NEOLab Convergence’s Neo smartpen N2 ($169) is another attempt to bridge analog and digital writing. The smartpen is very similar to Livescribe’s Livescribe 3 Smartpen — it combines a standard pen (and standard D1 pen lead) with a small camera which quickly converts writing in a notebook to NeoLAB’s own Neo Notes app. Also like Livescribe 3, Neo smartpen N2 requires proprietary paper to work properly. Neo smartpen N2 comes with a small pocket notebook, an extra pen refill, and a micro-USB cable for recharging. The smartpen comes in either black or silver/white.
Neo smartpen N2 is made mostly of aluminum, with a plastic cap on one end, and a plastic bottom with a port for micro-USB charging. Without the cap, the smartpen is slightly shorter than 6.25” from pen tip to bottom, and weighs 22 grams. It has a triangular shape, but proves no tougher to handle than any normal pen. But how you use it is important: it must be held a certain way so the 120 fps camera sensor can record a user’s handwriting. Neo smartpen N2 is powered by a ARM 9 dual core processor and links to an iOS device via Bluetooth 4.0.
Writing or drawing with N2 is a pleasant experience. When holding the pen properly, we found quick, accurate transfer from NeoLAB’s own paper to the Neo Notes app, which isn’t immediately the most intuitive app out there, but it’s made easier by N2’s design — just start writing, and you’ll see the app properly identify the page with the correct writing. The pen will even save writing done while the app is closed — the next time the app is opened, you’ll see your markings pop right up. Up to 1,000 pages can be stored with the pen is offline, which should be plenty.
The N2-Neo Notes combo offers a number of other useful options as well. The app can transcribe (in 15 languages) and search for written text. It does a great job with the search, though cursive can give it some trouble when converting to digital text. It’s also possible to select a number of colors from within the app for drawings and varied notetaking. Neo Notes is also compatible with Evernote Sync, which gives your writing more access points, rather than having to have your specifically synced iOS device with you. Other nice features include syncing voice memos with notes and recording strokes, and automatically sending emails of pages from a linked email account.
There’s a lot to like about NeoLAB’s Neo smartpen N2. It’s a well-designed pen that’s easy to use, and its app offers plenty of worthwhile features. But it’s limited by two major factors: its relatively high price and reliance on proprietary paper (we found all N2 notepads for sale ranging from $15-$22). Neo smartpen N2 may still be worth a purchase for some students — especially those in the math and medical fields — or others who have a great need to transfer handwritten notes to digital. Like Livescribe 3, NeoLAB’s smartpen is a good product, but not many will will have a need for it, and even those who do may opt to find another system for digital notes when faced with that $169 price tag. Neo smartpen N2 earns our limited recommendation.
Company and Price
Company: NeoLAB Convergence
Model: Neo smartpen N2
Compatible: Bluetooth 4.0 devices running iOS 7.1 or higher