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How the PC Killed the Pencil

Whether it’s in the boardroom or the field, today’s small-to-midsized businesses are increasingly relying upon digital note-taking tools that allow you to effortlessly record, organize and search notes in an efficient way.

And unlike traditional pen and paper, software and hardware solutions mean you can wirelessly share ideas remotely (or easily back up your notes to another location for safe-keeping), digitally transcribe your chicken scratch into text for word processing or email, and even add multimedia to your note-taking, including photos, video, audio, and GPS tagging.

A myriad of options let you digitally document a meeting, conference call or random ideas. “There really is no one-size-fits-all solution for taking notes, because different users like to capture their thoughts in different ways,” says Carmi Levy, senior vice president of strategic consulting at AR Communications, a Toronto-based marketing communications firm that specializes in computer and online trends.

“For example, some people think nothing of moving from meeting to meeting and office to office throughout the day, taking notes on their laptop or tablet computer as they go,” says Levy, “while others are out of the office almost all the time, and don’t want to carry a full-featured computer with them.” You might find yourself tethered to your desk all day long, or alternatively, outside wireless network coverage.


Personal preference also plays a role, adds Levy. “Some note-taking solutions use electronic pens that allow you to write free-form on the screen of a tablet computer, while others rely on conventional typing, therefore your choice might also depend on how strong your penmanship or typing skills are.”

Here’s a look at some of the more popular cutting-edge digital note-taking tools available today:

Tablet PCs, UMPCs
Thanks to falling prices, increased selection, and many more applications targeted at geeks like us, tablet PCs are catching on. These small and lightweight hand-held computers, often held like a clipboard, let you comfortably write on the screen using a stylus pen. Bundled optical character recognition (OCR) software can also transcribe your handwriting into text, making it easy to search or insert into documents, presentations or emails. With built-in wireless functionality, tablet PCs are also online-ready.

If you’re thinking about buying a tablet PC, you’re not alone these days. “While this market hasn’t grown as fast as originally predicted, tablet PCs are now growing steadily,” says Richard Shim, research manager for personal computing at the Framingham, Mass.-based IDC technology research firm. “They’re at a stage now where folks are considering them for both personal and professional reasons, so that should widen their appeal.”

Expect to pay $799 to $1,999 for a tablet PC, with a number of variables that could affect cost, including specifications, screen size and whether the tablet PC is a “convertible” swivel model that doubles as a traditional laptop. For example, Fujitsu’s LifeBook T1010 Tablet PC ($1,349) features an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, Windows Vista O/S, 13.3-inch WXGA convertible touch-screen display, and dual-layer multiformat DVD writer.

Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPCs) and Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) also allow for easy note-taking while on the go. These are typically cheaper than tablet PCs but don’t offer as many bells and whistles; you can pick up an Asus Eee PC 4G UMPC or a Nokia N810 Internet Tablet for around $399.

OneNote, EverNote
Microsoft, whose operating systems power most tablet PCs, also offers OneNote, a tablet PC-centric note-taking and information-management program for Microsoft Office that lets you easily capture and collaborate on notes.

“It allows free-form writing, typing and sketching, and serves as a central repository of content in virtually any form,” explains Levy. “One of OneNote’s particularly neat party tricks is it can sync up audio or video from a meeting with any notes you’ve taken along the way.”

As part of Microsoft Office, it also integrates nicely with Word, Excel and PowerPoint. If it doesn’t already come pre-bundled with a Windows-powered tablet PC, Microsoft Office OneNote 2007 sells for about $65.

Voted at Lifehacker online as one of the five best note-taking tools, EverNote works on multiple devices, including Windows- and Mac-based personal computers, Windows Mobile smartphones, and the iPhone and iPod touch.

EverNote for iPhone is part of the cloud-based EverNote service. EverNote ($50) lets users create, capture, and find content across all the devices and platforms they use; the free (but limited) iPhone version also takes advantage of its features, including location awareness (via GPS), camera support, audio recording, and Internet connectivity.

The company recently launched a Web service that supports syncing between your online account and desktop. “This is perfect for people who are in and out of the office and don’t have the time to transfer their notes back and forth,” says Levy.

Google Notebook, another popular note-taking solution, is a free Web-based application. Google Notebook folds in Google’s familiar interface and has excellent search capabilities and integration with other Google services, including Google Bookmarks.

Digital pens, other solutions
If you still prefer to “take notes” during meetings instead of typing into a laptop or tapping a smartphone, you can now have the best of both worlds. A few high-tech pens, such as Logitech’s io 2 Digital Pen (about $99), remember everything you write or draw on special paper. Once the pen is docked in its USB-connected charger, the information is immediately copied to a PC’s hard drive for safekeeping, emailing, or yellow “sticky” reminders. The handwritten notes can also be transcribed into text, if so desired. These products fuse “old school” note-taking with cutting-edge digital technology.

“We’re not seeing a lot of folks using this technology, though,” says IDC’s Shim. “Tablet PCs are more common than digital pens.”

A similar product, Solution Into Motion’s Digital Pen for BlackBerry ($400), lets you wirelessly beam your handwritten notes to your Bluetooth-enabled BlackBerry. Within moments, your notes will be converted to text, ready for email or archiving.

Other digital note-taking solutions include smartphones (especially ideal if they sport QWERTY keyboards); digital voice recorders; and for quick thoughts, mobile phone services, such as Jott, that record your voice notes and transcribe them into text within seconds.

Whether it’s clever hardware, software, or Web services, or a combination of all three, digital note-taking should be considered a tool for you and your business needs.

Copyright (c) 2011 Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.

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