Sep 18 AT 10:02 AM Brooks Barnard 0 Comments

A back to school gift for your favorite geek: The Neo smartpen N2

Neo Smartpen N2-1

In a world with Google, where our searches and Google Docs can be transcribed from our speech, the necessity of typing or physically writing things down is diminishing rapidly. But there are countless situations where writing is still absolutely necessary. We can’t vocally take notes on our phones or computers during a lecture. We can’t always be typing our notes down on our phones in the middle of a meeting, it’s distracting and unacceptable. Also, some people just aren’t comfortable or have difficulty being understood by our listening mobile devices. Do these people just get left behind in our ever advancing world of technology? Absolutely not. Smartpens are the real deal and are here to bridge the gap between the pen and paper and digital storage and sharing.

The Pen

The Neo smartpen N2 is NeoLAB’s smartpen solution for the world. It is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign and is now available to anyone online. The N2 is simply a pen with a camera that watches and remembers or passes on what you’re writing to a mobile device. The camera watches at 120 frames per second and the pen can sense the pressure you’re using to write. To work, the N2 currently requires special paper with Ncode technology, paper with little tiny character patterns that tell the N2 and the companion app where and what page you’re writing on. It uses Bluetooth to connect with either Android or iOS. Nothing has been officially released yet, but we have been told by representatives of NeoLAB that a free paper printing program will be debuted within the next few weeks. So that’s pretty cool news.

Like any decent smart device, the Neo smartpen N2 has hardware. Yeah, this pen has specs. Here they are:

CPU : Dual Core ARM9 Application Processor
Connectivity : USB 2.0 (Micro USB) / Bluetooth 4.0
Size : L 156mm / W 11.5 ~ 11.8 / 22g (Without pencap)
OS : Android Jelly Bean 4.1.2 or higher / iOS 7.1 or higher (iPhone 5 or higher)
Battery : Li-Polymer / 3.7V (Full charage : 2 hours)
Memory: 90MB Nand Flash
Display : Dot-LED Indicator (Full color)
Required Bluetooth Connectivity : Android Bluetooth 2.1 or higher / iOS Bluetooth 4.0 LE
Pen tip type : Standard D1 type
Usage time : Constant (5 hours) / Normal usage (3 days) / Standby (125 days)

The Experience

The Neo smartpen N2 comes with a companion app that can be found in the Google Play Store, Neo Notes. Through the app you can “register”, or connect, your N2 with your device. It requires Android 4.1.2 or higher. When we first got the N2, my wife was super stoked about it and tried to connect it with her Galaxy S6 and had trouble with pairing. After a few tries, she decided it might need to be charged first and we haven’t had any issues with pairing or connection since. My registering experience with the pen with my Nexus 6 went extremely smoothly. Since then, I have looked through the manual and it does suggest charging the pen before pairing.

Neo Smartpen N2-3

The N2 has a button on it that allows one to turn the pen on and off as well as pair the pen. It additionally has a full color LED light that tells you when it’s on, in pairing mode, and running low on battery. Once the pen is charged and on, using it is as easy as writing with a pen and paper. The pen has internal memory, so even if you’re not around your phone or not paired at any given time, the pen will store what you are writing so it can be transferred to your device and saved later. Neo states the pen can hold up to 1000 pages on A4 paper of offline writing.

Unfortunately the Neo smartpen N2 requires special proprietary paper for the pen to work. In short, the N2 uses Ncode technology that is simply “a combination of lines and symbols printed so small they are difficult for the eye to perceive. Each line and symbol constitutes a pattern to express a unique code for each location on the page.” It’s really cool how well this technology works. The camera on the pen takes pictures or what you write and figures out where you wrote it from the Ncode. It even records the pressure of your stroke. If you have the pen connected to your phone, you can watch what you are writing immediately appear in your notebook in the Neo Notes companion app. The N2 and app even know when you’re using a different notebook and when you change pages. It just moves to the next page and doesn’t skip a beat.

Other than needing special paper, as a technology device, I haven’t been blown away with battery life or battery management for the N2. On the Neo smartpen N2 website it states that the pen is able to auto-shutoff and there is a setting for that within the Neo Notes app, but I haven’t found that setting. So, I don’t know if my pen is currently auto-shutting off. And a lot of times when I go to use it if I haven’t been charging it, it’s not charged. Additionally, I just wish it had better battery life. It’s one more thing to have to worry about having charged and it would be nice if I felt like it didn’t need to be charged daily.

Other than battery life, the pen is super easy to use. My 4 and 6-year-old kids have gotten a kick out of the pen and have been drawing me pictures and writing me stories with it. Within the app, you can change the color and thickness of the strokes with what you are writing. A preschooler can do it, so can you.

Neo Smartpen N2-11

The feature that I think could be the most useful to me is transcribing. Being able to digitally store my hand written notes and easily share them is one thing. But the ability to transcribe and make my notes searchable sounds like it could have saved me lots of time in college. Heck, it could save me time now. I spend lots of time trying to find that one little thing I wrote down that one time. Searchable notes sound amazing. The transcribing didn’t handle bullet points that well, but I think it wouldn’t take long to get along great with the Neo smartpen N2 and the transcribing feature in Neo Notes. You can also sync your notes with Evernote and Google Drive.

The Bottom Line

I already told you about the catch of the special paper. What about the price? Well, the Neo smartpen N2 isn’t cheap. The N2 comes in two colors, Silver White (what we reviewed) and Titan Black, and will set you back $169. It’s available from neosmartpen.com or you can get free shipping in the US via Amazon. In addition to the pen, the special paper comes in several different varieties and the cost isn’t as bad as I imagined it could’ve been. For example, you can get a 5 pack of 100 ruled A4 paper pads for $21.90. It’s obviously more expensive that regular paper, but it’s not terrible. Also, as expressed earlier,  a free paper printing program will be debuted within the next few weeks. So keep your eye out for that announcement if you’re on the fence about the N2 because of the special paper requirement. I haven’t personally used smartpen competitors like Equil and Livescribe, but the N2 seems very competitively priced for the smooth online and offline experience and features offered.

Overall, I’ve been impressed with the experience of the N2. The pen and app are super easy to use. After having the N2 for a couple of weeks, I don’t feel like a smartpen is something that I can’t live without. But if you think a smartpen would be amazing and a great fit in your schooling, business, or lifestyle I definitely think the N2 should be considered. It could even be a great gift for your hard working gadget loving college student because they probably can’t afford to buy it themselves.

What are your thoughts on the Neo smartpen N2? What are you thoughts on smartpens in general? Do you think the N2 is missing any must-have features? Have an N2 and have thoughts you’d like to share on it? Let us know what you think by commenting below.

Brooks is an engineer living in the Bay Area recently dislocated from the Great Northwest. He's an Android enthusiast who decided to start doing something (productive?) with his countless hours Android modding and theming. He has a hot wife, is a father of three, an avid F1 fan, and enjoys watching sports when he can. His current devices include the Nexus 6 and 7 (2103) both running stock roms and may or may not be rooted. You can follow Brooks on Twitter @Brooks_Barnard.

    Most Tweeted This Week