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Is the Smartpen Just a Dumb Digital Device?

Can the new crop of smartpens save the world from emojis and truncated, thumb-tapped anachronisms?

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Despite our ever-growing infatuation the world at our fingertips, the mighty pen and paper are far from dead. No matter how well Siri listens or how dexterous your thumbs, the simple act of pulling out a pen and writing something down will always be faster, easier and infinitely more professional. Although that doesn’t mean that these two mediums can’t coexist. On the contrary, there are a growing number of traditional ink-blotters that employ connected technology to hybridize our daily note-taking. The smartpen combines the convenience and professionalism of an analog pen with the instantaneous possibilities afforded by digital transcription. You don’t need to be an autograph hound to see the benefits and convenience of a computerized quill, so arm yourself with one of the best smartpens on the market.

Livescribe 3

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Best for Longform: With a battery life of 14 hours and a form factor that rivals most executive stationary, the Livescribe 3 is an excellent choice for brainstormers looking to keep track of that next big idea. Working with an infrared camera powered by an ARM processor, the Livescribe 3 captures every pen stroke made on your Livescribe Dot paper (which you can print yourself) and sends them via Bluetooth to your app-equipped smartphone or tablet. Any notes made while not paired with your device can be stored in the pen for transfer later.

Buy Now: $145

Sky Wi-Fi Smartpen

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Best Mic Integration: If you’re looking for a truly next-level note-taking experience, the Sky Wi-Fi Smartpen, also by Livescribe, is your best bet. Equipped with up to 8GB of internal memory, the Sky Wi-Fi features an integrated microphone to capture any audio that goes along with your scribbling. For students sweating it out trying to keep up in lecture halls, this is a massive advantage. The Sky also uploads to your Evernote account for easy access across multiple platforms.

Buy Now: $229

Mobile Notes Pro 2

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Best for Writing on Paper: Unlike the other units on this list, the Mobile Notes Pro 2 doesn’t feature any kind of app to allow editing on a mobile device. It can upload to handhelds via Bluetooth, but editing power lies in the MyScript software installed on your laptop or desktop computer. Don’t let that completely dissuade you, though, as the Pro 2 is one of the few digital decoders that doesn’t rely on a specialized medium to capture daily jottings. That’s right: any kind of paper will work just fine. Working with a base unit, the pen also functions as a stylus and can double as a mouse for your PC/Mac as well.

Buy Now: $140

Equil Smartpen 2

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Best Across Platforms: Like the Mobile Notes above, the Equil Smartpen 2 uses a receiver and can write freely on any scrap of paper, Moleskine or Field Notes notebook you keep at the ready. The Equil also works with two separate apps, Equil Note and Equil Sketch, depending on whether you’re doodling or taking dictation. It is also compatible with Evernote, so sharing thoughts and drawings is always easy. While carrying around the receiver (which houses the unit’s memory) may seem like a drag, the whole package stores sleekly in a triangular roll-up that resembles good Cupertino design.

Buy Now: $199

Neo Smartpen N2

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Editor’s Choice: The N2 is comfortable and easy to write with, and it’s a touch longer and wider than a typical pen. The triangular shape sits nicely in hand and is well balanced. Working within the nCode Professional notebook, the dual-core ARM-equipped N2 captures every dotted “i” and crossed “t” and beams them to your device via Bluetooth, either in real time or at your convenience. The Neo Notes app allows you to customize the print size and color of any notes recorded and add accompanying audio tracks. A transcription feature is also available. Battery life is pegged at five hours when constantly in use and it’s not difficult to get a full day out of the N2. The only con is the requirement to use Neo’s proprietary paper or to print out “Ncoded” pages. Without one of those two, the writing will not sync with the app.

Buy Now: $169

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