New Toy: Neo Smart Pen

A few months ago I had my first encounter with the Neo Smart Pen at a B8ta popup shop in a nearby mall in Chicago. At the time I thought it was a fascinating device and have stopped by the popup shop a couple of times since then to play with it.

The pen takes what you write on paper and digitizes it so that it can be transferred to your PC of mobile device via Bluetooth.

Over the last couple of decades there have been a number of manufacturers that have tried to release a similar product. But they all more-or-less failed or disappeared from the marketplace because, well, really, they were inconvenient.

The Neo seems to have learned from those failed products.

In particular it seems to have solved the fidelity problem – what you write really is what appears on the screen. The written data appears in real-time or can be uploaded later.

One of my first attempts to write with the pen

As you might expect from a product like this, there are a few shortcomings:

  1. It only works with writing on specialized paper. I am not sure how the technology works but it seems that there is something in the paper that allows the pen to know which notebook its writing in, the page of the notebook (page 1 or page 10 for example) and even the type, size and color of notebook.
  2. The pen is made of plastic which makes it very light. They have a heavier option (called the N2) but the difference didn’t seem to be great enough to provide a different writing experience. Though, to be fair, I only tried this alternate option at the B8ta popup-shop.
  3. Writing seemed to be a little ‘sticky’ – it seemed as if there was something in the ink that caused a little “sticky” friction as the pen moved across the paper. It took a while to get used to this.
  4. There is a dedicated notes app that syncs with the pen. It works fine once the pen is connected but who needs yet another notes app? It would have been better if it synced its data to existing notes applications like Microsoft One-note.

The Cool Stuff

Probably the coolest surprise is when you realize that it KNOWS which page you are writing on. When I wrote for the first time and synced the data, it knew which page I had written in as well as the type of notebook and even the model number and color. So it could faithfully replicate the notebook on the screen – your digital image faithfully mimics what you’re seeing in the real-world.

Additionally, it can convert your handwriting to text. Unfortunately my handwriting is atrocious and combined with the specialized nature of my text (futures market symbols and arcane trading terminology), recognition was only about 60% accurate. I suspect other users with better handwriting who are writing normal stories will find accuracy in the 90% range.

Each notebook has some sort of unique coding on the pages so that every notebook you write in automatically ends up as a unique notebook and page in the mobile app. To save on costs, you can download PDFs that can be printed out. But these pages are not unique so you have to “lock” each page in the app after use before writing on another one. Otherwise your writing across multiple pages will be layered onto one page in the app.

Notice the page number on the lower right

My Purchase Package

To get started with this product I purchased the M1 pen along with 2 small notebooks (one with a blue cover and one with a red cover). The price, with tax, came out to less than $200.00. Though, beware, the notebooks are expensive – high quality pages, but definitely on the higher end of expensive. If you write a lot, it will cost a significant amount to keep purchasing these blank books.

Neo Smartpen M1
I have the gray one with the yellow accent…

Wrap Up

I am not sure if I’m going to keep using this pen. I do know that in the past I had wished for something like this.

I have used many notebooks over the years to do my trading homework and make other notes. I wish I had those writings digitized. A lot of them have been lost!

After a while I stopped using physical notebooks and started using digital apps so I could capture my writing data in my computer and prevent that kind of data-loss. But now that I have this pen I no longer have to do that – I can use a pen and still retain my data digitally.

And you know what I can do now as well? I can safely take my notebook ANYWHERE because the data is backed up on my computer.

So stay tuned for an update on how well this all goes…

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