Thursday, June 9, 2011

Using “paper” for note-taking

Disclaimer: I realize I am not the first person to do this, but since it came out of a real conversation at work, I just had to.


So, yesterday, at the end of the day, the boss’s kid and some of his friends were wandering around the office.  Drawn in by the lure of intern M&Ms, they came over to chat.  Boys at that age can be so fun to chat with.  One of them asked about my tablet, the HTC Flyer.  I showed them the notes app and a webpage I had been working on marking up.  When the boss came to collect them, he mentioned a new development in portable note-taking called “paper.”  I’m all for trying new things, so I decided to give it a go.

Conveniently, there was a neat, super small form factor version of the paper called stickies on a nearby desk.  I pulled the pad of stickes over to try it out.  Sadly, it didn’t respond to my Flyer pen, which was the only one I had on me at the time, so I had to wait until I could find the right stylus.

My husband sometimes works with paper, so we have some at home for me to try out.  I also have access to several types of pens and styluses at home, so I was pretty confident that I could find one that was compatible with paper.

It was a bit more challenging than I thought to find the right one.  If you’ve seen my inking comparisons video, you can see just how confusing the current state of pens and incompatibility can be.  None of my Wacom pens worked, so I can safely conclude that paper is not Penabled.  The capacitive pen I use with the iPad was a no-go also.  I finally ran into some luck with my 3-in-1 stylus.  The plastic tip that I use with resistive screens didn’t work, but both the “pen” tip and the “pencil” tip worked!  Although you do have to be careful which one you choose before you start, as the pen tip does not have erase functionality like the pencil tip does.

Once I found a working stylus, I was ready to get inking.  Here we get to the good part, the inking is smooth and palm rejection is pretty good.  Your hand won’t generate ink or vectoring, but it can interfere with ink that is already down, generating “smudging” if you’re not careful.  The texture of the paper feels nice under the tip.  The pen just works, but the pencil end occasionally requires pressing a button to get more lead to come out to continue writing.

One nice thing about the paper is that it doesn’t require any special programs or apps to do the note-taking, you just grab it and start writing.  Some other advantages include spectacular battery life.  The paper can last decades before the display starts to yellow a bit.  It’s very lightweight and available in a wide variety of sizes and form factors.  There is even a neat version with a little adhesive strip in the back so the smaller ones can be stuck to things.

However, I’m finding the paper to be missing several options I’m used to having.  There is no way to add space in the middle or move the ink around once it’s down.  While you can add images or documents to the paper, it requires a separate piece of hardware called a printer.  Also, once you’ve got the image or document down, you can’t move it.

Another thing that requires separate hardware is OCR or handwriting recognition or conversion to text.  You’ll have to scan the paper in to have a computer run the OCR with another program or app. 

Organization is also an issue with paper.  I’m used to having the folder system built in and being able to tag notes, but with the paper notes, you just have to keep track of where you put them.  If you want folders, you’ll have to get them separately.

Another thing I miss is the infinite page.  The paper doesn’t get bigger as you write, so when you fill a page, you have to go get another one.  Paper is frequently packaged in bundles or notebooks to help you keep extra pages handy.

So, paper clearly does have several advantages, but is it enough to get me to switch?  I’m afraid I just can’t give up my syncable, scrollable, searchable ink.  Also, I hear they have to cut down trees to make the paper.  I like trees.  I think paper is not for me.


  1. ... I'm going to print this for all of the Luddites at work. The kind of people who hate interfacing with an atm machine and work terminals.