Discussion about
joberti

August 6th 2014 8:51 pm

Digital Notetaking: Smartpen vs Laptop/Tablet vs App Scanner

Hi everyone, I was hoping to get some advice. I need some help determining the best option to digitilize my hand written notes I take during class and meetings.

I have seen several options such as SmartPens, Stylus for laptops or tablets and Application scanners. Which is the most convenient and reliable based on: Cursive recognition (i write in cursive), Sync with OneNote,Conversion to text (Conversion and notes are kept separate), Audio recorder, Windows and Android compatibility, writing and plenty of room to write.

When looking for smartpens, Livescribe shows up a lot. There is something about paying more for the paper that I don't really like but not discarding it if it's the best option. Also, is the paper recycable?

Anyways, can anyone recommend any products?

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36 replies
phertiker

Windows 8 tablet with active digitizer. That way you're just writing straight into OneNote, whether you eventually convert that to text or not.

You can also input to other applications with the built-in Windows handwriting recognition keyboard which is awesome at dealing with cursive.
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ginhead

For just notes, a good budget option might be a Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 2. I just picked one up for $200 and I'm pretty happy with it.

It is underpowered with any significant multitasking, and I agree with the other poster that moving unconverted text around in one note is frustratingly slow.

That said, the digitizer/pen performs really well. My wife has a SP3. I'd say that writing on the surface is a bit smoother and has a better feel, but the low cost Lenovo is not a totally different experience and the end result is really the same (in terms of keeping notes in written format or converting to text).

If you already have a decent laptop, a lower cost tablet might make sense. I just got a MacAir for work, so did not need a full laptop replacement. Although, I do have some tablet envy with the Surface around.
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justing6

I personally would steer clear of the Thinkpad Tablet 2, I have not heard very good things about it. Even at that low price point, the clover trail hardware was just frustrating for me to use. If you're looking to cut costs, I would much rather recommend anything baytrail with an active digitizer for $200-$300 or so, the amount of performance you will gain with that extra money will be completely worth it. You can find an Asus Vivotab note with a built in pen slot for under $300 or a Dell Venue 8 for closer to $200 on sale with an extra $30 or so for a pen.
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ginhead

Agree that the ThinkPad2 is not a pc replacement, but for note taking it works well.

I will add that the out of box performance with stock Win 8 was basically terrible and had me ready to return. Overall & OneNote performance is significantly improved with win 8.1 and all Lenovo updates installed (like the ability to save pen calibration settings).

I really wanted an 8” bay trail with digitizer, sd card and HDMI output. As this tablet does not exist (afaik), this hit my buy trigger.
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SteveNYC

I agree with the others. For what you wish to do, the $650 Surface Pro 3 i3 version is your best bet. If you have more money available, then spring for the i5 version.

Ironically, the best device for you might have been (we may never know) the Surface Mini that was to be released the same day that Microsoft announced the Surface Pro 3, before they cancelled its release.

Personally, I left the Windows realm several years ago and prefer Apple. In the mobile space, I think both Apple and Android are very good platforms. But it's impossible to ignore that OneNote is, by far, the best note-taking application (and has been for the last 10 years) and the best platform for OneNote is Windows.

Technically, there is a OneNote beta for Android that allows inking on the Samsung Galaxy Note line of phones and tablets. I've been using it for a week or so on both a Note 8 tablet and a Note 2 phone and it's pretty good. But it's nowhere near the comprehensive set of integrated features that exist on the Windows platform. For example, it can't simultaneously record audio while you're taking handwritten notes. It may get that feature and it may not. I don't know.

If the Microsoft Surface Mini ever sees the light of day, I'll buy it in a New York minute. But until then, your best bet remains the Surface Pro 3. Everything else will disappoint.
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ManUnited

Joberti —

I have been testing products this summer, hoping to establish a digital notes repository for my students. Here are my conclusions:

If you want one piece of kit and one only — go with the Surface Pro 3. (Sadly, I just returned mine yesterday, but more on that later.)

The SP3 gives you everything in one package; however, get the 128GB or higher. I purchased the 64GB, and, out of the box, I only had about half of that left for installs. The SP3 has a nice form factor, especially in Portrait mode, something I would use a lot of when grading papers. It was lightning fast and the keyboard was as bad as I thought it would be.

This makes the unit $849 (after the $150 student discount), but before the keyboard. Both Microsoft and Best Buy honor this pricing, but if you purchase it from BB make sure you show them a picture of the keyboard from the MS store as they sell the keyboard at an educational price — $116.

Now, here is why I returned it, but these factors may be exclusive to my teaching situation.
  1. I discovered that any ink comments I made in Word would not appear on my students' papers who use Word for Mac 2011, the latest version of Office. Again, this may seem minor, but my University has about a 50/50 ratio of Macs to PCs. The only way around this was to have students convert papers to PDF or an older version of Word (not a hard task, mind you), but I was uncomfortable asking them to do.
  2. My University uses OneNote for Business. Again, there is an issue when syncing Mac-to-PC OneNote notebooks. This does not appear to be the case when using the standard OneDrive; however, this would add another step in the process for my students.
  3. Lastly, and most odd, the SP3 had problems communicating with our Blackboard LMS. Each page I visited would give me a "Session Error" message, regardless of whether I accessed BB through IE on the desktop or on Metro.
If you don't mind separate pieces of equipment, look at the Livescribe 3 or Echo. The Livescribe 3 is a better pen, but, as of now, it is locked into iOS only. In addition, you need will need and iPhone or iPad in class to use any of the audio capture. On the plus side, the handwriting to text conversion is built into the free iOS app. The Echo uses the Livescribe Desktop and a USB cable to transfer text and audio. Look for VisionObjects MyScript as a way to convert handwriting to text.

(By the way — the paper is recyclable and, if you wish, you can print your own paper if your printer is 600dpi or higher, I believe.)

In addition, if you are only capturing the notes (not audio) in class, you need not have the iPhone or iPad on. The pen captures your writing and later transfers the digital notes to your iOS device via Bluetooth. I do this at most of my meetings.

I ended up going with two smaller tablets — iPad mini Retina ($349 - on sale) and Asus VivoTab Note 8 ($199 - Amazon) and the Livescribe 3 ($149). This gives me a little more flexibility of using a certain device for certain purpose. (In full disclosure, I will use these devices with my old laptop.)

The takeaway from this Summer is — there is no perfect device. The SP3 is the closest I have found, but the limitations were too much for me on the other side of the lectern. However, as a student, you may find that the SP3 may fit 90-95% of your needs.

Cheers.
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larsschermer

@ManUnited
-The live scribe is NOT locked to iOS. the mobile versions have severe limitations
go for syncing on a computer. windows 7-8 xp.

-Also that you got a 64 gb computer says something of your expectations. the surface PRO 3. is a computer NOT a tablet. keep that in mind. It uses and ACTUAL CPU GPU and hardware not the calculator style specs used in tablets.
For the pro 3 get 264 absolute minimum. it requires space. it runs actual programs not striped down mobile apps.

I dont have any problems using BB. but you state that you use IE. let me put this as accurately as possible. NEVER use IE for anything. its bad software, and the biggest target for hacks, cracz and viruses on earth. not to mention buggy and slow as h...

With all due respect it sounds to me like you are getting you hardware categories mixed up.
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ManUnited

@larsschermer —

A few points of clarification:

1) The Livescribe 3 only works with iOS. If you read my original post again, you will see how state the clarifications between the 3 and the Echo. Please do not misrepresent my words.

2) My expectations were equally clear — to provide a repository for notes for my students. Nowhere do I state that the limitations were due to the SP3 specs. I merely advised joberti to get as much storage space as he could afford. For my needs, 64GB would have been sufficient. The CPU, GPU, and other specs were acceptable to me, so I fail to see your point here.

3) I will grant your point on BB. However, what our University IT team discovered was it may be fine for student use, but I am on the other side and actually administering the course. This is where trouble might exist. For joberti, this may not be an issue.

4) Your condemnation of IE makes my point even more. MS promotes the SP3 as both tablet and notebook, regardless of your proclamation that it is notebook only. IE is the only browser that works sufficiently on the tablet side. I was merely pointing this out to joberti. (I know you can download Chrome and use it in Metro, but I believe everyone knows its limitations by now.) In addition, Chrome and Firefox have beed documented to take their toll on the battery life on the SP3.

5) Lastly, I was merely trying to assist joberti in his decision. You are free to disagree with my assertions. However, many of your points were incorrect.
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justing6

I applaud you for your accurate and thorough assessment of the SP3 from a professor's point of view. As a computer science student and a major cog in my university's IT department, I personally have no problems with IE 11, it is actually much faster than chrome in Javascript benchmarks and equal in page loading, as well as having a much more processor optimized flash player and other things. The only reason I use chrome instead is I love the syncing feature between all my devices, including my android phone. I have found that the newest beta of chrome works very well in the "Metro" envoironment, it creates a little pocket of chrome OS on windows 8. Now, my university is unfortunate enough to also support Blackboard and also have to deal with probably a 60/40 macbook to PC student owned machine ratio. When I return to work on Monday I plan on looking into the issues you have faced using my own Surface Pro 3.
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ManUnited

@Justing6 — Thank you for you kind words. I posted this on another forum, but here is what I discovered:

1) The students write the papers on their Macs using Office 2011 and submit the work.

2) The professor uses Office365 or any other current version of Office on the SP3 and makes track changes, edits, inking, etc.

3) Before returning the paper to the students, the professor simply chooses "Save As" and changes the formatting to MS-Word 97-2003. (The Professor may also choose to return the file as a PDF, but that will make the file uneditable for most students.) Why the inking shows up in an older format of Word, I have no idea. I guess it has something to do with the .doc vs. .docx format and how they are displayed on a Mac. (Sadly, even on MS official forums, they state that inking will not show up on a Mac and do not offer this workaround as a solution.)

4) Students can now open the paper in their version of Office (Mac/PC, does not matter) and all the various forms of comments will appear. As a bonus — the inking even appears on the iPad version of Office.

In the Fall, I am teaching mainly Freshman, which some will be unfamiliar with file formats, so I decided to delay my query into using the SP3. However, in the Spring, I will teach mainly upperclassmen in smaller classes, so I think that will be a perfect time to "beta test" my ideas. In addition, there may be an update to the Mac version of Office by then, so this subject may be moot.

I had heard about the beta of Chrome, but had not tested it on the SP3. That is good news.

Good luck with your findings. If you discover something contrary to what I have posted, please return and share your findings. I would love to be corrected!

Cheers.
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jandrews24060

I use a Samsung galaxy note 8 running the one note app, text conversion is great both directly with onenote and using the stylus keyboard. can take pictures and also capture voice although there is an app called cogi that is also good for those.
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SteveNYC

Nice comment on Cogi. I wasn't familiar with that app. It looks interesting..

BTW, did you notice that OneNote has a beta that allows handwriting without using the keyboard stylus area? Your comment kinda/sorta makes reference to it, but I wanted to make sure. It's pretty good. I would not have thought that Microsoft would even attempt to put that feature into their Android version though I am very glad they did. People could even purchase the older Note 10.1 and have a very inexpensive platform for OneNote handwriting if they wanted more screen real estate.

Anyway, just thought you might find it interesting. Also, you need to join the OneNote community in Google+ to get access to the beta.
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jandrews24060

Yes, have the beta and it is great.
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scoobiesnacks

I've not looked into Livescribe recently but last time I looked it seemed to involve just too many compromises e.g. using their expensive dot paper. Does it still involve using their paper?

One advantage to using onenote directly with a tablet is you can use onenote to both record the lecture and your writing whilst your handwritten notes actually sync in time to the recording , so you can playback the part of the lecture that related to specific written notes. This is very powerful and useful. As well as that you can take photos of bits of the lecture to save having to write notes.

Personally , I wish I'd had onenote when I was at college. Having said that do not underestimate the challenge in having a setup that is a good and reliable as paper based notebooks. For instance, you'll hit battery life problems and you mention your handwriting... handwriting on tablets is definately harder than on paper, don't expect the device to recognise your worst handwriting (or even much of it at all!) or for it to be as fast as manual writing.

Portable window convertible tablets still haven't really come of age IMO -eg the keyboard for the Surface Pro 3 is very compromised and not suitable for extensive use that you'd need in this scenario. Lenovo keyboards are by far the best, but the only tablet they have now that is portable enough is the new, slightl underpowered, atom based Thinkpad 10. They have lots of other convertible tablets but they are either overpriced or have some sort of design compromise. Intel's latest chips should finally enable portable tablets that is light and powerful enough , but not until the end of this year, and maybe it won't be until 9 months that Lenovo launch a replacement for their Helix laptop convertible

Again , turning to Onenote, I think it's designed with education in mind - you can have multiple notebooks and the ability to search old notes. You'll also be able to add in your own offline research to "wrap around the notes" more easily, based off internet research.

This is worth reading if you're in education
www.bbc.co.uk­/news­/health­-2256591277

Onenote is multiplatform, if you have a windows desktop/latop , android phone (Samsung Note), and Android tablet (again I'd recommend the samsung note) you can sync between all three. So you may want to consider a multiplaform solution. With the new beta you can also write / ink to all three.
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justing6

Onenote for android and Livescribe just got updates if you're still looking.
www.engadget.com­/2014­/08­/19­/microsoft­-onenote­-andr...
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joberti

Thanks justing6. Now that OneNote for android has handwritten support, would it really matter if a look for an android vs Windows tablet/laptop?
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justing6

At this point with the software updates, each has their advantages and disadvantages. It really all comes down to what you're willing to spend and if you want a separate laptop and tablet or would rather have both in one. OneNote for windows is still greatly superior in inking variations and modifications of ink after it is written as well as being able to print and sort notes more efficiently. However, the list of windows 8 tablets with active digitizers (an absolutely necessity for Onenote for windows to work with inking) is short, as well as every device on its list having its own set of flaws. OneNote for Android with inking support makes it possible to pick up a $200 nexus 7 and use a passive stylus to write, sync the note to OneDrive, and then edit and print from any windows 8 computer. However, this requires two different devices to work together and passive styli of course do not work nearly as well as active ones. I am not a fan of the Galaxy Note line of tablets because of their high prices (They price similarly to the Dell Venue Pro 11 windows tablets which I believe are much superior) but if you could find a couple gen old version used for cheap that is a kind of a compromising option. I would still recommend the Surface Pro 3 even after the OneNote for android update, but if a Surface Pro cannot replace your laptop for what you do in class/meetings and you still have to bring two devices, the extra price just isn't really worth it.
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frankspin

Are you looking to stay with paper or is investing in a tablet an option?
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joberti

Tablet is an option. My concern with tablet is my cursive handwriting and will the tablet be able to convert it to text. I have a decent handwriting. Does the size of the letters matter when writing in a tablet?
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justing6

IT would be hard for me to not recommend the Surface Pro 3. Its obviously going to be at the top of your budget, but for note taking I find it the perfect device, and currently their student deal is $650 for the i3 version. I miss the "cool" factor of the eraser at the end of the old Wacom pen (I owned a Surface Pro 2 before upgrading) but the second button for erasing on the new NTrig pen is probably more efficient, plus it does seem to keep a more accurate location than the Wacom did. If you're using OneNote on it, size of writing doesn't matter as written objects are saved as vectors that can be re-sized later. I personally like to zoom in and write big, but that's just me. the new kickstand on the SP3 is perfect for writing, as the SP2's second stage wasn't really good enough and laying it flat felt awkward, especially because I like to keep a keyboard on hand as well as the pen. Feel free to ask me any questions about it or my experience going paper free with the Surface Pro line if you'd like.
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ipaskov

Hi justings6! I'll be a freshman at college in the fall and was interested in using a Surface Pro 3 to take notes in class (ideally to replace all my paper notebooks). It would not be my main computer, just a device for taking notes. What has your experience been like going paper free?
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justing6

Sure. I'm going into my third year of college and have pretty much relied on my Surfaces in all my classes. I have all my textbooks loaded on it, I take written and typed notes in onenote, and I've even switched onenote to graph paper mode and finished an entire quarter of calculus with just printing out the results to turn in; I was able to compress 4-5 page assignents onto one double sided page easy as I could print far smaller than I could write clearly. The only reason I carry a piece of paper or two at all is for pop quizzes, a stylus still won't cut it in those situations. As I can type 80+ words per minute on the type cover, I love the ability onenote has to integrate typed with written notes. If you tap somewhere in the note with your finger it lets you input text with the keyboard, but of course as soon as you pick up the pen it beings inking. I really like how onenote organizes things into notebooks and OCRs all written text automatically, I tend to keep my written words as written and don't convert them, but when I user ctrl-F, I can still search through them. I can also download slides that the professor uploads and "print" them into onenote so I can mark them up. I originally bought a Surface Pro 2 just for note taking and such, as I'm a computer science student that uses a high powered ultraportable laptop for programming. However, I found my laptop soon never left my room and I was fine with only my surface even for programming, so when the surface pro 3 was released I jumped for the i7 version as I knew my laptop had already been confined to desktop duty. I do think the $650 for the i3 SP3 is a great deal if it is not going to be your main machine, considering how powerful the tuned i3 still is, and the microSD slot and a few dollars can make up for the 64GB ssd you're getting at that price spot. I had an dell atom tablet with an active digitizer before my surface pro that I used to take notes on, but I didn't like how long it took to process dragging around written objects in onenote, a problem the surface doesn't have.
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ozaz

"I can also download slides that the professor uploads and "print" them into onenote so I can mark them up."

When I do this sort of thing, I don't like how the mark ups are uncoupled from the underlying content. By that I mean if the underlying content gets moved on the note page, the markups don't move with it.

Is there a way round this, or does it not bother you?
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justing6

I was just using onenote a bit more with PDFs and found that if you right click the object/PDF you can click "set as background". This makes the document the background of the note and prevents it from being moved or modified.
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justing6

Thats not an easy question to answer, I consider what I do a workaround. When using onenote to mark up a powerpoint/word/etc, onenote automatically puts each page of the printed document in its own "page" of the notebook. It then indents them in the page list so you can tell they go together. Because of this, I just don't move the underlying content and write extra notes around it. If I manage to move it accidentally, I Ctrl-Z to fix it.
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ozaz

Was your experience with Atom on the Clover Trail or the Bay Trail series?
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justing6

Good question, it was the older clover trail chipset. I forgot to clarify that. When upgrading that I was debating between a Dell Venue 11 pro and a Surface Pro 2, I went with the Surface and never looked back.
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ozaz

My experience with Clover Trail was not great either. Looking to try Bay Trail soon, but no one is making the device I really want (10.1", clip-on keyboard, and pen silo in the tablet).
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ManUnited

Justing6 — This is one of the areas where the Surface surpassed any tablet I tested. Using CourseSmart (an app you can get for free in the Windows Store), I was able to project my textbooks in all my classes. In addition, I was able to split screen the SP3 so I could reinforce what the textbook said while looking at a live example of the concept in an actual student's paper.

While doing this, all I could think about was how great this would be for a student. Have the textbook open on one side and OneNote on the other.

Brilliant.

(You're slowly convincing me I may have made an incorrect decision.)
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Srikz

I bought a Dell Venue 8 Pro for the sole purpose of taking notes. Its serving me well. One Note is pretty good in converting handwritten notes (including cursive). I don't convert the text most of the times as the handwritten notes are searchable. If you already have a laptop and you are not looking at buying a laptop/tablet hybrid.. 8 inch tabs like DV8P or Asus Vivo Tab 8 are good options.
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larsschermer

I have a livescribe and i love it. Your notes will sync recorded sound to the time you write, and you can offset the timer as you want. I do have to say i grew up writing on computers this has led to poor handwriting skilz on my part, so i mostly use onenote. However i have lent my livescribe to students that are much better at writing than me. and i end up useing there notes almost more than my own. tablets are crap for note taking. it mimics a analogue pen but fails badly due to refresh rates and the feel and feedback of a stylus. You are much better off with livescribe that or OneNote (which livescribe can sync to btw.)
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joberti

Are there any Android tablets with active digitizer that can be used with OneNote? I have only seen Samsung Note and I believe Toshiba Excite.
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scoobiesnacks

I'm only aware of the Samsung galaxy note series, but they are widely regarded as the best smartphones & tablets irrespective of the added bonus of a digitizer. All Samsung galaxy devices can now ink in onenote with the pen. Be aware galaxy note devices tend to see upgrades in Q3/4 , mirroring apples release cycle, so a new note smartphone is expected in September
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ManUnited

@Joberti — Since the Android version of OneNote that allows inking, I believe this will be a feature seen in more Android tablets in the future. At least, I am hoping to see this development.

https:­/­/plus.google.com­/communities­/11363328164613...
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joberti

Android finally supports handwritting on OneNote. I wonder how this will change things.
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DJinuro

There is Beesy that is planning to combine smartpen technology and handwriting technology together to integrate it to its workflow.
But if you want more insights about the digital note-takign issue you can read this: www.beesapps.com­/market­-usage­/handwritten­-or­-digit...
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