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Smart notebooks can help you digitize and organize your physical notes, to-do lists, and other writings, access them from the cloud from any device, and share them via email and various apps with the touch of a few buttons.
When selecting a smart notebook, co-founder and CEO of Rocketbook Joe Lemay suggests sticking with options that provide the feel of real paper. “We recommend a smart notebook that lets you keep that pen-and-paper feel,” advises Lemay. “Research shows that writing by hand helps us sharpen our cognitive skills and makes it easier for us to retain information. If you’re going to call it a smart notebook, we think it should actually make you smarter.”
We looked at all the smart notebook brands on the market and analyzed dozens of products for factors like the paper they use, durability, and reusability to identify the best options. Our top recommendation is the Rocketbook Core, because it’s highly reusable, lets you write with your choice of gel pens or markers for optimum comfort, and uses Rocketbook’s highly rated app to digitize and organize your notes effortlessly.
Here are the best smart notebooks.
Best Overall: Rocketbook Core Smart Reusable Notebook
Easy, high-quality scanning
Easy retrieval via app
Pens can leave indentations
Ink runs out quickly
Erasing is time-consuming
The Rocketbook Core is a smart notebook that offers unlimited reuse and a best-in-class app, which is why it’s our top recommendation. The Core is available in Executive and Letter format and has 32 or 36 reusable dot grid or lined pages you can wipe clean with a damp cloth as long as you use a compatible pen. “The pages are made with Rocketbook’s patented reusable technology and feature a seven-symbol shortcut system that allows users to set preferred scanning destinations and quickly share their notes,” says Lemay.
Like all Rocketbook smart notebooks, the Core relies on a companion app to digitize your writing. The app uses a symbol system that simplifies note management and storage and works with many cloud services and other apps. The symbols correspond to your choice of various actions in the companion app, so ticking one before you scan automatically sends your notes to a specific folder on a cloud storage service, via email to the address of your choice, to a Slack channel, or Evernote or OneNote. The app scans automatically as soon as it recognizes a Rocketbook notebook page, can combine related scans as PDFs for easier access, and also allows you to view and send files manually.
The Core requires (and includes) a compatible FriXion pen to take advantage of the reusability feature. As long as you use a FriXion, you can erase anything you write in the Core with the pen’s eraser or with a bit of water and the included microfiber cloth. Other FriXion pens will also work, including markers and highlighters. FriXion markers may work the best, as the gel pens will leave indentations if you press too hard, but they also take a little longer to dry. Drying time is also a bit of an issue with the basic FriXion gel pens, but they won’t smear if you avoid touching the ink or turning the page immediately after writing.
Price at time of publish: $25
Best Budget: HOMESTEC Reusable Smart Notebook
Multiple erasing methods
Convenient sticky notes
Reuse up to 500 times
App needs more work
OCR requires subscription fee
Heat erase method doesn’t always work
The HOMESTEC Reusable Smart Notebook is a good option if you’re working on a budget or not completely sure that you need a reusable notebook yet. It supports multiple erasing methods (an erasable pen or with heat), works with a number of cloud services, and outputs files in both PDF and JPG formats. HOMETEC specifies that you can reuse it up to 500 times but also warns that your writing may fade or disappear if you use it in the sun. That’s because the ink is thermochromic, which means it can change color when exposed to heat in order to support erasing with a hair dryer. You can also erase using the eraser on the pen.
This notebook includes 30 lined pages, 30 dotted pages, and several organizational pages like a calendar, scheduling template, and task lists. The app is functional but lacks any advanced features. The optical character recognition (OCR) function that converts text and images requires a subscription fee, and there is no built-in organizing like you get with more expensive options. However, like pricier models, the app can send scanned pages to Google Drive, iCloud, Evernote, or OneNote when you scan individual pages manually.
Price at time of publish: $12
Best Digital: reMarkable 2 Paper Tablet
Feels like you’re writing on real paper
No noticeable input delay
Doesn’t come with a marker
Doesn’t support a lot of formats
Key features require a subscription
The ReMarkable 2 is the best smart notebook for people who want to go completely digital but still prefer the feel of writing on real paper. This device is similar to a tablet or e-reader, but it features an e-ink display that feels like real paper when you write and draw on it with a Remarkable Marker. You can save and access your notes on the device and through the desktop app in PDF and EPUB formats. You can also take notes directly on a PDF if you load it onto the device through the desktop app.
The main issue with the ReMarkable 2 is that while it has a lot of great features, the most important ones require a monthly subscription to the Connect service. This service provides unlimited cloud storage; integration with Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive; the option to send documents directly via email; and handwriting conversion. The handwriting conversion feature is especially useful, as it translates your handwritten notes into text to save you the trouble of doing it manually. Connect also unlocks the screen share feature, which lets you stream whatever you’re writing or sketching to your desktop display. However, without a subscription, you can still enjoy the basic note-taking features, including annotating PDFs.
Price at time of publish: $279
Best for Art: Iskn Repaper
Portable no-screen mode
Works with any paper
More portable than a tablet
Software support is hit-and-miss
No Bluetooth for Windows or Mac
The Iskn Repaper is a hybrid device that combines the best parts of a drawing tablet and a smart notebook, which is why it’s a great option for artists. The Repaper works a lot like a drawing tablet, but you clip real paper onto it and draw on the paper. It’s just as comfortable to draw on as any sketchbook, because it uses actual paper, but it also digitizes your drawings as you draw them, without any additional steps or hardware. It comes with a Castell 9000 2B drawing pencil, but you can use any pencil as long as the included magnetic Repaper Ring fits on it.
You can connect the Repaper to a computer or phone to digitize your drawings in real time, but it also works without a connected device. It runs for up to six hours on battery and stores your drawings on internal memory, so you can take it with you and sketch wherever you want. If you need more space for sketches, it has a microSD memory card slot. The included software works well, but support for other programs isn’t great. If you want to use it as a drawing tablet, make sure it integrates well with your art app of choice first. It connects wirelessly to iOS and Android devices, but Windows and Mac computers require a wired connection.
Price at time of publish: $199
Best for Students: Livescribe Echo 2 Smartpen with Notebook 4-Pack
Record audio on the pen
Recordings are tied to your notes
Don’t need to scan manually
Only works with Livescribe dot paper
Software feels primitive
Livescribe is the perfect smart notebook system for students and anyone else who needs to take notes and audio recordings a lot. This set includes four notebooks and Livescribe’s Echo 2 pen. The Echo 2 pen is the smart part of the set, as it automatically transcribes your notes as you write them and also records up to seven hours of audio without the aid of any external device. The Livescribe companion app is available for both desktop and mobile, allowing you to view your notes, listen to recordings, and share notes as PDFs to email, Google Drive, or Evernote, or directly via Bluetooth.
Instead of writing in a notebook and making disconnected recordings with a phone app, Livescribe notebooks and the Echo 2 pen bring them together. When you use one of the included notebooks, the Echo 2 pen automatically records and stores whatever you write.
It also stores audio at the same time, and you can listen to the recordings directly from the pen itself. When you access your notes via the desktop or mobile app later on, you can listen to recorded audio that corresponds to timestamps on the written notes to relive lectures or meetings. If your notes are unclear or you missed something, the audio recording is right there to double-check. It’s a bit complicated to set up, and the app feels a little primitive compared to some other smart notebook apps, but it’s a massive time-saver for students.
Price at time of publish: $184
Best Splurge: Moleskine Pen+ Smart Writing Set
Don’t need to scan manually
Quick and easy setup
Export in multiple formats
Recording audio requires smartphone
Notebooks are pricey and aren’t reusable
Uses a proprietary magnetic charging cable
The Moleskine’s Smart Writing set is a bit pricier than the competition, because it combines the premium look and feel of traditional Moleskine notepads with Neo’s smartpen technology. It’s worth the splurge if you’re used to Moleskine’s premium notebooks, and you like to keep a hard copy of your writing around for posterity. It has slightly heavier paper than the classic Moleskin, but it still opens at 180 degrees, lies flat, absorbs ink well without smudging, and has the same elastic closure as other Moleskine notebooks. However, unlike most smart notebooks, this one isn’t reusable.
This Moleskin notebook has special paper printed with tiny microdots that the pen uses to track its position on the page. As you write, the pen automatically captures each stroke and either stores it in memory if your phone isn’t handy or transmits it directly to the companion app on your phone. It can transcribe your handwriting and export notes in a variety of formats like JPG and PDF, with options to send via email or upload to Google Drive or OneNote. The pen can also record audio notes but only when connected to your phone.
Price at time of publish: $279
Best Compact: Rocketbook Everlast Mini Smart Reusable Notebook
App has good OCR and search functions
Ink takes a while to dry
Ink fades in hot environments
The Rocketbook Mini is essentially a Rocketbook Core in a pocket-sized form factor. This tiny notebook is small enough to slip into a shirt or pants pocket, and the cover and pages are durable enough to stand up to daily use. It has 48 pages that you can reuse over and over, and it comes with a microfiber cloth to erase your notes when you’re done with them. Instead of lines, the pages have a grid of dots that help you line up your notes.
It uses the same feature-packed app as other Rocketbook smart notebooks. The only difference, other than size, is that the symbols used to determine where your scanned notes go are all located on the first page of the notebook instead of every page. Unlike other Rocketbooks, the Mini also suffers from some drawbacks related to the FriXion pens used by the brand’s notebooks. The ink can take a bit of time to dry, which isn’t great when you’re jotting down notes on the go, and it can also fade in hot environments. Body heat isn’t usually enough to do it, but you probably don’t want to leave this product on your car’s dashboard in the summer.
Price at time of publish: $13
Best Daily Planner: Moleskine 12 Month 2022 PRO Smart Weekly Vertical Planner
Automatically syncs to iCal and Google Calendar
Hourly breakdown for each day
Pages included for notes
Requires Moleskine Pen+
The Moleskine Smart Planner Pro is the ideal smart daily planner for anyone who enjoys the ritual of a physical planner but also relies on a digital calendar to organize their daily lives. This planner works with the Moleskine Smart Pen to automatically digitize your schedule as you write it down. The companion app syncs to your Google Calendar or iCal, so your schedule is available on all of your devices in addition to the planner itself. It includes a 12-month daily calendar for a birds-eye view of your schedule and a daily calendar with each day broken down hourly.
This planner uses the Moleskine Smart Pen, which it doesn’t come with. That means you need to purchase the pen separately if you don’t already use Moleskine’s Smart Writing System, and the pen does represent a sizable initial investment. It’s significantly more convenient to use than other smart daily planners, though, due to the automatic transcription of your appointments and the way the app syncs with iCal and Google Calendar. In addition to the monthly and daily calendars, this planner includes one lined page per month and several blank pages for notes.
Price at time of publish: $31
Best for Easy Erasing: Rocketbook Wave Smart Notebook
Erase in the microwave
Easy scanning and data retrieval
Erase individual pages with a hair dryer
Can only reuse five times
Doesn’t work with smaller microwaves
The Rocketbook Wave uses the same symbol-driven app as other Rocketbook smart notebooks, but you erase it with a microwave. This key feature makes the Rocketbook Wave much more convenient than smart notebooks that you have to erase page by page. When you’re done filling this notebook, and you’ve scanned all the pages, you place it in a microwave with a mug of water. The heat from the microwave erases the thermochromic ink, so you never need to go through and erase each page manually.
While this notebook is a lot easier to use than other options, the catch is that reusability is limited. Rocketbook officially specifies that you can only reuse the Wave up to five times, but some users report that they’ve successfully erased it ten or more times. To maximize reusability, you can press lightly with the included pen or use FriXion markers instead. You also need a fairly large microwave to make use of the microwaving feature, as the notebook needs to be able to rotate fully on the turntable without bumping the sides. If you don’t have a microwave that works, you can also erase the pages individually with a hair dryer.
Price at time of publish: $22
The Rocketbook Core is our top smart notebook recommendation, because you can use it over and over again, it’s durable enough that you’ll get plenty of use out of it, and it uses Rocketbook’s convenient symbol-based scanning and organization system. It’s an excellent smart notebook for a variety of situations, including taking notes at school or work, journaling, setting goals, and more. If you prefer to keep hard copies of your work, and you don’t relish the thought of scanning each page manually, the Moleskine Smart Writing Set is a spendy option that automatically digitizes your notes as you write.
What to Look for in Smart Notebooks
Most smart notebook apps work with at least one cloud storage provider, which allows the app to send your notes to the cloud for easy access from any device. Instead of needing to use the phone you scanned the notebook with, you can use your computer, tablet, or any other compatible device. If a smart notebook app doesn’t support any cloud storage services or uses its own proprietary system, that can impede easy access to your notes in the future.
If you already use a specific provider, like DropBox or iCloud, you might want to consider choosing a smart notebook that works with that service. It isn’t absolutely necessary, but it is easier to set up, and it keeps your cloud data in one place.
Some smart notebooks are reusable, and others aren’t. The defining characteristic of a smart notebook is that it allows you to digitally capture your notes for future access, not that the notebook itself is reusable in any way.
Single-use smart notebooks are usually less expensive than reusable ones, and they often use paper that looks and feels like the paper you’d find in a regular notebook. The main benefit of single-use smart notebooks is that you retain a hard copy for future reference, while the main drawback is that you need to buy a new one every time you fill one up. Most of these notebooks also require a smart pen, which typically represents a large initial investment.
Reusable smart notebooks allow you to write your notes, scan them, erase your writing, and then use the notebook again. Some of these have ink you can erase with a microfiber cloth and water or an eraser that’s built into the pen. Others use heat and other methods to erase your writing, but they typically have a limited number of uses.
Generally, smart notebooks that you erase with a microfiber cloth last the longest. “We recommend choosing a smart notebook that can be wiped clean with a drop of water and a soft cloth,” suggests Lemay. “That’s much more likely to extend the life of your device and eliminate the safety risks associated with accidentally getting the notebook too hot.”
Tools and Accessories
Smart notebooks don’t have a lot of accessories, but the ones they do have are important. Most smart notebooks require a special pen, whether it has proprietary ink or the pen itself records your notes as you write them. If a smart notebook requires a special pen, make sure it comes with this accessory. Similarly, smart notebooks that require a microfiber cloth to erase should come with one.
“We recommend looking for a notebook with a companion pen, lots of page templates, and accessories that make cloud compatibility and idea sharing even easier,” says Lemay. “Your smart notebook should give you all the fun of scribbling, with all the convenience of super-smart technology.”
Smart notebooks that erase with heat require additional tools, so make sure you have the right equipment before buying one. Some of these require a hair dryer, and others require a microwave with a turntable. If you select a smart notebook that’s erased by microwaving, your microwave needs to be big enough for the notebook to lay flat and rotate without hitting the sides.
The best smart notebooks have robust companion apps that do a lot more than just digitize your notes. The app will typically upload your notes to a connected cloud service for easy access from other devices and may make your notes searchable.
“We love that smart notebooks are searchable,” says Lemay. “Using the notebook’s companion app, you can search your stored notes by keyword, so you don’t have to endlessly flip through pages wondering, ‘Okay, where did I mention that great idea again?’ With a cloud-connected smart notebook, just say (or type) the word, and your ideas are back at your fingertips.”
Some smart notebook pens use thermochromic ink that turns clear when heated. Instead of wiping or washing the ink away, you use heat from a hair dryer or microwave to make it invisible. Microwavable smart notebooks erase quickly, but they don’t last as long as washable ones.
Instead of requiring you to scan manually with your phone, some smart notebooks use a pen that captures your notes as you write. These smart notebooks have special paper that allows the pen to know its position on the page as you write and automatically generate digital documents. Some of these pens can also record audio as you write and associate it with your physical notes, which is very useful for students.
Are there different types of smart notebooks?
There are two basic kinds of smart notebooks. The most common kind uses a special paper-and-pen combo and a companion app. When you use the pen and paper together, the companion app can scan the notebook and digitize it. The other kind also uses a specific paper and pen, but the pen does the heavy lifting. As you write, the pen automatically transcribes your writing into a digital format.
Smart notebooks also differ in function, reusability, and other defining characteristics. These notebooks range in size from full letter- and legal-size notebooks to tiny pocket-sized notepads. “To pick the best one, decide what you need,” suggests Lemay. “Do you need an executive-style notebook for work? A journal for your thoughts? A mini for your purse? Or maybe a planner for your to-do list? Some smart notebooks include multiple page templates and styles, so you don’t have to choose just one.”
How do smart notebooks work?
Most smart notebooks work just like any other notebook on a day-to-day basis. The difference is that when you finish a page in a smart notebook, you can scan it for easy future access. “Smart notebooks work with a special pen, like the Pilot FriXion, designed to write on the pages without damaging them,” says Lemay. “When you’re done with your notes or have filled up all your page templates, you snap images of your notes using the notebook’s companion app. From there, the notes will be stored in the cloud using the software you selected when you set up the app.”
Other smart notebooks use paper printed with tiny microdots and a pen that can sense them. When you write in one of these smart notebooks, the pen automatically records its movements and transcribes them as a digital document.
What’s the difference between a smart notebook and a drawing tablet?
Drawing tablets are electronic devices that let you draw in an app on your phone, tablet, or computer. You typically draw or write on the tablet and see the results on the screen of the connected device screen rather than on the drawing tablet. Some drawing tablets do have screens, though, and you can use an iPad and some Android tablets as drawing tablets with a drawing pencil accessory. Drawing tablets that have screens are viable for taking notes, but you might prefer the feel of writing on paper to writing on a screen.
There are also hybrid devices that combine the automation of a drawing tablet with the feel of writing on real paper. Some of these devices use a sheet of paper, or even an entire notebook, so that you write on actual paper, and the device senses your pencil or pen movement and digitizes it. Others have a screen that looks and feels like paper even though it isn’t.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article was written by Jeremy Laukkonen, a freelance writer and product tester for The Spruce. Laukkonen has included a pocket-sized smart notebook in his daily carry for years. He has over a decade of experience reviewing electronics for outlets like Lifewire and Digital Trends in addition to The Spruce.
Laukkonen contacted Joe Lemay, CEO of Rocketbook, to receive his expert insights on the most important smart notebook features and how they work. With Lemay’s perspectives in mind, Laukkonen prioritized factors like app features, reusability, and writing comfort.