Pair your Old School need for paper with a digitizing Pen technology

As a Xennial, a term coined by Sarah Stankorb in 2014 to represent those born between 1978 and 1983, I find myself straddling the line between the old-school and the digital worlds. I grew up writing notes by hand, was criticized for my poor penmanship, but then flourished when I learned to type. Now, I type nearly everything and rarely think about my handwriting. As I went through high school, college, and then medical school, I had to regularly take written notes. In fact, I still have thousands of sheets of paper stored within 3-inch Ringed binders. Modern students have moved into the digital arena and many pair iPads/Surface tablets with Apps like GoodNotes for the ability to digitize, store, and manipulate their notes/assignments. For those of us that still feel we need to see it, feel it, and manipulate it, a combo physical/digital option may be the best avenue to improve productivity. As an example, the Newyes smartpen, notebook, tablet option may be the device a true Xennial needs.

The NEWYES Smart Pen arrived in a 10 5/8 inches long by 8 7/8 inches wide by 2 inches thick light-grey retail box.  The main showcase of the cover was the approximately 7 inches wide by 6 inches tall image of the Smart Pen panel and a synced mobile device.  Just above the image, you will find “Smart Pen Sync to the mobile devices” in black font and above that, the NEWYES name in a hunter-green font.”  The short sentence “keep the record of your notes” provided a useful overview of the product.  The top and bottom panels provided the NEWYES name, while both side panels provided the product name: Syncpen P1S.  Turning the packaging over, the white internal box had a large QR code linking to the App “NEWYES-Make the world paperles.”  I cut the thin outer plastic, lifted the lid, and was quite shocked to find a turquoise and black trapper-keeper-like book inside because the front panel gave me the impression of a dry-erase board, rather than a notebook.  Beneath the binder, I found a 21 Gram pen, several accessory styluses, a 13-inches long, silver-braided, USB-A to USB-micro charging cable, a Smart Pen Quick Start Guide, and a test page. 

Upon my first impression, the NEWYES device seemed to combine the concept of the ADONIT Note Plus with that of the RocketBook Everlast. I turned to the instruction manual, downloaded the NEWYES Note App (scanned QR code), and then signed up via email (Continue with phone, Continue with email, Continue with Google, WeChat login, Continue with Facebook).  I entered my email, the verification code sent to my email, and then allowed the NEWYES NOTE to use Bluetooth.  Once the App was installed, the instructions recommended that I turn to the smartpen.  The smartpen device weighed 21-grams, measured 7/16-inches diameter by 6 3/8 inches long, a posterior silver on/off button, a usb-micro port along the tail end of the pen, and a removable cap with pocket clip.  As per the instruction manual, I removed the ink refill accessory bag and installed a ballpoint pen insert into the pen (for the paper).  You will need to charge the pen (1.5 hours) before you press the small posterior switch, to turn on the Bluetooth 4.2/low powered, black-colored, 32MB Ram containing, 3.7V 260 mA Li-Po battery containing, smartpen.  When ready (pen tip installed, pen charged), start writing in the notebook to have the pen automatically turn on, or you can press and hold the button for three seconds for it to turn on.  When ready to end your writing session, press and hold the button for three seconds to turn off the device, or wait for the auto-off timer to turn off the device after 20-minutes of inactivity.  

Open the NEWYES NOTE app, ensure Bluetooth is activated on your smart device (iPhone 11 Pro Max), and then connect the pen to the App.  On the main screen, you will notice three horizontal bars along the top left, a magnifying glass along the top right, and a pen icon (initially with red line through it) along the top right. Just beneath this, you will find a “Create Notebook” tab, and then “Note” and “Me” along the bottom.  Following the instruction manual, I held the button on the back of the pen for 6 seconds and noted the LED turned blue.  I tapped the pencil/red X along the top right, found the MAC on the back of the pen, made sure it was correct, selected the MAC address from the App, and was pleased that the connection was so easy to set up.  The final panel of the setup allowed me to complete the pairing process and returned me to the main panel of the app. If you tap the three horizontal lines, you will gain four options: Notebook, LCD pad, Video Class, and Scan.  I tapped the Notebook Option and found a digital NEWYES Note, and a “+ Create Notebook” option.   The included NEWYES Notebook measured 7 inches wide by 9 1/2 inches tall by by 1/ 4 inches tall and weighed 23.73-ounces. I lifted the magnetic flap and then opened the book.  The inner cover had four slots for credit cards, and two 9 inches long by 4.5 inches tall compartments.  The leather was well sewn, the stitching was even, and the inner cover of the keeper was well done overall.  

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The six-ring notebook (100g off-white, Wood-free paper, 5 3/4 inches wide by 8 1/4 inches tall) had a main NEWYES NOTE “Keep the record of your notes” panel and 64 digital/line pages (128 total numbered surfaces due to front/back).  Each page, front and back, was made of tiny squares, which allowed the images to become digitized by the pen.  The back panel of the notebook was made of thicker card stock and had the same QR code App-link as the rear panel of the box.  Located within the very back panel, you will find a 5 3/4 inches wide by 8 7/8 inches tall, 5.71-ounce digital tablet resting within a leather-stitched 2 1/2 inches tall by 6 3/8 inches long pocket.  Cut into the center of the pocket, you will find a 3/4 inches diameter erase-button access port.  The tablet can be removed from the binder, or you can choose to use it within the binder.  It had “9in pad” etched into the lower right section of the 9-inch diagonal screen and had a small erase button along the bottom edge. Along the lower right corner of the device, you will find a small on/off toggle switch and then a small battery compartment along the lower edge.  Per the instruction manual, the tablet can be used up to 50,000 times and should last 4-6 months on a single CR2032 battery.  Lastly, if you look closely at the lower-left edge, you will find a removable 4 3/8 inches long plastic stylus. 

Just adjacent to the tablet, the company included an elastic pen holder for the included digital pen.  When ready, close the notebook and secure it with the 2 inches wide, tapering, magnetic flap.  Open the flap, when ready, to use the device; you can turn to your desired page or choose to use the included tablet.  When ready to use this setup, you will need to make sure that you have the appropriate tip installed onto the pen.  They have included plastic tips for the tablet, and they have included actual ink pens for the book.  Thanks to the included stylus, my kids had an ever-ready, portable doodle-pad.  However, to use the memory function, you had to use the included smartpen and not the stylus.  As my first test, I navigated to the App, chose the three horizontal lines along the top left, and then chose to use the LCD pad. I tapped the icon and the App took me to a new welcome screen: “Hello. Welcome to NEWYES Start writing Now!” I tapped the small “+” icon along the bottom right of the panel and started writing.  As a test, I copied the writing that was on the cover art.  The smooth surface of the tablet was quite conducive to comfortable writing.  As I composed my message onto the tablet, the same message appeared on the App screen.  I do not like my handwriting and this setup did not improve upon my weakness.  However, the ability to digitize my note was convenient. When done with the tablet, I pressed the center button to erase the panel.  The data remained on the App. 

Within the App, I was able to tap the microphone to add voice information, or I could tap the “Mark” option to add finger/stylus text on the note within the App.  I was also able to tap the eraser button to swipe the information off of the note on the App screen. Tapping the paper icon, I was able to change between square, lined, and blank paper. If like me, you hate your handwriting, you can tap the three circles along the top right of the panel and then select “Recognize.”  The App will read your text and then will digitize this for you.  I was then able to mail it, to save it as text, or to send via message or airdrop.  When finished, you can go back to the main panel and see that the file is saved as a note and that it was backed up into the cloud.  Personally, with the goal of reducing carbon footprints and decreasing the need for trees/paper, the LCD screen, and the digital app were more beneficial to me than the paper.  When ready to use the paper, you will need to remove the plastic stylus and reinstall the ink pen tip.  Tap the three horizontal lines along the top left and then select Notebook from the list.  I then selected “NEWYES note” from the list and started writing.  If you have multiple notebooks, you can create a secondary notebook as well. I rewrote the same cover art phrase but this time misspelled synchronous.  When I had the app recognize the writing, it actually spelled the word correctly.  I added an arrow and the word “spelling” to my written page and then re-initialized the recognition process.  The app digitized the word spelling and misspelled the word synchronous, even though I did not change it.  Furthermore, when I added a few pictures, the recognition failed to pick up on them.  If taking notes, you can tap the pencil to change colors/thicknesses, you can tap the eraser to gain a larger/smaller eraser, and you can tap the mark button to change the color that you add to your screen.  For note-taking purposes, the only true limitation would be if you forgot to charge your pen.  The ability to add information into the app with the microphone and directly to the note, with the mark option, proved to be rather ingenious.  

Summary/Overview:

Having used several versions of the Rocketbook, I feel like this product may be a step back in regards to technology in some aspects.  I like that the Rocketbook utilizes a Frixion ink to allow for repeated use of the same paper.  The ink/pen that comes with this device uses the paper and requires that you purchase another notebook. The ability to automatically synchronize your writing/notes into the cloud for on-the-go use will likely create a boon to productivity.  The ability to add verbal notes drastically increased the utility of the app/device combo.  However, the app seemed to struggle with the search option. With the written page serving as an off-grid hard-copy, you should never be very far from your work.  Thus, for someone looking to keep both hard and digital copies of their records, this Smartpen device may be the device you have always wanted.  The 1.5 hour charging time of the pen was reasonable, but I felt they should have used USB-C instead of USB-micro.  One concern that I had was with the need to charge the pen. Because I cannot later digitize the images/writing, I would not be able to use this setup without a charged pen.  I can imagine several students forgetting to charge a pen and then struggling with trying to get this to work in class. 

The pen felt comfortable in my hand, but some may feel it to be a bit thick.  I struggled a little when I needed to change the pen tip, and had to remind myself to orient the tip away from me during use.  If you forget to change it, you may damage the surface of your table. I have been using this device for Cub Scout meetings and found that I have been losing less paperwork. Overall, I would give the device a 9/10 based on utility, reusability, ease of use, and packaging. It has many features that help it to stand toe-to-toe with other companies like Rocketbook. I do wish, however, that some of the features of the Rocketbook ecosystem would drastically enhance this setup and vice versa.  A partnership and blending between the two would likely create an even better user experience.  I could imagine using the NEWYES pen with a frixion ink insert on Rocketbook paper, as an example. Despite some of the limitations, I feel that the device provided a very sensitive, accurate, reliable, recording experience. I feel that the device is well worth the $149 price tag.

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