Best Smart Pens 2018

Rebecca Armstrong ·
Phones & Networking Writer
Updated
We maintain strict editorial integrity when we evaluate products and services; however, Top Ten Reviews may earn money when you click on links.


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.

Editor’s Note: The Smarson Bluetooth Digitizer has been removed from our side-by-side comparison because it is no longer available. You can still read our original review, but Top Ten Reviews is no longer updating this product’s information.

Best Overall
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.
View on Amazon
Best for Artists
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.
View on Amazon
Best for Comfort
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.
View on Amazon
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
$134.99 Amazon
8.9 10 6 10 8.8
14
A+
0:26
A+
B+
1.1
Bluetooth
iOS, Android, Amazon
1 Year
Check Price
8.8 9 10 6.8 8.8
8
A
1:02
A+
A-
0.6
Bluetooth
-
iOS, Android
1 Year
$144.13 Amazon
8.1 7.3 8.3 9.3 8.8
5
C+
0:34
A
A+
0.9
Bluetooth
iOS, Android
1 Year
Check Price
7.8 6.8 8 9.3 8.8
5
C-
0:28
A
A+
0.9
Bluetooth
iOS, Android
1 Year
Check Price
7.7 8.8 7.3 6.8 6.3
10
B+
0:30
A
C
0.7
Bluetooth
-
1 Year
Check Price
7.4 9.8 2 8.3 8.8
12
A+
0:05*
A+
C-
1.3
-
-
Mac, PC
1 Year
$199.00 Amazon
7 6 7.8 6.8 10
8
C-
3:37
B-
C
0.7
Bluetooth
-
-
2 Years
Best Overall
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.
Pros
  • Most accurate pen we tested
  • Comfortable round design
  • Easy, twistable on/off switch
Cons
  • Heavier than most smart pens
  • Requires expensive Livescribe notebooks
  • No other colors to choose from
$149.86Amazon
Read the full review
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.
Pros
  • Smartpad works with any paper
  • Great accuracy with writing and drawing
  • Comfortable pen that doesn’t need to be charged
Cons
  • Paper must be aligned with the smartpad
  • Short battery life
  • Cannot record audio
$129.95Amazon
Read the full review
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.
Pros
  • One of the most comfortable pens we tested
  • Quick setup
  • One-click emailing of your handwritten notes
Cons
  • Shortest battery life we tested
  • Longer than normal pens
  • Heavy weight can be uncomfortable
$159Amazon
Read the full review
Best Accessories
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.
Pros
  • Included high-quality notebook
Cons
  • Poor drawing accuracy
$189.00Amazon
Read the full review
Best Value
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.
Pros
  • Works with any paper
Cons
  • Pen cap doesn’t fit on end of pen
$69.99Amazon
Read the full review

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.

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.