Saturday, 25 March 2017

Tools for taking notes and sharing on the go



Moleskin Smart Writing Set 
As a product person, I am always thinking about unmet needs, ways of working, and pain points. One of those in my professional life is taking notes. I have tried Evernote on a tablet, into Word on a laptop but always come back to pencil and moleskin notepad.

This then is a bit of faff in finding notes at a later date or sharing with colleagues. Scanner apps that create PDFs help, but I usually forget and take a photo that I then ping off by email.

Imagine my excitement when I heard about the reMarkable tablet in development:


The paper tablet for people who prefer paper. Here to replace your notebooks, sketchbooks and printouts. Paper-like reading, writing and sketching with digital powers.
Sounds great! This has the potential to do for note taking what the Kindle did for eBooks. But it is still only on pre-order and my birthday was this month. So for around the same amount of money I have got two tools.

The Moleskin Smartpen with "paper tablet". This is a smartpen with a moleskin pad that has a tiny pattern printed on each page. The camera in the pen picks up where the strokes land on the page to store in memory. This is then uploaded to an iOS or Android app via Bluetooth.

I have only used this for a short while but what I like already is the blend of analog and digital. It doesn't need a change in working behaviour for me to get some benefit. It also degrades gracefully. If the pen runs out of ink then you still get an electronic copy. Also if the battery dies, still have the paper version.

One neat feature, if you have the app open and place the pen on the mail icon in the top right corner. It will then export the current page to PDF and attach to an email. Not a massive time saving, but a nice connection between the physical and digital actions.

The people behind the smartpen technology - Neo - also have a section on their site where you can download NCode PDFs. This is the format that the Moleskin pads are printed in. This allows you to use full A4 pages with grid, line, and graph patterns.

Another thing that I hadn't considered before I uncovered during setting up the auto sync. With Evernote, Google Drive and OneDrive all supported I get redundant backups for free. This also avoids vendor lock-in. Both things that enterprise internal IT departments tend to love.

Acer Chromebook 14
Following on nicely from this last point is the second new tool I am getting to grips with is a new Chromebook. This is a cloud-native notebook, with limited disk space and based around the Google Chrome browser. Like Microsoft I am a bit late to the cloud party, having grown up with Unix and DOS command lines I'm not afraid of file systems. What struck me was how easy it was to setup. It even brought in my bookmarks from my Android tablet. 

In fact, it was surprising how much was already setup from details used on another device type. For example, my LinkedIn account details were saved in my tablet, so didn't need to log in when accessing site for the first time.

The specs would probably be quite low for a Windows but I find it speedy. One annoyance is a general one from the Google/Android ecosystem. Finding apps that "support" your device. This isn't really an issue in the iOS or OS X worlds, and one of the reasons I stayed with iPhone and Mac Mini. It would have been nice to use the Moleskin M+ Notes app on my Chromebook, given its long battery life. I am hoping that they add Android app support to my Chromebook soon. I don't suppose I need to worry too much with the range of auto sync options available.

My next task is to investigate tools like:

As I see how much of my side project can be done not only using free tools but also a largely online and cloud-centric approach.

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