Review

Hands-on review: Rocketbook smart notepads

Get your thoughts down on paper, transfer them to digital, erase and start again.

The Rocketbook range of notepads has a companion app that makes it easy to capture your pen-and-paper scribbles digitally and save them to the cloud. We tested the reusable, 80-page Wave (from £25.99) which you can erase in the microwave (no, really) and the 36-page Everlast (from £32.99) which you can simply erase with water.

First, let’s talk about the most affordable version, the 140-page Rocketbook One (£11.99). It’s a large, single-use paper notebook but what makes it a bit special is the companion app and QR codes on each page. Download the free Rocketbook app, point it at a notebook page and it can save your pages neatly to the cloud storage of your choice. 

Across the bottom of each page are seven symbols. They’re a bit random: rocket, diamond, apple, bell, four-leafed clover, star and horseshoe. OK, they’re very random. They look more like a charm bracelet from a Las Vegas gift shop than icons for cloud storage options, but the idea stands: you use the app to assign each symbol to an online service. Then, when you photograph a page, it’s automatically sent to the right place based on which symbol you mark. Examples include: iCloud, Google Drive, Evernote, Dropbox and Slack.

It’s a cool idea and the most affordable option if you like to keep paper notebooks forever. However, much more exciting are the reusable Wave and Everlast. Just imagine: one notebook you can reuse over and over again, yet keep the notes forever. We were sold on the idea before we even unwrapped them.

Both books work exclusively with Pilot FriXion pens – the sort of ball-point pen that you can rub out with an eraser tip. They each come with one FriXion pen, but replacements are affordable and widely available.

The Wave is the weirdest concept because you can fill the book up as much as you like, then blank all the pages in one go in the microwave within a couple of minutes. No, really. You zap it with a mug of water. The circles on the front and back covers represent where to park your mug. 

The tech works OK, so it’s a good option if you want to fill a big book and blank it in one go. Technically, the erasing process is only supposed to work up to five times. We want a forever notebook!

Enter the Everlast, our favourite. It’s slim, at just 36 pages, and it’s the priciest of the bunch. Yet it could be the only notepad you’ll ever need. You can reuse it an infinite number of times by wiping the pages with a moist microfiber cloth. This is so much more convenient than the microwave option because you can erase individual pages or even small mistakes. Even erasing the whole book doesn’t take long.

We liked the fact that the Everlast is so slender and used it the most, happy in the knowledge that we could make mistakes (you can rub little mistakes out with the eraser at the top of the FriXion pen, but the wet cloth is much more effective).

It made a great scratchpad for work and home alike. Write a proper shopping, packing or to-do list happy in the knowledge that it’s accessible anywhere via your phone (as long as you’ve remembered to capture it). The photographed notes are clean and readable and automatically sent to the right places – ticking, checking and circling the symbols all worked equally well.

There’s even OCR (optical character recognition) software in beta testing, to turn your scribbles into emailed text if you write clearly enough. At the time of testing, this was free but limited to 16 pages a day. It worked surprisingly well: printed capitals, lower case and even joined-up writing all came out correct. It won’t decode a scrawl, but if your writing is legible the software will read it.

We had just three criticisms. The first is simple: wet ink can smudge or, even worse, wind up on the opposite page if you close the book too soon after writing. The worst example of this is when you tick a symbol and the ink is copied to the opposite page and you inadvertently tick a different symbol on that page.

The second is that the app has room for improvement. Good is that it scans well and sends pages to the right places like clockwork, but we’d like to see it automatically know the page numbers and curate a virtual notebook, in order, within the app, too. It needs to feel like a notebook on the move, not just one-page notes.

Finally, the FriXion pens work brilliantly, but we lived in fear of accidentally using a different pen by mistake and ruining the book forever - the stuff of nightmares. That said, the fact that it uses pens that are widely available in most stationers is fantastic. You’re not locked into an expensive system and you might never need to buy a notebook again.

From £11.99, getrocketbook.co.uk 

Alternatives

Livescribe 3

This chunky digital pen/notebook combo automatically saves your scribbles digitally and can turn them into text. A companion app records audio and links it to the notes.

£179.99, livescribe.com 

Evernote

Jot down notes on any scrap of paper, then capture them in this app. You can take photos, type notes, record voice clips and more, organise everything in virtual notebooks and even collaborate.

From free, evernote.com 

Moleskine Smart Writing Set

The tech in this sleek pen/pad combo works like the Livescribe: the pen’s optical sensors know exactly where it is thanks to tiny dots that are different on every page. No audio recording, though.

£199, moleskine.com 

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