Best Smart Pens 2019 - Digital Pens for Sketching, Note-Taking
We tested the top smart pens from seven manufacturers for over 16 hours by writing, doodling and taking notes. We wrote out the Gettysburg Address with each pen to get a feel for writing longform and to test for accuracy. We also sketched at least two pictures with each pen to get a feel for how well the digital pens could replicate finer details and shading. The Livescribe 3 Smartpen Black Edition is the best smart pen because of its impeccable accuracy, comfortable grip and easy setup.
Livescribe 3 Smartpen
The Livescribe 3 Smartpen Black Edition was the most accurate smart pen we tested and only took 26 seconds to set up and start recording.
Wacom Bamboo Folio
The Wacom Bamboo Folio Smartpad can record your writing and drawing on any paper, and the rounded soft-rubber pen is one of the most comfortable we tested.
Neo Smartpen N2
The Neo Smartpen N2 has the most comfortable pen design we tested and features good accuracy and a smartphone app that instantly tracks your handwriting.
|Product||Price||Overall Rating||Performance||Design||Features||Help & Support||Battery Life (hours)||Sketch Capture Quality||Setup Time (min:sec)||Handwriting Capture Quality||Comfort Score||Weight (ounces)||Wireless Connectivity||Requires Special Paper / Notebooks||Audio Recording Capability||Mobile App||iOS, Android, Mac, PC||Tutorials||Warranty|
|Livescribe 3 Smartpen||View Deal||4.5/5||10||6||10||8.8||14||A+||0:26||A+||B+||1.1||Bluetooth||✓||✓||✓||iOS, Android, Amazon||✓||1 Year|
|Wacom Bamboo Smartpad||View Deal||4.5/5||9||10||6.8||8.8||8||A||1:02||A+||A-||0.6||Bluetooth||✓||-||✓||iOS, Android||✓||1 Year|
|Neo Smartpen N2||View Deal||4/5||7.3||8.3||9.3||8.8||5||C+||0:34||A||A+||0.9||Bluetooth||✓||✓||✓||iOS, Android||✓||1 Year|
|Moleskine Pen+||View Deal||4/5||6.8||8||9.3||8.8||5||C-||0:28||A||A+||0.9||Bluetooth||✓||✓||✓||iOS, Android||✓||1 Year|
|IRIS Notes Air 3||View Deal||4/5||8.8||7.3||6.8||6.3||10||B+||0:30||A||C||0.7||Bluetooth||-||✓||✓||✓||✓||1 Year|
|Livescribe 2GB||View Deal||3.5/5||9.8||2||8.3||8.8||12||A+||0:05*||A+||C-||1.3||-||✓||✓||-||Mac, PC||✓||1 Year|
|Equil Smartpen 2||View Deal||3.5/5||6||7.8||6.8||10||8||C-||3:37||B-||C||0.7||Bluetooth||-||✓||✓||✓||-||2 Years|
The Livescribe 3 Smartpen Black Edition is the best smart pen we tested because it has impeccable accuracy for both writing and drawing. It’s also comfortable and easy to use.
The soft-rubber grip and round design makes this pen easy to hold, and we were quite impressed with the 30-second initial setup. Syncing was effortless once we installed the app on our test smartphone. This pen didn’t record a single inaccuracy in both our writing test and our drawing test. The Livescribe app makes digitizing your handwriting as easy as swiping left or right, and you can start or stop audio recordings using the app or the navigation icons printed at the bottom of Livescribe’s notebooks.
This pen can last for 14 hours of continuous use, and it charges using a micro-USB port at the tip of the pen. Though this pen is one of the fattest and heaviest that we tested, the round design fit in our hands much better than some of the triangular digital pens. Overall, with its competitive price and advanced features, the Livescribe 3 Smartpen Black Edition is our favorite smart pen.
Best for Artists
If you’re a doodler or an artist – someone who does a lot of drawing – the Wacom Bamboo Folio Smartpad is the ideal smart pen because it lets you use any paper on its pad.
During our writing and drawing tests, the Wacom Bamboo only recorded one error. The included pen is one of the most comfortable we tested and features a simple twist mechanism to start writing. Though you don’t have to charge the pen, the pad itself will run for eight hours before you need to charge it using the micro-USB port at the bottom of the device. It took just over a minute to get the pad up and running and paired with our smartphone. Using the pad is simple; all you have to do is touch the pen to any paper on the pad and it starts digitizing.
When you’re finished writing or drawing, just press the single button and the pad syncs with your phone and saves to the Wacom Inkspace app. The app allows you to view your saved sketches and make simple edits directly from the app. This pen is perfect if you’re an artist with a certain type of paper that you like to draw or sketch with.
Best for Comfort
The Neo Smartpen N2 feels great in your hand, though it requires special notebooks and writing pads.
The pen itself is one of the longest we tested, but the metal body and elegant design present an attractive alternative to triangular digital pens. The pen is also one of the easiest to use; all you have to do is press the single button on the bottom of the pen to turn it on and off or to toggle the Bluetooth and pairing settings. When we put the Neo Smartpen N2 through our writing and drawing tests, it performed better than average. We only found two errors during our writing test and two in the drawing test.
This pen charges through a micro-USB port located on the top of the pen. Its five-hour battery life is the shortest of any pen we tested, so it needs frequent charging. In our setup tests we were able to get the pen up and running in just over 30 seconds, meaning it should be easy to pair to your tablet or smartphone. If you’re looking for a sleek, all-metal smart pen that works well, the Neo Smartpen N2 is a great choice.
The Moleskine Pen+ is part of the Moleskine Smart Writing System, a collection of high-quality products including the Pen+ and Ncoded Paper Tablets.
Many smart pens require specific, proprietary paper to work properly, but of the pens we tested, the Moleskine notebooks were by far the best, as they don’t sacrifice style or practicality. The pen itself is sleek and weighs about as much as five regular Bic pens. The triangular body is comfortable to hold and easy to write with. The Moleskine Pen+ didn’t fare well in our drawing tests, so it’s not the best choice for artists. In our handwriting tests, however, the Pen+ recorded only one error when we wrote out the full Gettysburg address. Likewise, transcribing the written words to the app had highly accurate results, even with messy handwriting. That, paired with the app’s ability to record audio, make it great for note-taking during lectures or meetings.
The IRIS Notes Air 3 doesn’t require special paper to work properly. Instead, it uses transceiver technology for accurate handwriting recording.
A small transceiver clip records your pen strokes on any paper or notebook, saving you money versus similarly-priced pens that require you to buy expensive coded paper. It also has both a smartphone app and computer software for taking and uploading your notes. The IRIS smart pen performed well in handwriting tests, only marking a few extra lines when we viewed the digital versions of the notes. It didn’t record drawings with much accuracy, though, so it’s best for note-taking. There are two odd design aspects with the IRIS Notes Air 3. For one, the pen is two separate pieces that both need to charge, but it only comes with one mini-USB charging cable. The second is that there’s no place for the pen cap while you’re using the pen. It doesn’t fit on the end of the pen and could easily get lost.
Why Trust Us?
We conducted our own hands-on tests with each digital pen – writing, doodling and taking notes for over 16 hours in total. We read what other review sites and consumers had written about the pens and took their ratings into consideration. We wrote out the Gettysburg Address with each pen to get a feel for the comfort and accuracy of each one. We also sketched at least two pictures to see how well the digital pens could replicate finer details and shading. We weighed the pens using a high-quality scale in our Purch test lab and took careful notes as we wrote with each pen. We’ve reviewed smart pens for several years as well as countless other digital products.
Because smart pens are such a niche device, the market is small. We tested all the major pens that are currently on the market and that you can buy today, even some that may take you weeks to ship from Amazon. We also scoured Kickstarter to look for any up and coming products. The pens we reviewed are the ones you’ll see on Amazon or in box stores.
How We Tested
To test the writing accuracy of the pens, I wrote out all 272 words of the Gettysburg Address with each pen and then compared the written copies with the digitized versions. I looked for extra lines and incorrect strokes that didn’t result from poor penmanship and were incorrectly inserted by the pen. Incorrect lines counted as errors and lowered the writing accuracy score.
To test the accuracy of the pens with regard to sketching and drawing, I drew a simple house and attempted to draw a horse (it wasn’t pretty) with each pen. I looked for missing lines and incorrect shading when reviewing the digitized drawings for accuracy. As with the writing accuracy comparison, each missing feature was counted as an error and hurt the sketching accuracy score.
How Much Do Smart Pens Cost?
Most of the smart pens we evaluated cost about $150, though a few are upwards of $200. Other things to consider when calculating cost are the prices of consumables, including ink refills and paper. A few of the pens we tested work with any paper, but most require specially coded paper to work properly. These papers are proprietary for each company, as is the case for the Neo Smartpen N2, and the special notebooks cost upwards of $20.
Who Could Use a Smart Pen?
Smart pens are becoming obsolete. If you own an iPad Pro, the Apple Pencil offers better accuracy and better functionality than any technology that digitizes physical pen and paper.
However, certain use cases, like taking notes in a college class or wanting to share your handwritten meeting notes, could make smart pens a smart buying decision. Be warned, however, that if your penmanship is sloppy, digitizing them won’t do you any favors.
More on Computer Peripherals
If you find yourself needing a smart pen for just taking voice recordings, we recommend the Livescribe Echo, which has a solid voice recorder built in. If you’re looking for the clearest quality, though, a dedicated voice recorder will get much clearer audio. The smart pens in our review are best used for digitizing your handwritten notes; recording audio is more of an additional feature.
If you’re a true pen and paper aficionado, a smart pen could be a great way to digitize and keep track of your handwritten notes. The high price and questionable quality, however, makes choosing the right pen an important decision. Read more in our reviews to determine which digital pen might work best for you.
Stylus For Touchscreen Tablets & Phones
The smart pens we tested digitize handwritten notes and drawings and send them wirelessly to mobile apps on a phone or tablet. If you prefer sketching or taking notes on mobile devices by touching a pen directly to the touchscreen surface instead of to a conventional notepad, a stylus is the best option. Here are some of our favorite styluses for mobile devices.
If you have a first or second generation iPad Pro or the sixth generation iPad, this is the best stylus available. It doesn’t work on Android or Windows tablets, but because it’s designed specifically for iOS devices, there aren’t any issues with syncing or any lag in response time. The Apple Pencil syncs to the tablet via Bluetooth and charges with a Lightning connection. When you draw on the pressure-sensitive screen with the side of the tip, it creates wide strokes perfect for shading. For handwritten notes, the tip has a fine point that’s extremely accurate. It doesn’t have a rubber handle, which makes it slippery after many hours of use, but the size and weight feel similar to a conventional pencil or pen.
This stylus is a handwriting solution for digital and analog surfaces. On one end there’s a fine-point stylus surrounded by a clear plastic disc that works on all iOS phones and tablets and most Android devices. On the other end is a 0.8-millimeter ballpoint pen for writing on paper. The stylus syncs via a Bluetooth connection and is compatible with popular note-taking apps like Notability and GoodNotes. This hybrid stylus doesn’t have the same creative painting and drawing features as the Apple Pencil, but if you take notes on tablets and paper, it is a great option.
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