Taking notes while saving trees doesn’t have to mean typing everything on a phone or tablet. Instead, try a digital notepad with a pen. It’s an alternative way to get the same feel of writing on your favorite notebook or notepad without constantly having to buy more and more pens and paper notebooks. Take a look at the top seven options.
Pros and Cons of Digital Notepads
As with any technology, there’s a mixture of pros and cons. Before you recycle all your paper notebooks, consider whether a hybrid approach would be better to get the best of both worlds.
- They’re reusable
- Ideal for writing and sketching
- Make digital copies of everything you write
- Sync your notes across devices and platforms
- Use the same notebook for all of your notes, journaling, and more
- Some feel more like a screen than real paper
- Requires a special pen or stylus
- Not ideal if you want to keep physical copies (but you can print the digital version if you want)
- Requires an app to upload
- Handwriting recognition isn’t always perfect. (When converting to text, it may look more like a bad autocorrect than what you wrote.)
While digital notebooks aren’t perfect, they can save a lot of money if you tend to fill them quickly with meeting or school notes, journal entries, to-do lists, etc.
1. Best Overall: Rocketbook Fusion Smart Reusable Notebook
If you want to feel like you’re using a real notepad, it’s hard to beat the Rocketbook Fusion Smart Reusable Notebook. While Rocketbook has a full line of reusable notebooks and even index cards, this particular one stands out because it works for almost anything you need. It features blank pages, calendar templates, to-do lists, goal setting, and more. That’s why it’s listed as best overall: it can easily replace your lists, work for note taking, track goals, replace a planner, and even work as a sketchpad.
- Looks and feels almost like a real notebook and comes in multiple colors
- Write with a real ink pen
- Features 42 pages with different themes/purposes
- Durable notebook cover
- Upload notes easily to your favorite cloud storage service
- Only works with Pilot Frixion pens
- Must erase pages to reuse them
Also helpful: if you need to charge your digital notebook on the go, you can use any of these small power banks.
2. Best for Real Paper: Moleskine Smart Notebook and Pen
Hate the thought of erasing the physical copy of your work? With the Moleskine Smart Notebook and Pen set, you get the classic Moleskine notebook you love mixed with a digital notepad, thanks to the companion app and smart pen. Once paired, whatever you write appears in the app within seconds. You can edit everything about it, including the color and size, and export it to your favorite apps.
- Keep a paper copy of your notes while syncing digitally in real time
- Paper is specially encoded
- Smartpen is rechargeable
- Edit in the app immediately
- Smartpen is only compatible with Moleskine Smart Notebooks
- Can only back up notes to Microsoft OneNote and Google Drive
3. Best for Artists: iskn The Slate 2+ Pencil and Paper Graphic Tablet
If you prefer using your pencils and pens, the iskn The Slate 2+ Graphic Tablet is the best digital notepad for you. The tablet is compatible with most drawing software, including Adobe and Gimp, and you use your paper. The best part is you can use your favorite pens and pencils by connecting the iskn Ring, which slides on easily. When connected directly to a computer or tablet, you can see your sketches come to life digitally. You can even edit designs with the free Repaper Studio software. You can also get the special Faber-Castell edition for $200.
- Works with most any pen and pencil
- Use any paper you want
- Works while connected or uploads creations later
- Lightweight, portable design
- Use a stylus on the pad itself when connected directly to drawing software
- Gets tiresome using multiple pens/pencils, moving the ring back and forth
- Requires real paper, so not an eco-friendly option
4. Best Reusable Notebook: Boogie Board Blackboard
The Boogie Board Blackboard is one of the best reusable digital notebooks. The simple tablet-like design gives you a letter-size writing area. Simply use the stylus to make notes, sketch quick doodles, or write out documents. Everything syncs using the companion app. Once synced, you can erase and start again. From business meetings to kid’s doodles, it’s an affordable notebook for most uses.
- Reusable notebook comes with four removable templates
- Erase portions or everything at once
- Sync all your notes in seconds
- Can only write one page at a time
- Sometimes the Exact-Erase (partial erase) feature doesn’t fully erase as intended
5. Best Digitial Tablet With Paper Feel – reMarkable 2
Don’t want to waste paper but miss that paper feel? The reMarkable 2 is a remarkable device that gives you a paper feel on a tablet screen. Easily take notes, access existing notes, and even notate on PDF documents. With the app, you can share files between devices on the desktop and mobile devices. You can also easily sync to cloud services. There’s even support for ebooks.
- Paper-like feel without real paper
- Import files to edit and read EPUB ebooks
- Sync files between most types of devices and the cloud
- Get a full refund within 100 days of trying it out
- reMarkable’s Connect cloud service costs $2.99/month after first year
- Writing to text can be iffy at times
- Not available on Amazon
Also Useful: are you a Mac user? If so, these are the best sticky note apps for Mac.
6. Best Budget-Friendly Option: GAOMON S620 Graphics Tablet
The GAOMON S620 Graphics Tablet is designed foremost for drawing and sketching, but it features note-taking capabilities too. The battery-free pen has a highly sensitive 8192 level pen pressure. The table has four programmable hotkeys. Connect it to a computer or mobile device and watch your writing appear on the screen. It’s important to note that this doesn’t have a screen.
- Sensitive pen to capture the tiniest details
- Works with Windows, Android, iOS, and Mac
- Works with most drawing and note-taking software
- Customize functionality with hotkeys
- Doesn’t have its own screen
- Doesn’t work without a connected device
7. Best Additional Features: BOOX Note Air 2
The BOOX Note Air 2 is an Android tablet designed with writing in mind. While it can run many Android apps, it has more of a paper look and feel, though not as paper-like as reMarkable. Built-in tools make it easy to take notes and draw sketches. Thanks to the e-ink design, it also works well for reading ebooks. There’s even onboard storage to use it anywhere, even when you’re not online.
- Works like a tablet and digital notepad in one
- Install productivity apps for note-taking, drawing, and more
- Screen makes paper look more realistic, including with ebooks
- 64 GB built-in storage
- Can’t expand storage
- May be too pricey for basic note-taking
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use any pen with digital notepads?
For most, no. Digital notepads typically come with a special pen or stylus. Pay close attention to the brand of the pen so that when it wears out, you can get the same kind. If you don’t use the right pen, you could damage the notebook or not get the same functionality.
How do I access my notes and sketches?
Each digital notepad has a list of cloud services to which you can upload files. The GAOMON is the only one that doesn’t allow you to sync files, as they’re stored directly on the device you connect to, such as a PC or mobile device.
If you prefer storage, check carefully to see whether it’s supported. Google Drive is a popular option for many notepads.
Can I convert handwriting to text?
Many digital notepads convert handwriting to text using OCR technology. However, this isn’t a perfect technology, and you will see some errors. For best results, don’t use cursive writing and ensure your handwriting is easily legible.
Can I just use my iPad or Android tablet?
Absolutely. With a stylus, both work well for taking notes. However, you’ll want to choose a model with a more sensitive stylus/pen for the clearest notes and sketches. If you’re looking for something to both write on and read with, check out the differences between an Android tablet and a Kindle.
Image credit: Unsplash
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