Digital Notepads are an interesting breed that, with the advent of E-Ink, should become exceptionally convenient replacements for traditional pen and paper note-taking in a few years time.
In the here and now, however, the most cost effective digital notepads still use good old plain pen and paper in order to visually represent the notes, sketches or other input. A graphics-tablet like technology is responsible for creating a digital copy of these traditional pen and paper notes on internal storage or an SD card. You can then transfer the results to a computer and attempt to run them through OCR or convert them to a usable format, from static images to vector graphics.
The AipTek MyNote Premium II available from Expert Verdict is one such device. At £129.95 it’s not unreasonably priced when you consider the fact it doubles as a basic pen input device for your desktop or laptop computer.
The AipTek MyNote is a plastic, battery powered, intelligent clipboard which accepts ordinary A4 paper, ruled or otherwise, and uses a special battery powered digitizer pen which, as it writes on the paper, is also detected by the surface of the tablet in order to create a digitized version of your scrawl.
Its design and build quality is somewhat cheap and simple, it’s very much a no-frills example of its product category but offsets this somewhat by coming in a fetching leather case complete with ruled paper and compartments for a compliment of office stationery and by coming with a fetching pen with a metal pocket clip. The small, thin and light frame of the MyNote, however, make it quite suitable for slipping in a reasonably sized laptop bag alongside your laptop itself.
Along the top edge of the MyNote is a plastic clip which holds the paper in place, the left edge has the LCD display, 5 buttons, a status LED, the power switch and the right edge houses an SD card slot and a compartment within which you can store two spare cartridges for the pen.
Unlike the pens in previous MyNote revisions the MyNote Premium II pen has a pocket clip and is decidedly sleeker and more pen like. In other words, it looks like a pen and not like a graphics tablet input device. I believe that the MyNote available at spare batteries and ink refills can be purchased from AipTekShop.de and don’t cost the earth at €2 and €1 respectively. That means you can bulk buy 10 refills for about £8 excluding delivery, more than enough to keep you doodling throughout thousands of meetings or university seminars. The tablet comes with only one spare ink cartridge.
The MyNote Premium II and other MyNote digital note pads will double as a pseudo graphics tablet for your computer. It’s nice to have an A4 sized graphics tablet for recognizing writing input, navigating your operating system with the pen or even basic drawing. Don’t get your hopes up for using it as a professional tablet with Photoshop, though, because it doesn’t recognize either tilt or pressure in any way shape or form. Of course, if you can live without tilt or pressure sensitivity then you will enjoy drawing on the MyNote on the go or whilst it’s connected to your computer.
Drawing on the go should be an interesting feature for artists. Because it’s possible to convert the digitization of your drawing into a standard vector graphics file for use in applications like Illustrator you can sit comfortably with the MyNote and doodle to your hearts content with real pen, on real paper. Alas the MyNote lacks any eraser functionality and doesn’t have lead refills available, both of which could have been nice additions for artists. Still, once you’re happy with your pen doodle you can load up your digitization to your computer and modify the resulting vector drawing to your hearts content.
I’m quite a fan of drawing with biro and a pad of paper so I found the AipTek MyNote to be quite an appropriate device for doing just that. Because it does involve using a real pen on real paper it perfectly re-creates the tactility of drawing, in addition to the immediate visual feedback you get from ink on paper. I really miss the “feel” you get from pen and paper when using a graphics tablet, even a high-end one designed to somewhat replicate that feel. Also, as long as neither the MyNote or its pen run out of batteries whilst you’re doodling, you can essentially forget that the technology is even there and concentrate on bashing out the pretty (or, in my case, puerile) pictures, free from the uncomfortable seating position and displays associated with desktop computers.
The buttons on the MyNote handle basic tasks such as creating, deleting and switching between virtual “pages”. It’s important not to forget to create a new digital page when you turn a physical one, otherwise your notes, drawings, graphs or anything else will be over-written with those you attempt to draw on the next sheet of paper.
A crude icon of a sheet of paper fills up with lines to indicate whether any given page already has digitized content, alas the only indication of what’s actually on a virtual page is the content on the real piece of paper that was under your pen when you digitized it. You’ll have to keep your real pages clipped to the MyNote and remember to number them if you want to keep track of its contents independent of a computer.
The MyNote does a surprisingly good job of digitizing your input and provides OCR software that will make a decent attempt to read your handwriting scrawl. Don’t count on this to make a reliable head or tale of notes taken in meetings, however, these are best saved directly as PDF files if you need to store and share a digital copy of them. My handwriting is, at best, barely legible to a human being let alone a computer. I could get a job writing “captcha” images.
With handwriting recognition elegantly built into OSX by default and available *somewhere* in Vista, actually I think the implementation is just as easy to get to. The ability to hook the MyNote up to your computer and use it as an input device is a massive feature and a refreshing change from typing and mousing, two things which are renowned for causing repetitive strain injury. An A4 tablet is pretty big in the world of graphics tablets and the cheapest proper one will easily set you back £60 (A decent one, however, will be more in the realm of £300). As I mentioned above the MyNote has no tilt and pressure sensitivity but if you can live without these then it’s a great option to consider given its portability and ability to work independent of a desktop. The “blunt” plastic nibs supplied with the MyNote allow it to be used without paper and without you covering the surface of the tablet in ink.
Overall the AipTek MyNote Premium is an interesting and very flexible product that has more than enough uses to justify its price. Whether you want to digitally doodle on the move, digitally store notes, graphs and diagrams or simply use it as an alternative input for your desktop or laptop, there’s a little something in there for the artist, the student and the professional.
Finally, you can make a whole game out of “blindly” drawing pictures on the untethered tablet using the blunt plastic nib and no paper. You then hook the MyNote up to your computer and see who did the best blind drawing! Crudely drawn smiley faces, dogs and genitalia abound! It’s amazing what you can do with a device intended for business professionals. If you’ve got a laptop around, and get a MyNote for Christmas then give this a try, preferably after a few “celebratory” drinks, for a few hours of creative fun.