As technology continues its onward march, there are a number of new products coming to the limelight which emphasize how technology is changing the way we do things compared to before. These are the 'smart things' and resemble items we know, but are different as capable of doing much more than the older analog versions can only dream of. A smartpen is a prime example of this sort of tech and over the last year are slowly beginning to rise to prominence. In fact, the leaders in the market are already starting to establish themselves and thanks to this, consumers are already starting to see competition developing in the market. That said, it still seems to be an expensive area of the industry and today's offering is no exception. The Neo Smartpen N2 from NeoLab started as a Kickstarter project, but very quickly gained traction and easily surpassed the funding it was seeking. As such, the Neo Smartpen N2 is now here and available to buy, but does come in around the $170 marker.
Hardware & Design
As this is a pen, the first impression is that $170 will seem like a lot of money. Of course, you can pick up pens for this figure, but they are typically highly design-oriented pens and usually come with a high-end penmakers name attached. The Neo Smartpen N2 is different from those pens for many reasons and the price associated with this pen is designed to highlight its intelligence, more than its design. With that in mind, the pen, although pen shaped, does lack many of the design features one might expect for the price range that this one falls within.
When you first look at the pen, it does have a sort of space-age feel to it. It is a pen of the future and this does show. It is lightweight and feels rather plastic) in nature. The top and bottom are both plastic while the centerpiece is more of a graphite or aluminum substance.
Once the lid is removed the pen tip also highlight a more futuristic appearance without the pen coming to its fine point, the nib extrudes out over the rest of the unit.
In fact, the whole feeling of the pen is one which is what you might expect if you were told you were holding a pen for the future. As such, pen connoisseurs are unlikely to see too much value in the pen, in all honestly. Not much is going on connection wise here either. The pen does contain a small LED which informs you when it is connected or when the battery is running low. Other than this, the pens contains a micro-USB socket on its bottom end, allowing for charging. On this point, there were no issues with battery life with the pen seemingly fine for days without charge. Not to mention, the pen was able to reach a full charge in about 80 minutes.
One issue which does need to be commented on was that the pen feels a little bottom heavy. As such, when using it to write, the Smartpen N2 does feel much heavier than you would expect and especially considering how light the pen is to begin with.
Moving on to the other part of the design, the notepads. The Neo Smartpen 2 comes with two notepads, one big and one small. The smaller one is made up of more graph like paper while the larger of the two was plain in nature. Now, these are no ordinary notepads and instead are what NeoLab refer to as nCode paper-based pads. As a result, the notepads are purposefully designed to work with the Smartpen N2. The benefit of this is that the user experience of the pen and paper is actually very good. The downside is that this pen cannot be used with normal paper. Therefore, when you run out of paper you will have to buy additional notepads directly from the company which will add additional running costs.
Now, as you would expect, the pen had a dedicated app that comes with it and is designed to be the joining force between the pen and the paper. The app is the brains of the operation and works extremely well. The first thing the app will do is help you sync the pen to the app via Bluetooth. At which point the pen becomes usable in a digital state. From here on all writings on the nCode paper are digitized without issue and for later use. Like most pens of this nature, there were no major issues with the tech and it seems to work fine. The software was able to accurately show a carbon copy of what was written on the paper. Although, that is the minimum you would expect from this sort of product and as such, it does do the job well.
However, that is only half of what the 'Neo Notes' software can do. What is very clever about the Neo Smartpen N2 software is the additional features on offer. The app contains a number of very well integrated features and as such you can add audio notes to your digitized content, add color and tags. Not to mention, you can customize the appearance of the notepads by either using the built-in wallpaper type images or of course, adding your own. The software also is able to effectively tell you how much battery the pen has which proved very useful when away from your charging points. All of these when tested provided a much richer experience than simply some pen software that only captures the content.
Another really well-developed feature of this smartpen is that you do not need the Bluetooth connection to be active to be able to digitize your writings. Of course, you will need it to be active when syncing the data. However, you can write offline fine and once a Bluetooth connection is established, the digital versions will be updated to reflect what you did offline. Not to mention, the app was also able to differentiate when you start using a different notepad or write on a new page. Therefore, whenever you start on a new page, the app always and immediately started a new page too.
The software also allows transcribing of your digitized writing copies into true digital print form. In all honestly, this was a little hit and miss and is too largely dependent on the quality of your handwriting. Therefore, the clearer you write the clearer the transcribing will be. Although this makes sense, for some, the idea of writing with a pen will mean writing in their style and often much more quickly. If your handwriting suffers when you write at speed then you will lose quality in transcribing, although you will still have the carbon digital copies to fall back on.
Once the data is finished and you have made all the adjustments you want, you can of course, share the copy files (or transcribed files) via the usual share channels. There were no issues here and the app was fine at sending via email or Hangouts etc and was also fine when uploaded or storing to any cloud-based storage.
The Neo Smartpen N2 is a very well designed piece of kit. The Pen itself is not for those who are pen-design orientated and will not replace your Montblanc sitting on your desk. However, those who still use a pen more, will find incredible value in the product. The balance between the hardware and the software is great and there were no overwhelming issues noted with either the pen or the software when testing, Battery life was more than sufficient, quality of digitizing was great and the pen did do exactly what it sets out to do. The issue though, is going to be the price. It is difficult to say, yes, this is worth close to $200. Of course, when you take into consideration the tech inside and what it can do, it is. But for the average consumer, the price will be a deterrent. Not to mention that due to the pen only working with the NeoLab nCode paper, adds further additional costs which will be incurred. It is unlikely anyone will be buying this unit based on a one-time usage and therefore, as quickly as you do go through one normal pad, you will go through these. As such, and for the moment, this remains an expensive unit, although no more expensive than any of the other competitor units out there. However, if you want to be at the bleeding edge of tech and one of the early adopters of this type of platform, then the Neo Smartpen N2 will be a good and feature-rich choice to go for.