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Best smart pens 2021

Best smart pens 2021
(Image credit: Livescribe)

The best smart pens are a handy little gadget that can automatically record your writing and drawing in real-time, giving you a digital copy of your scribblings. Smart pens are the ideal tool for students as they allow you to take notes in your lectures and have a digital copy of them immediately saved to your laptop. They are also excellent for budding digital artists, as you can sketch out a drawing and have it instantly uploaded to your computer where you can edit and improve it.

So what should you be looking for in the best smart pens? There are quite a few different types of smart pens out there, each with different features and tasks that they handle best. Most smart pens that you’ll see on the market have a sensor built into the pen which scans and digitizes your writing as you go. These smart pens are super accurate, but typically need to be used with special notepads which can be expensive. The other type of smart pen uses an external sensor that clips onto the top of your notepad and scans your writing that way. These work with any type of paper, but they’re not quite as accurate when replicating text, but they’re still great for drawing and sketching

Outside the two main types, there are other factors to consider when choosing from the best smart pens. Battery life is a big factor for many, especially if you need something to cover you for an entire day of lectures. Some smart pens can be charged while in use, which mitigates the battery issue, but others need to be plugged into a charging dock. There are also extra features to consider too, including built-in voice recorders which are ideal for students who might want to record the audio of a lecture in addition to their own notes.

Price is the final consideration. Smart pens themselves can cost anywhere between $125 and $350, but it’s not as straightforward as just the cost of the device. As we mentioned earlier, some smart pens need proprietary notepads to work, and these are often much more expensive than regular paper.

1. Livescribe 3 Smart Pen: Best smart pen overall

Best smart pens: Livescribe 3 Smartpen digital pen

(Image credit: Livescribe)

Livescribe 3 Smartpen

The best smart pen we’ve ever tested

Most accurate pen we tested
Comfortable round design
Heavier than most smart pens
Requires expensive Livescribe notebooks 

The Livescribe 3 Smartpen is the best smart pen we tested thanks to its phenomenal accuracy in both writing and drawing. It’s also comfortable and easy to use thanks to its soft-rubber grip and round design. We were suitably impressed with the breezy 30-second setup time. Syncing the pen was effortless once we installed the app on our smartphone. 

The Livescribe 3 Smartpen didn’t record a single inaccuracy in either our writing or drawing tests. The Livescribe app also impressed us. Digitizing your handwriting is as easy as swiping left or right.  You can also start or stop audio recordings using the app or the navigation icons printed at the bottom of Livescribe’s notebooks, which is a neat feature.

This Livescribe 3 Smartpen has an impressive battery life, lasting for up to 14 hours of continuous use. It is charged via a micro-USB port at the tip of the pen. Though Livescribe 3 Smartpen is one of the fattest and heaviest that we tested, the round design was surprisingly comfortable to use, especially when compared with some of the triangular digital pens we tested. Overall, the competitive price and advanced features of the Livescribe 3 Smartpen earn it the top spot in our rankings.

2. Wacom Bamboo Folio Smartpad: Best smart pen for artists

Best smart pens: Wacom Bamboo Smartpad Folio A5 digital pen

(Image credit: Wacom)

Wacom Bamboo Folio Smartpad

The artist’s choice of digital pen, as it translates drawing very well

Smartpad works with any paper
Great accuracy with writing and drawing
Paper must be aligned with the smartpad
Short battery life

Whether you’re a casual doodler or a professional artist, or anyone in between, the Wacom Bamboo Folio Smartpad is the ideal smart pen for your needs. Thanks to the accompanying smart pad, you can use any type of paper with the smart pen, which is perfect for artists who need their ideal canvas.

During our writing and drawing tests, the Wacom Bamboo Folio Smartpad was almost perfect with only one small error across both tests. It’s also one of the most comfortable smart pens we’ve tested and features a simple twist mechanism to turn on. The pen itself doesn’t need charging, while the pad itself will run for eight hours before needing to be charged via micro-USB. It took us just over a minute to set up the smartpad and pair it with our smartphone.

Using the smartpad is simple, you just place a sheet of paper over the smartpad and start writing. When you’re finished, you can easily upload your work by pressing a button to synch the smartpad with your smartphone. This instantly saves your work to the Wacom Inkspace app. From here you can directly view and even edit your masterpieces. If you’re serious about drawing, then Wacom Bamboo Folio is the smart choice.

3. Neo Smartpen N2: Best smart pen for comfort

Best smart pens: Neo Smartpen N2 Review digital pen

(Image credit: Neo)

Neo Smartpen N2

Impressive comfort at an affordable price

One of the most comfortable pens we tested
Quick setup
Shortest battery life we tested
A bit on the heavy side

The Neo Smartpen N2 is easy to set up and feels comfortable in your hand, but it does require special notebooks and writing pads to function.

The pen itself is one of the longest we tested, but the metal body and elegant design offer an attractive alternative to many of the triangular digital pens on the market. It's also incredibly easy to use; all you have to do is press a button on the bottom of the pen to turn it on. You can also toggle the Bluetooth and pairing settings using buttons on the pen. When we put the Neo Smartpen N2 through our writing and drawing tests, it performed better than average but there were a couple of errors in both the writing and drawing tests. 

This Neo Smartpen N2 charges through a micro-USB port located on the top of the pen. The lackluster five-hour battery life is the shortest of any pen we tested, so it will require frequent charging if you're a heavy user. Set up was quick though, only taking around 30 seconds to pair up the pen to our smartphone. If you’re looking for a sleek, metallic smart pen that works well and feels great, the Neo Smartpen N2 is a solid choice.

4. Moleskine Pen+ Ellipse: Best for accessories

Best smart pens: Moleskine Pen+ Ellipse Digital Pen

(Image credit: Moleskine)

Moleskine Pen+ Ellipse

Comfort and elegance come at a cost with this digital pen

Stylish design
Excellent writing and drawing accuracy
Only works with proprietary notepads
Poor battery life

The Moleskine Pen+ Ellipse is part of the Moleskine Smart Writing System, a collection of high-quality products by the famous Italian paper maker. The Smart Writing System includes the Pen+ and Ncoded Paper Tablets.

Like many of the smart pens we tested, the proprietary paper to work properly, but of the pens we tested, the Moleskine Pen+ Ellipse requires proprietary notebooks to function. However, we can comfortably say that Moleskines are the best, as they don’t sacrifice style or practicality. You pay a hefty price for these fancy notebooks though. The pen itself is sleek and weighs about as much as five regular Bic pens. It's comfortable to hold and easy to write with, sporting a triangular design and slender profile. 

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. But it didn’t fare as well in our drawing tests, so it’s not the best choice for artists. 

Despite that, the great handwriting accuracy paired with the app’s ability to record audio make it great for note-taking during lectures or meetings.

5. Livescribe Echo: Best smart pen for voice recording

Best smart pens: Livescribe Echo digital pen

(Image credit: Livescribe )

Livescribe Echo Smart Pen

Has a built-in audio recorder for additional functionality

Incredible accuracy for writing and drawing
Built-in audio recorder
No voice-to-text transcription

The Livescribe Echo almost has it all. It delivers fantastic accuracy for both writing and drawing which is vital for a smart pen. It also comes with a built in audio recorder, allowing to you to record interviews and lectures so that you can write them out later. It even has a great battery life despite these added features.

Sadly where the Livescribe Echo falls down is in the comfort department. Because it has an audio recorder stuffed into its casing alongside all the other technology, Livescribe have had to make the Echo extraordinarily bulky to accommodate all this tech which makes it cumbersome to use.

With all that said, if you're looking for a combination smart pen and audio recorder, the Livescribe Echo is still a fine choice.

6. Newyes SyncPen 2 smartpen: Best for hybrid use

Best smart pens: Newyes SyncPen 2

(Image credit: Newyes)

Newyes SyncPen 2

Ideal for use across paper and tablet formats

Paper and LCD tablet uses
Writing to text
Intuitive power on/off
Specialist notebooks required
Pen angle sensitivity

The Newyes SyncPen 2 smartpen is a hybrid as it comes with both a special notebook and 10-inch LCD tablet for writing on. Write with the pen nib, in the book, or swap out for the plastic tip and use the tablet for extras like color choices and different pen styles. 

The pen itself is high quality, made of metal, but remains comfortable and relatively lightweight. Writing is converted to text and it's possible to make audio recordings via the app. This isn't that cheap up front but considering you get the tablet, writing pad, pen and nibs all included, that's fair enough.

7. Livescribe Symphony: Best for quality on a budget

Best smart pens: Livescribe Symphony

(Image credit: Livescribe)

Livescribe Symphony

A do-it-all device that somehow keeps the price down too

Ergonomic comfort
Converts writing to text well
Dictate with a phone
Special paper required
The odd pairing issue

The Livescribe Symphony is a fantastic blend of features, quality build, comfortable use and reasonable price. This reflects a company that's been working towards perfection for years and this is pretty close to that.

The pen is ergonomically comfortable and easy to write with yet offers decent 10-hour battery life, converts writing to text live and lets you dictate using a paired smartphone. Yes, you are required to use special paper for detection and there was a pairing issue or two in testing, but overall, for the price, this is very impressive.

Charging is quick and easy via USB, making this a go anywhere option that you don't need to worry about dying with its 90-day standby time. It's also so discreet you won't be noticed as using a smart pen, nor will you notice, as this is so comfortable and natural to use.

8. Rocketbook Core: Best for sustainability

Best smart pens: Rocketbook Core

(Image credit: Rocketbook)

Rocketbook Core

Save the planet and a few bucks at the same time

Reusable notebook
Efficient app scanning
Scanning takes time
No audio notes

The Rocketbook Core offers a different take to the other smart pens on this list. The Core is a notebook, made with 36 polyester composite pages which, when used with the included Pilot FriXion pens, can be wiped clean. This means writing, clearly and naturally, then scanning using the app, before wiping clean to use again. That makes this a super affordable but also sustainable pick.

The scanning part is the only effort, but this couldn't be easier as pages are recognized using a QR code and you can even select icons at the bottom of the page to have the writing uploaded to specific cloud storage locations be it Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote and more. This even offers handwriting recognition so you can search your words digitally and use handwritten headings as digital titles.

Why buy a smart pen?

Smart pens are rapidly 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.

If you're looking for a smart pen that doubles as an audio recorder, then we recommend the Livescribe Echo, which has a solid voice recorder built in. If want the clearest quality, though, a dedicated voice recorder will get much clearer audio. The smart pens in our reviews are best used for digitizing your handwritten notes; recording audio is more of an additional feature.

But 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 and drawings. The high price and questionable quality makes choosing the right pen an important decision though, as they're quite an investment versus a normal pen and paper. Read more in our reviews to determine which digital pen might work best for you.

Stylus for touchscreen tablets and 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.

Apple Pencil (2nd Gen)

If you’re looking for a premium stylus to go with your iPad Pro, then the second generation Apple Pencil is the obvious choice. It won’t work with other devices though due to the way it records and sends its position to your tablet. In fact, it won’t even work with other Apple gadgets like Macbooks, just the iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd and 4th generation) and iPad Pro 11-inch (1st and 2nd generation). 

The Apple Pencil syncs and transmits positioning data to your iPad via a Bluetooth signal. This might seem like a needlessly complicated way to make sure it only works on Apple devices, but in reality this system allows for much more sensitive data collection. 

When using the Apple Pencil, it can detect how hard you’re pressing down and input accordingly, allowing you to accurately shade digital images just like you would a real drawing. 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’s pricey, but you get what you pay for.

Adonit Switch
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.