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A notebook with brains

This might be the digital age, but when it comes to taking notes, that old duo of pen and paper has not lost its charm. Which is why notwithstanding all the audio recorders plonked on tables during meetings, you will still hear the sound of pen and paper as people make furious notes. And of course, this being the digital age, they then go back and transfer these to their computers, dash off mails with their excerpts and so on. Now imagine if you could do both — write ‘normally’ on paper and then be able to access what you had written on your device within seconds, with no typing whatsoever? Evernote’s Smart Notebook attempts to let you do just that.

In appearance, the Smart Notebook is very much your conventional Moleskine notebook — smart and compact with a lovely dark cover featuring the Evernote logo etched on it with icons of a number of other items. It will look plain black from a distance, but come closer and you will notice the paintbrush, the aircraft, the fountain pen and so much more. Very classy. It comes in two versions — ruled and squared, and two sizes — regular and large. In the simplest terms, using the Smart Notebook is a two-step process — you write or sketch something on the notebook and then take a picture of it to store it on your device. Now, most people would wonder what’s so special about that? After all, you can do the same with just about every notebook and smartphone, right? But if you do the same thing with “normal” notebooks, what you will end up with is a note on paper and its photograph in the photo album app of your device. What makes the Smart Notebook different is the fact that your note ends up neatly along with other notes that you might have saved and even written on the phone or tablet itself, courtesy of some very smart software and specially designed pages.

Most of us who use smartphones would be familiar with Evernote, the free application that lets you make and save notes on your handset and other devices. You can take pictures, type text, record sound and keep it all in this app, and access it from just about any device you use. Now, what the Smart Notebook enables you to do is write notes or sketch in it and then save them along with your other notes by taking a picture of it using a new feature in Evernote called Page Camera (available currently only for iOS, expected soon on Android). Yes, it is still a photograph but thanks to the app and the specially designed paper, you can actually search through what you have written just as you would on any other note you type into Evernote. So you have a note written by hand, with all the properties of a digital one — you can access it on your phone, your computer or your tablet by just logging on to Evernote and search for terms in it, and so on. You can even add tags to your handwritten notes by using some of the multi-coloured stickers provided in the notebook — yes, the app recognises them and will slot your note accordingly.

The best part is that it actually works well. We had no problems with the app recognising what we had written, as long as we steered clear of the cursive path (the ‘n’s and ‘r’s become a distinct problem when you go cursive). Sketches with notes were well-recognised too and we found ourselves being able to open our phone and search for a note we had made on a sketch without rummaging around in the notebook. Before you ask, the clarity of images taken by Evernote’s Page Camera of the notes on the Smart Notebook was significantly clearer than those of notes taken on other notebooks — so maybe there is something in the claim of the paper being specially designed. And of course, there is the joy of the fact that it all happens in Evernote, which is pretty much the default app for most of us digital notetakers.

We won’t deny that at $ 24.95 for the regular size (it is $ 29.95 for the larger one), it is an expensive proposition if you look at it purely in “scribble in it” notebook terms. But then, most good planners and diaries would cost just a bit lesser, would not look half as smart, and most importantly, would not come with such Evernote integration. And that actually is where the magic comes in. The fact that Evernote itself is so handy gives the Smart Notebook a whole new dimension. You can actually scribble and still keep in touch with your notes and search them for specific terms even when you do not have your Smart Notebook handy, thanks to the software integration (and Evernote Camera does work very well indeed).

We are not going to term it super affordable, but if you are a compulsive note taker of the scribbling variety and have an iPhone or Android device (support for the latter is coming soon), then this is about as good as it gets. You get the best of both worlds — paper and digital. That said, we would not complain if a less premium version were introduced for those who do not really need MoleSkine notebooks all the time. And it would be nice to be able to find it in Indian stores.

For now, though, it is available for direct order from the MoleSkine Asia store at http://www.moleskineasia.com/ for about Rs 1170, and is expected in India very shortly at a price of around Rs 1,200. 

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