The Best Way to Take Notes

The Best Way to Take Notes

Even if you have a fondness for old fashioned pen-and-paper note-taking, digital note taking has a lot of advantages. Notes can be lightly organized or re-organized (without simply tearing them out of your book), you can save them in folders, assign tags, and even do keyword searches. On top of that, they’re available via your laptop, tablet, or smartphone, and you’ll have access to years of notes rather than just the notebook you’re carrying.

Some types of digital note-taking have a downside: notably, that research shows typing your notes results in less comprehension and retention of the material. Whether you’re in business and attempting to keep track of your latest client meeting or you’re a student taking notes in class, that’s the opposite of what you want. “When you’re sitting in a petite class or discussion group, a laptop screen can create a barrier, preventing eye contact and providing the appearance that you’re not providing the people in the room your total attention,” explains Kate Bailey, Industrial Designer, Microsoft Surface. “On the other arm, with a pen, you can write while maintaining eye contact—it’s intuitive, it’s private, and at the end of the day you still retain more information than you would if you were typing.”

But with the right tech—like, you guessed it, the aforementioned Microsoft Surface—you can take notes using a stylus, clever pen, or even on ordinary paper (photographed with your smartphone) to get the best of both worlds.

Let’s take a look at the best ways to take digital notes—and the tech that will help you make the most of it.

Write directly on a tablet

Tho’ you can use any tablet with a stylus (or even your finger) to take handwritten notes, the results can be less than ideal. The absolute best devices for this kind of note-taking are designed for stylus use, and usually include both a stylus itself and software to work with it. They’re a nice all-in-one solution and give you solid tech that can do a lot more than take notes.

Best for Artists and Apple Users: iPad Pro with Apple Pencil

Tho’ the cost of Apple’s flagship tablet, the iPadPro, (plus its not included stylus) may put it out of your price range, it’s still our beloved option. The phat 12.9” inch display—larger than any of the other tablets on our list—gives you a large canvas for taking notes, drawing diagrams, or anything else you might need to do. That screen also makes the iPad Pro a superb multitasking implement, using iOS 9’s split screen feature to display two apps at once, letting you take notes from a web page or book all on one device.

When paired with Apple Pencil, the iPad Pro is an ideal note-taker. The Pencil stylus has good accuracy and sensitivity to both the pen’s angle and pressure against the screen–features artists will appreciate. If you could use Apple Pencil on other tablets, we’d recommend it for everyone—but unluckily this $99 accessory only works on the iPad Pro.

If you already use a Mac and an iPhone, the iPad Pro will neatly fit in with your other gadgets, lightly integrating with your existing Apple account. For non-Apple users, the iPad Pro is certainly still a excellent tablet, but you may find something that suits your digital life a bit better.

Price: iPad Pro starts at $505 on Amazon. Apple Pencil $99 from Apple

Best for Productivity and Windows Users: Microsoft Surface Pro Four

A lot of the features we love about the iPad Pro (like the stylus) are features the Surface had very first—and we still love Microsoft’s laptop-replacement tablet. The Surface Pen stylus (included) is designed for note-taking, with a button that launches Microsoft’s OneNote app with a fresh page for jotting things down quickly. It helps, too, that OneNote is one of our beloved note-taking apps, no matter the platform.

The Surface Pen, like Apple’s Pencil, has low latency and enough pressure sensitivity to make writing or drawing feel natural. The display isn’t fairly as big as the iPad Pro’s, but the 12.Three” screen is ideally good for note-taking, and Microsoft’s own take on multitasking—Snap Assist—makes it effortless to have numerous apps visible at once.

The big selling feature of the Surface is that it’s a full-scale laptop replacement. It runs Windows Ten Pro and can use all of the Windows apps you’re familiar with—while being lighter and more portable than a laptop. This makes it a excellent all-in-one device, and if you’re presently a Windows user, the interface is already familiar and intuitive.

However, if “laptop replacement” isn’t in your budget range, you can consider the Microsoft Surface Three. The Surface Trio isn’t as powerful and the pen isn’t as responsive, but it would still be an excellent note-taker—and it starts at a much more reasonable $329.

Price: Starts at $719 from Amazon

Best for Budget Buyers and Android Users: Lenovo Yoga Tab Trio Ten

The iPad Pro and Surface Pro Four are both high-end tablets meant to substitute—or at least make very good fill-ins for—your laptop, and they have price-points to match. Lenovo’s Yoga Tab Trio Ten doesn’t have such lofty goals, but it still takes excellent notes and has the Yoga line’s trademark plasticity. The tablet has a kickstand which permits it to sit in two positions or be dangled from a (sturdy) hook, and folds back for you to hold it. But the Yoga is most pliable when it comes to pens: instead of having a special stylus, Lenovo’s AnyPen technology will treat any conductive object as a pen—from a Bic ballpoint to a #Two pencil.

The Ten” screen on this model is ideally adequate for note-taking—it’s both shorter and narrower than the average sheet of paper, but not so puny as to feel cramped. If you determine this model is too large, tho’, you can pick up the smaller 8” version for a little less.

The Yoga Tab Trio is an Android tablet and, like the Apple and Windows tablets mentioned above, it’s likely to be preferred by Android fans who can use their existing Android apps on it.

Best for Portability: Samsung Galaxy Note Five Phone

If portability is your top priority, you’re going to want a smartphone—and for note-taking, that means the Samsung Galaxy Note Five. However the Five.7” screen on this Android phone is nothing on the tablets we’ve talked about, it’s in line with a pocket-sized notebook and if that fits your needs, it’s flawless.

Samsung has been refining its S-Pen stylus technology since 2011 and it shows—the combination of the stylus and Samsung’s S-Note software makes this a fine note-taker. The pen slots neatly into the figure of the phone and to embark taking notes all you have to do is pull it out, which automatically launches S-Note. Technology can sometimes complicate everyday tasks, but here it’s seamless when you just want to jot down a quick note.

The downside to the Galaxy Note as a notepad replacement is the fact that it is a smartphone and that means you may be buying it with a contract from a cellular carrier or paying a big up-front price for it. If you want a portable note-taker and also need a fresh smartphone, this is flawless, but if not, the price tag may be a hurdle.

Price: beginning at $515 on Amazon

Use a Stylus on Any Smartphone or Tablet

With the right stylus, taking notes on any tablet can work—even tho’ you won’t get the spectacle you’d find in a tablet designed with a stylus. Still, because you don’t have to buy a fresh smartphone or tablet, this option is effortless on the budget.

The Best All-Around Stylus: Sensu Artist Brush & Stylus (SENSU1)

Whether you need to take notes, doodle, or draw, the Sensu will serve you well. It has a hard rubber nub for writing that has a nice tactile feel—more like you’re writing on paper than with some styluses. For the artistically inclined, tucked into the bod of the Sensu is a capacitive brush, which can be used for drawing or painting on your device.

Price: commencing at $39 on Amazon

Best for Budget-Buyers: Adonit Jot Mini

Adonit’s styluses may look odd with their “precision disc” rather than a standard pen peak or stylus nub, but that disc permits a lot of accuracy—which makes it ideal for the fine lines you need for note taking. The Mini is the low end of Jot stylus options, but it’s a solid stylus, lightly pocketable and comes in at the right price.

Take notes with a smartpen

A smartpen is an actual pen that will write on anything, but when used with special paper, it can read what you’re writing and send digital copies to your mobile device. If you’re not ready to let go of pen and paper, this is a superb option.

The Best SmartPen: Neo smartpen N2

Our beloved smartpen is the Neo smartpen N2, the very first gadget in this category to indeed feel like a pen—it’s a little fatter and stronger than an ordinary pen, but not so large that it feels strange in your mitt. As you write or doodle, it automatically syncs to your mobile device via Bluetooth, using its own Neo Notes app (for iPhone and Android). Evernote users will especially like this one because it can automatically sync notes, which will keep your paper notes and your digital notes all organized in one place.

The N2 does require special paper for the pen to know what you’re marking, and Neo sells it in a diversity of sizes and formats (plain, lined, and grid). Prices range from $14.90 (for Five notebooks) to $29.80 (for Ten notebooks), which adds up but if you’re not keen on the cost you can print your own paper using Neo’s N Toaster app—tho’ it presently only works for Windows.

Capture notes with your smartphone camera

Don’t want to invest in any special tech? Another route is to take notes on plain paper with any pen and simply take a snapshot of them to file away digitally. Our two dearest digital note-taking and organization apps both support this, and both do a fine job.

In one corner, there’s Evernote. which has been an online organization staple for a long time. In the other, there’s Microsoft OneNote. an up-and-comer with a polished feature-set and effortless integration with Microsoft’s Office suite. Both of them will let you snap photos of notes, file them into virtual notebooks, and tag them based on whatever categories make sense to you. Using the search function in either app will search your handwritten notes as lightly as it searches typed notes—and in our practice, accurately.

If you already use either app for organizing, then it’s effortless to commence using it to store handwritten notes in this way, too. If you don’t use either, however, we like OneNote bit better because it’s totally free while Evernote charges for premium features like offline access, storage above 25MB, and data use over 60MB. You might sail under those boundaries without trouble, but it’s nice not to have them at all.

Your Best Note-Taking App Options

We’ve already talked about Evernote and OneNote for snapping photos of your handwritten notes, but if you want to take notes directly on your tablet, they’re good options, too. Both let you write, organize, and lightly search through all of your notes, whether they’re handwritten, typed, photos, clips of web pages, or more. Both are compatible with Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, and lightly sync inbetween platforms—so no matter what you use, your notes are always there.

While their features are very similar, there are a duo of quirks with using these apps for taking handwritten notes that to be aware of.

  • For Windows: OneNote is the only app that permits handwritten notes on Windows desktops, letting you take notes on Windows systems with touchscreens. Windows users will undoubtedly favor OneNote.
  • For Android, iPhone, and iPad: Both Evernote and OneNote support handwritten notes, however OneNote only does so in tablet apps.

If you’re an iOS user and both Evernote and OneNote go far beyond your note-taking needs, we like Notability ($7.99). It’s a elementary drawing, doodling and note-taking app that lets you put all of your thoughts down in one place… just like you would with a paper notebook. Unluckily it’s only for iOS and Mac, so Android and Windows users are better off sticking with Evernote or OneNote, even if they suggest more features than you need.

Updated pricing on Two/23/2017

[Photo Credits: tablet and stylus photo via Shutterstock, Neo, Jot, Sensu, Samsung, Lenovo, Microsoft, Apple]

The Best Way to Take Notes

Even if you have a fondness for old fashioned pen-and-paper note-taking, digital note taking has a lot of advantages. Notes can be lightly organized or re-organized (without simply tearing them out of your book), you can save them in folders, assign tags, and even do keyword searches. On top of that, they’re available via your laptop, tablet, or smartphone, and you’ll have access to years of notes rather than just the notebook you’re carrying.

Related video: The Top 5 Tips for Revising A-level Geography


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