If you’re older than approximately 25, you’ve spent the vast majority of your entire educational career taking notes in a paper notebook. But with digital and online note-taking taking more and more prominence, even with younger students, what’s an analog-loving note-taker to do?
Enter smart notebooks. The best smart notebooks combine the best of the analog and digital worlds, allowing the writer who loves physical notes to write on paper and save and share those exact notes online, frequently with just the push of a button and a few smartphone clicks.
What’s even more remarkable is how they work. Though there’s some variation among offerings, all smart notebooks basically offer the same two things: a physical writing surface for that pen-to-paper writing experience and a complementary app to save the physical notes digitally and perform relevant magic, like converting handwritten notes to typed text or saving the notes as a PDF and emailing them.
Some of the best smart notebooks go the digital tablet route while others go the special paper and pen route. Among the paper-based smart notebooks, some brands require you to purchase new notebooks with special paper while others can be completely erased with water over and over again, seriously extending the life of your notebook. But no matter how many pages you fill, your digital notebook will have the infinite storage you need so you’ll never lose or be without your notes again.
So if you’re sick of not being able to access your notes online or have simply lost one too many important notebooks, check out a few of the best smart notebooks below. Depending on their sophistication (e.g. one option has a smart pen that records everything you write as a failsafe backup), some are quite expensive. But many are super affordable too, so make the change today and never fear losing your notes again.
1. Rocketbook Fusion Smart Reusable Notebook
For one of the best smart notebooks overall, we love the Rocketbook Fusion Smart Reusable Notebook. Rather than lean into one kind of page, this smart notebook has a little bit of everything, including a calendar, to-do lists, planners, dot grid pages, classic lined pages and more. As long as you use the included pen, a Pilot FriXion pen, you’ll always be able to wipe the notebook clean with a damp cloth after you’ve used the Rocketbook app to share your notes to any one of the compatible cloud services.
2. Moleskine Pen+ Ellipse Smart Writing Set & Smart Notebook
We didn’t recommend the Moleskine Pen+ Ellipse Smart Writing Set & Smart Notebook first because it’s pretty expensive to justify when a single paper notebook costs a few bucks and alternative smart notebook systems cost well under half its price. But if you’ve got the money and want one of the best smart notebooks, the Moleskine writing set delivers. Use the Pen+ smart pen (this is what’s actually expensive) to make and capture notes in real-time on a paired device. Both the pen itself and the complementary Moleskine app save the notes (useful if you don’t have the app open) and allow you to convert them to typed text from your handwriting, share them, edit them and, incredibly, search them too. Save what you like as a PDF and email it directly or share it to Google or Evernote for easy access. One huge bummer? This notebook might be smart, but it’s pretty dumb in that it’s not reusable. Once the pages are full, you have to buy another compatible Moleskine notebook.
3. Rocketbook Wave Smart Notebook
For another great and reasonably priced option from Rocketbook, we like the Rocketbook Wave Smart Notebook. It’s similar to the top pick in that you take notes and use an app to capture them digitally, but there are a few differences. The Rocketbook Wave is cheaper, it only consists of dotted grid pages, though it has twice as many, and it’s microwavable. Yes, you read that correctly: You can clean the pages with a damp cloth like the Rocketbook Fusion but you can also stick the whole dang smart notebook in the microwave to clear the whole thing.
However, we recommend not pressing the pen too hard when taking notes. The harder you press, the more indents and ink on the page, which makes clearing the notebook less effective over time.
4. Rocketbook Matrix Graph Notebook
BEST FOR ORGANIZED SKETCHING
For one last Rocketbook, we like the Rocketbook Matrix Graph Notebook for its matrix graph pages. Not only are matrices perfectly good for taking notes, but they’re also even better for organized sketching, design blueprints, construction, math and maybe even a little rocket science. Just like the other Rocketbooks, wipe away your notes with a damp cloth once you’ve saved and exported any important drawings or notes. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, this Rocketbook isn’t microwavable. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it is silly.
5. Wacom Bamboo Folio Smartpad Digital Notebook
BEST FOR DRAWING
To officially enter the smart notebook tablet space, drawing pros will love the Wacom Bamboo Folio Smartpad Digital Notebook. Unlike every other option here, you can use any pen and paper of your choice, so long as the paper fits the tablet. Sketch to your heart’s content and when you’ve filled a page, press the button on the device to digitally save the page. Flip the page, rinse, repeat. When you’re finished, use the corresponding Wacom app to export your pages to JPG, PNG, PDF, SVG or WILL files.
So, yeah, it’s basically an extremely fancy and portable scanner, but when you like using pen and paper, it’s a wonderful convenience.
6. Pilot FriXion Clicker Erasable Gel Ink Pens
Most of these notebooks come with at least one functional pen, but if you’d like more colors (or heaven forbid, lose the only pen that works with your smart notebook), pick up a pack of the Pilot FriXion Clicker Erasable Gel Ink Pens. They have a special erasable thermo-sensitive gel ink, which is what enables the ink to be wiped or microwaved away.
7. ReMarkable 2 + Marker
If the ReMarkable 2 wasn’t absurdly expensive and technically a tablet, it’d easily qualify as the best smart notebook. But don’t let those technicalities put you off: The ReMarkable 2 tablet is the best of both digital and analog worlds. As a tablet, it saves all your work in the cloud, which can be reviewed and exported via the ReMarkable app. It also allows you to markup existing documents, such as the dreaded signing of a digital PDF document. At the same time, writing on the screen with the ReMarkable Marker, which you have to purchase, feels like writing on paper, even though it is most definitely not paper. Overall, we would recommend this to anyone looking for seamless digital note-taking or sketching, but even for those of us inclined to such utility, the price is too big a pill to swallow. If you’re willing to try it though, you can return it within 30 days after delivery for a full refund.