The Best Digital Notebooks
What are the best Digital Notebooks and Notepads you can get right now? There are many articles on this topic and many of them have catchy titles like:
10 Best Digital Notepads & Notebooks for Creatives in 2022
Digital notebooks that are actually better than pen and paper
But before we start lets clarify a few things and have some definitions.
In this article, when we speak of a 'digital notebook or notepad' we could be talking about an app, a device or a combination of both. We know it can be a bit confusing but as you read through we think you will realize that we can't often separate the hardware from the software. And to give you a full sense of the options we need to include all types. But to start let's think of a digital notebook as a dedicated tablet (iPad or e-ink device equivalent) that has a note-taking app on it.
We'll explore the world of digital notebooks, and we'll cover the topics of what is the benefit of digital, paper vs digital notepads, what are 'smart notebooks', and how you can use a pen to write with a stylus on a digital 'notepad' like the Sony, Boox or Remarkable e-reader devices that have become quite popular in the consumer space as alternatives to paper. Unlike a traditional piece of paper, you can now use a digital pen, and you can also do this on an Apple iPad or with a Wacom tablet that is linked to your computer and screen (more traditional use of a tablet). There is even the new Amazon Scribe device that has a stylus pen and app to take notes when reading you book!
There are many features and apps that can help to take notes and we'll cover a few of the best and most useful in this article.
Probably the most important thing to realize is that a tablet can be expensive, but there are many affordable options. There are some good review sites also we'll include at the end to help you research more. People who use digital notebooks are often students, writers, professionals and also just regular users who want to have an alternative to their analog system, and prefer using a pen to a mouse to scribble notes! The great thing about a device is that can fit inside your backpack - and can even be connected to the cloud - so you have all your content and articles for a great reading experience. Whatever you need to-do, for instance you can use your iPad to read article, login to your note app like Evernote or OneNote, and use it for many hours (even days) with good battery life. E-ink devices are better than traditional tablets like the iPad Air since the screen is much lower power - such a device can last for 30 days! Such devices from Boox, Royale, and Remarkable are very innovative and great value, and have been designed for a great reading experience with lots of space for your PDFs and articles. They are also very secure often with minimal apps. Lookout for more e-ink devices in the future.
So from a hardware perspective you can think of a digital notebook or notepad as a laptop, a mobile phone, a tablet, like a an Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab S8, or a Microsoft Surface Pro. In these cases you will need a 'notebook app' like NoteDex, OneNote or Evernote. Depending on your device you may also need a digital pen - usually available for most modern tablets, but also you can buy a stylus digitizer tablet that connects to your computer or device, such as from Wacom or Huion.
There are also dedicated 'e-reader' type devices with built-in note taking functions, like the Remarkable 2, Boox Note and others. Sometimes these are called smart notebooks.
Let's now break things down into a bit more detail first with digital notebook note-taking apps.
We know, you are all tired of such headlines like:
The 6 best note-taking apps of 2022
Best for writing and note-taking
There are many notes apps that make a hardware tablet or e-reader 'smart notebook' - allowing you to take digital notes and digitize your thoughts. A good notepad app should be able to fit your workflow and allow you to keep track of your thoughts. Things to look out for in good notebook note-taking app are:
ability to take text with keyboard and write pen notes on the notepad with a stylus
ability to export or sync to the cloud (so you can view on other devices)
is useful enough for you to have an interactive experience like with paper and pen and sketch and scribble notes
Some of the better apps that do this reliably and well are OneNote, Evernote and NoteDex. A lot of people are now seeing apps like NoteDex as an alternative to One Note and Evernote, since it is a more 'visual' tool for visual thinkers and shows notecards in a grid and can organize notes into folders. There are of course online notepad apps, some free, but the ones that you really should go for should either be from large company or one that charges you? Why? Because a free site is either a) selling your data or b) not going to be there in the long term. Apps on iPad like Goodnotes for instance are very good.
All these apps can be used on any computer with modern technology, like a Mac or PC, and the devices like Remarkable provide an insight into the future of ways of using interactive paper for taking notes in office meetings. It is a premium device but many people like it. The nice thing about such apps is that they are 'reusable' and no paper is wasted. However, there are not many 'app' options for such a dedicated e-ink device so you need to use the built-in apps, which are good, and then you can email notes to yourself once you have created them. For some spending $400 on an e-ink device might seem expensive, but it is about value and convenience. If you like the note-taking apps on these devices then you can use these to take long notes and then send them to your computer for review later in the office.
Digital Notepads, Notebooks, Tablets - is there a difference?
Not really, in one way or another they are all electronic devices that have some form of notetaking app.
When we talk about digital notebooks there are 2 main types :
1) hardware devices with screens and an operating system - like an iPad, or
2) a 'digitizer' tablet which may or may not have a screen but which is simply connected to your computer and acts as a hardware pen input device - like a Wacom device.
An e-ink device is a bit of a hybrid device but with many of them now having notepad and drawing apps and pens they are becoming alternative tablets.
Using a tablet like the Wacom Drawing Tablet, an Apple iPad with Pencil, the Remarkable 2 or even the new Amazon Kindle Scribe, you can use the tablet for reading, for drawing with ink, just like paper, to take notes. Most artists will use a Wacom or other tablet. Using a tablet will help you to use the various whiteboard and blackboard classroom apps, to sketch and draw.
Whether you are using an iPad or an e-ink device, a digital notepad helps you to track your information, meeting notes, and helps you to be more innovative by capturing what is in your mind and allowing you review and process your content. A paper notepad that you buy from Amazon is certainly handy but when your notes are captured in an electronic notepad they are available anywhere via the cloud and can be seen any device. But the magic can happen when we look at 'digital' notepads that combine hardware and software. The only main difference comes between the full devices and the digitizer tablets as mentioned earlier.
The benefit of a true tablet is that you can run on Windows, Android, or iOS, other apps like Google slides, Microsoft Whiteboard, and other digital notetaking apps. As a student this can be helpful and ensures your get a lot of value from your device.
Moleskine - A Hybrid Approach!
Unlike the classic paper notepad - Moleskin anyone? - the hybrid digital Notepad might be for you!
If you LOVE your Moleskin notepad, and just can't bear the idea of taking notes on a screen (yes, I too have such friends!) then you are in luck. With the Moleskin Smartbook you can actually use a digital pen and it will capture your notes as you write. It's pretty cool. You can then send your notes as an image to other devices. Smart Notebook Hard Cover Black | Moleskine
Alternatively, if you also don't want to spend $300 on such a e-enabled paper notebook (!) you can use a $20 Moleskine paper notebook and take a picture to upload to your Evernote app, OneNote app, or paste into NoteDex cards, or upload to Box or Dropbox cloud. Unlike Evernote, OneNote does not need a subscription, and NoteDex has a one-time lifetime purchase option. This is perhaps the best value option to have a 'smart notebook' for your planning and writing.
Other Digital Tablets as Notebooks
A little like the Moleskin but not with paper, there are 'tablets' that have an electronic slate and a pen. These can be cheaper and more resusable. Good example of a hybrid between the Moleskin and full tablets are the Royole RoWrite 2 Writing system For just $50 you can get a nice device where you can write on paper and it will digitize your notes. It's almost identical to the Moleskin but at almost 1/6 price. Amazon.com: Royole RoWrite Smart Writing Digital Pad for Business, Academic and Art, with Folio, Pen, 2* A5 Notepads : Office Products
There is also the simple 'pen' boards that use a simple inking method that allows you to have an erasable board - good examples are either the Boogie Board or the simpler Rocketbook range of wipeable devices. Check them out.
These devices allow you to write digitally and like a smart notebook can replace paper, and some even allow real-time tracking of your pen to sync your notes to an app wirelessly and upload to a cloud. You can take notes, like sticky notes, sketch and scribe them with stylus, scan them and upload them.
If you want to go the whole way and buy a digital paper e-ink device, then check out the Remarkable, Boox and Sony ranges. The Remakable team do a remarkable job on marketing the device, the Sony is the historical leader in e-ink devices, but Boox make a range that is affordable and also the only one that is Android compatible so you can download apps. These Digital paper devices truly can increase productivity.
Sleekest smart notebook: Sony Digital Paper Tablet
Best Smart Notebooks for Digitizing Paper Notes and Increasing Productivity
Best Digital Paper Tablet Experience
Rocketbook reusable notebooks are also pretty cool. You can write with a pen and then erase - like mini wipeboards. They even have a product which is like blank index cards that you can write on and erase. They also call them smart reusable notebooks since the pages can be scanned into their app.
Choosing a Digital Notebook
Digital Notebooks can end up being rather expensive, but as we have mentioned above there is a while range of options:
Cheapest Option: Use a regular notepad but take a picture of your notes and save to your note-taking app.
Usual Option: Use your existing tablet with pen stylus - e.g. Microsoft Surface Pro or Apple iPad and use a note-app like NoteDex or OneNote.
Fancy Option: Buy a dedicated e-ink reader with stylus to read and take long notes on and send those notes to your favorite app.
As you can imagine there are affordable and non-affordable options for all the options we describe. You will want to do your research and decide if there is an existing note app you are wanting to use or if you want to use a particular device. At NoteDex we love using the e-ink notepads for taking long notes in meetings and using our notecards to summarize the notes afterwards for action points.
Review sites like CNET can help as well as YouTube where there are many reviews of devices and apps!
In the end try to pick a digital notebook that is reasonable price and one that fits your budget and that you feel fits your notetaking workflow and method. If you do a lot of reading then even a device like the Amazon Kindle can be useful for making notes and highlights to reviewed later. Make sure if you do get an e-ink device that it exports to the format you need. Most devices like that do have a sync capability so you can sync with say DropBox, Box, Google Drive, Evernote, OneNote or send to email. Do be wary, some e-ink devices like Remarkable make you pay a subscription whereas Boox does not.
Digital Notebooks are becoming their own category, and many choices exist. From a notebook notetaking tablet like an iPad Pro with Apple Pencil, to Surface Pro device, to just a digital tablet digitizer from Wacom, to a dedicated e-ink notebook reader and note-taker like the Remarkable, there are many choices. In the end decide upon 2 or 3 things that you are looking for in your device/app combination and then select the right device or devices for you. Like we said earlier, we in fact like to use a combination of devices and apps to fit our note-taking workflow.