I’m not very good with handwriting or any form of penmanship, but when District sent over the Neo Smartpen M1+ for review, I tried it and was pretty impressed at what it could do. Retailing at S$199, the bundle comes with Professional Black N Notebook.
Unboxing and Operations
The Smartpen M1+ comes with instruction booklet, micro-USB cable and an extra refill. The pen itself already has a new ink refill inserted with a silicone seal on the nib to ensure freshness when first use.
The pen refill is a standard D1 type, which is supported by many other popular pen brands. The official Neo Smartpen website lists a dozen verified pen refills like Zebra 4C, Parker D1, Pilot BRF-8EF/-8F/-8M.
Charging is from the other end of the pen, via micro-USB port.
The Smartpen powers up automatically when you remove the pen cap, or you can power up manually by pressing the button at the top. Pair the Smartpen via Bluetooth to your smartphone (Android, iOS) or Windows computer by press-and-hold the power button, just like any Bluetooth device.
How Smart is the Neo Smartpen M1+?
The magic lies with the infrared camera below the pen tip which captures the pen movement, and a pressure sensor inside the refill. The design reminds me of the traditional fountain pen tip. In fact, the whole pen is not bulky nor eye-catching. No one would know you are writing with an advanced piece of tech.
Once you have successfully paired the device and installed Neo Notes app, the magic begins the moment you start writing on the specially-treated Ncode papers. Look closely on every page, and you will see tiny marks. Apparently each paper is uniquely coded such that the Smartpen knows exactly what notebook it is, what page number it is, and even which part of the paper it is!!! You can’t fool the Smartpen!
As you write, the app can show the writing in real time. You can even playback the writing. Another feature is that you can use the app to record live annotations with voice recorded via your smartphone or computer mic.
Even without touching the phone or the app, you can write normally on the notebook, which is the exact intent of this product. The pen can store up to 1000 sheets of written information and will transmit the data when connected to the app.
The app also supports transcription in dozens of languages, but its accuracy depends on how good your handwriting is. I am impressed that it could transcribe my Chinese. However, only one language can be selected per page, and once transcribed, it will help you search for information and retrieve what you need in a snap. No more flipping through the notebook to find that action item you wrote down a few months ago.
Although the real pen ink has only one colour, you can choose the colour and thickness that will appear on the digitised version. This can be done prior to writing or edited after writing. You can also highlight any part of the scribes and move around the page, even delete digitally.
Auto Sync to Popular Note Apps
If you are using an existing note app like Evernote, the Neo Notes app support syncing the pages to these apps. I tried syncing to OneNote but I couldn’t find where Neo Notes stored the pages. I then tried syncing to Google Drive and every notebook is saved to a separate folder with every page saved as a PDF file.
Inexpensive (and Free) Writing Materials
While the Neo Smartpen M1+ only works with Ncode papers, the writing materials are reasonably priced. You can buy them from the online shop. If you use the monthly planner notebook to write your schedule on them, your appointments get automatically synced to your online calendar!
But if you really want to save on purchases, you can actually print your own Ncode papers! On this Ncode PDF site, Neo offers several formats: plain, line, grid, dot, even music manuscript sheets! Neolab recommends printing them on colour laser printer to ensure highest compatibility. I tried printing on inkjet printer and there were some parts of the paper where it could not pick up the strokes. So I think it is still cheaper to buy the writing materials than to buy a laser printer.
Syncs with RECO Voice Recorder (Launch July 2020)
NeoLAB has just launched RECO on Kickstarter. This intuitive voice recorder syncs with the notes you write with the Neo Smartpen. To listen to specific parts of a recording that is time-stamped against the notes you write, just tap next to the note. The campaign ends on 18 July 2020 and has already met the goal, so the products will be shipped immediately after. For more information, visit the Kickstarter page.
The Neo Smartpen M1+ helps to deliver that unadulterated experience to the user while digitizing the content without disrupting the writing process. It puts priority on paper-writing, while digitization is a supportive medium. I can see how this product can work marvelously with consumers who swear by pen-and-paper but needs the end result to be on digital for communication. Instead of religiously scanning the pages manually, the Smartpen M1+ does it automatically in the background.
- Smartpen size is no bigger than normal pen
- Smart technology knows the exact paper, page, and location on the paper that is being written
- Digitization process works in the background without disrupting the writing process
- Works with note-taking applications like Evernote, OneNote, Google Drive
- Reasonably priced writing materials
- Requires special Ncode paper for the pen to work
- Not ideal for users who need to create content with different pen strokes and tip styles, which digital tablet and stylus offer