Tools of the trade: hybrids

I think it’s a fairly common lament these days: I like writing by hand, but. But then I have to type it up. But then I forget it or lose it. But it’s just not feasible to share.

Personally I like writing by hand. I know it makes me think differently, and using different pens and colors helps me sort through my thoughts and get organizes. I also use two different tools that merge the handwritten and the digital. (I’m not sponsored by either of them. Yet. I just like good tools that make the writing process easier.)

First, there’s Livescribe. It’s a pen-and-paper system that pairs with an app via Bluetooth to digitize your handwritten notes and also to transcribe them. Let’s break it down a little.

  • The pen: the one I have is older, so it’s got a thicker barrel than most pens. You replace the ink cartridge when it runs out – I’ve used both black and blue. This is what syncs with your phone, so you don’t want to misplace it. It feels like writing with a normal pen because it basically¬†is a normal pen, at least where the ink meets the paper.
  • The paper: you need to use Livescribe dot paper with the pen, or else it doesn’t work. There are all kinds of notebooks and sticky notes, so you can find the style that works best for you. The paper isn’t blinding white – it can take a little bit to get used to the gray – but it feels like normal paper. You have to activate each notebook before you use it, and archive the old ones, so the pen doesn’t get confused and try to put your writing from page 1 in the new notebook on top of page 1 from the old one.
  • Pros and cons: Livescribe will transcribe your handwriting into text at the flick of a finger, and it’s fairly accurate. It’s at least faster for me to transcribe, copy into a document, and fix a few things than to have to type up my entire pages of notes. The ink only comes through as black, though, no matter which cartridge you use. This isn’t for you if you want your notes in color or if you need to routinely sketch or doodle for your notes. You will also fill up the notebooks and need to get more, but it took me over a year to complete my big spiral-bound one – and, for once, I did actually use every page.

My other go-to is Rocketbook. There’s a wider selection of pens (markers, and highlighters), but the “paper” doesn’t actually feel like paper. It uses your phone’s camera to digitize what you put on the page.

  • The pens: Rocketbook needs to be used with any Frixion-brand products. There’s a wide variety writing implements in this case, and colors? Use all the colors. As long as it’s Frixion, you can use it, from extra fine line pens to nice thick markers.
  • The paper: Rocketbook notebooks are reusable, so they don’t have nearly as many pages as Livescribe notebooks. My current favorite – the flip, with the binding at the top – has 16 sheets. Each sheet is lined on one side and has a dot grid on the other. The paper is thicker, and shinier, which is why you can erase what you’ve written after you’ve scanned it in. The newer versions erase with water. Some older notebooks, with more paper-like paper, erased using heat (you’d stick it in the microwave) so double-check which kind you have and don’t microwave other notebooks.
  • Pros and cons: Rocketbook turns your page into an image or a PDF. There’s no transcription, but it shows you exactly what you wrote or drew, in the proper colors. You can also set up the symbols at the bottom of the page to automatically upload your files into specific places – I’ve got mine going to different files on my Google drive, depending on what project it’s for. You can scan multiple pages into a single document, or jump around from page to page, depending on inspiration.

Both of these systems mean I can pull up digitized versions of notes in my phone in case I’m out somewhere and need to look something up. Livescribe means I have the paper cop on hand in case I ever need it, but Rocketbook means being able to erase and reuse without having to buy more notebooks. Livescribe means just buying ink refills, but Rocketbook can mean either buying pen refills or another set of pens. Livescribe transcribes, but Rocketbook saves your ideas in full color. I use each of them for different purposes, depending on what part of the process I’m in.

Have you used either Livescribe or Rocketbook? Which one’s your favorite? Is there another brand you think I should try?

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