 should be familiar to anyone who has used a smartpen before. The pen itself has all the brains, which includes a battery, camera, and processor. You need to use the N2 with special micro dotted paper, and on that front the selection is huge perhaps the largest of any smartpen. You can choose from among memo books, pocket-sized mini books, planners, spiral-ring notebooks, and many other options.The pen uses standard D-1 type pen tips, which means you can replace the ink with any standard refill so youre not tied to refills supplied only by Neo. It contains 90MB of storage, which means you can take extensive notes without synchronizing it with your mobile device and not worry about running out of memory. Yes, other pens have more memory like the 2GB Livescribe Echo but a lot of that storage is committed to audio. The N2 captures text only.
When you sync the pen with your mobile device, your notes and sketches are stored in the Neo mobile app, and you can also share the files with cloud services like Evernote, One Note and Google Drive.
6. Apple Pencil (2nd Generation)
Best Smartpen for iPad
Compatibility: iOS Battery Life: 12 hours Audio Recordings: No Paper: iPad
The Apple Pencil isnt your ordinary smart pen; its a stylus that turns an iPad into a device that you can write and draw on. Apple has created an almost Microsoft-level amount of confusion around the Pencil by giving two different products the Apple Pencil and Apple Pencil (2nd Generation) — the same name, barely even distinguishing them on the website, despite the fact that theyre incompatible with one another.The 2nd Generation pencil works with the latest iPads (the 12.9-inch and 11-inch models) and is a refined, powerful tool for writing and drawing. It is finished in matte white and is flat on one side, which prevents it from rolling around. Theres no Lightning port for charging; its battery charges when its attached to the iPad (which it does magnetically).
Like many of the other smart pens in this list, the Apple Pencil lets you write and sketch though only on compatible iPads. There are a wide variety of apps that work with the Pencil; you can take handwritten notes, mark-up documents, and even edit photos. The downside? Its a single-use accessory that is designed exclusively for your iPad.
7. Moleskine Pen+ Ellipse
Best Smart Pen for Sketching
Compatibility: Android, iOS, Windows Paper: Moleskine Smart Notebooks
Who said you had to use a smart pen just for notes? The Moleskine Pen+ Ellipse works just as well for notes as it does for doodles. You can sketch away in your Moleskin Smart Notebook while using the Pen+ Ellipse, and the pen will transfer it all in real time to your Android, iOS, or Windows device.The Moleskine Pen+ Ellipse comes with the pen itself, which features a replaceable ink tip, as well as a notebook to get you started. The pen features a rechargeable battery, so you don’t have to fiddle around with opening it up. And, the device is capable of audio recordings in case you want to make some mental notes while you’re sketching.
What to Look for in a Smart Pen
Smart pens and styluses are fairly niche products and probably always will be. For many people, a stylus like the Apple Pencil is just one more thing to lose, which is why a lot of people dont want to carry it around. And when it comes to the other smart pens, the thought of using technology to write notes thatll sync with a PC can seem needlessly complicated even if its not. The real trick, then, is finding a solution thats as straightforward and un-complicated as possible, while at the same time solving the most problems along the way.To that end, its helpful to understand what problems youre solving. Presumably you need to capture text and images to a phone or PC. But how easy does the device make it to get your notes to the cloud, or to share it with others? Does it sync automatically, or do you need to do it manually? And if so, is there sufficient memory, or will you need to worry about syncing the pen too often?
If you dont want to synf often, look for a pen that has a lot of memory; the Livescribe models have generally large amounts of storage, while the Wacom Bamboo Folio will run out of space quickly. And if youre comfortable syncing pages manually, consider the Rocketbook.
Most smart pens have special features that distinguish them from similar models. Some can record audio, for example, and store it on the pen itself. Thats convenient, but it can also exhaust the pens memory, so other pens do the same thing by connecting to your phone, relying on both the phones microphone and storage.
Lastly, think about how you like to work, and what kind of smart pen suits your workflow. Are you okay with the danger of running out of specialized paper, which may smart pens rely on? If not, consider a pen that can use plain paper (like Wacom), or reusable, erasable paper (like Rocketbook).
Dave Johnson has been writing about gaming and tech since the days of the Palm Pilot. See him shout into the Twitter void @davejoh