Time to Ditch Your Paper Notebook – Lessons Learned from Three Generations of Writing Tablets

Thee generations of tablets and pencils/pens  I have used – HTC Flyer (2012), Samsung Galaxy Tablet (2013) and now Ipad PRO (2015)

Last month I picked up my iPad Pro with Apple Pencil which for me represented the third generation of writing tablets with styluses I have used since 2012.  I started with the HTC Flyer, graduated to the Samsung Galaxy Tablet 10.1 2014 Edition, and now the iPad Pro.  For the past four years I have been paper notebook free,  taking these tablets with me wherever I go.  My reasons for abandoning paper, although highly reliable and easy to use, were due to paper’s inability to combine multiple mediums, easily reorganize notes, and papers inability to cut and paste content.

Prior to embarking on my quest to end paper notes, I tried notetaking with my laptop and using all the great apps out there like Evernote.  The problem, was that typing in a meeting was and still is to some extent not socially acceptable depending on the company. And, quite frankly, the part of my brain that is required to type shuts off the deep listening skills that I try to apply in a meeting.  Maybe others don’t have this issue, but if I am typing, I am listening, but I am not really processing the information that is coming out as well as I should. Typing notes also limits note taking to a linear format. Word after word after word.  Typing doesn’t allow graphics or more visual recording of information. Typing seemed like a non-starter for note taking.

Enter the HTC Flyer, my first tablet in 2012. The Flyer worked sufficiently well that I ditched my paper notebook. Its screen was very tiny as you can see in the pictures above, but nonetheless I could take notes all day long, browse the web, and use it as a reader.  Back then it was revolutionary and people would ask me what I was doing in a meeting when I started to take notes.

Only when the need came along to create illustrations for a marketing book I was writing, did I upgrade to the Samsung Galaxy Table 10.1.  With its larger screen and Autodesk Sketchbook, I was able to create 50 or more simple diagrams for a book, easily export them to JPG, then share them using dropbox.  In addition, the more I sketched, the more I found myself switching the various speaking engagements and corporate presentations I did from from PPT slides to either  to simple white board diagrams or simple sketches.  All of these I would develop on the Galaxy Tablet.  The ability to sketch more proficiently has fundamentally modified my communication style to be a more visual communicator.

Simple sketch I created for my book using Galaxy Tablet.  I am not an artist, but these diagrams worked for the book.

With the Galaxy Note, my tablet was now not only replacing a paper notebook, but was now giving me additional tools to be productive.  I had moved from an abacus to a handheld calculator and in many a meeting or task I was doing, it felt that way.

For note taking, Samsung’s S-Note application was sufficient for all my notetaking needs.   I ultimately settled on using a 70 page S-Note document called “work” that was divided by tabs into all the sections required to document and plan my work activities.  Using cut and paste commands, I could easily reorganize information, embed pictures from white boards, annotate the pictures, even export the documents to PDF to share. In addition, the software became more sophisticated over the course of several releases  so that I could actually search handwritten text for specific keywords.

The Galaxy Tablet also had communication apps like Webex and GotoMeeting so I could also use it to take meetings or calls.

Many times I get asked, “does the software convert your handwriting to text” – the answer is yes, in a limited way. But I don’t want my handwriting converted to text.  Text is linear, paragraph format.  It is very structured, but also easy to read.  Handwritten notes, if done correctly can convey so much more information.  A word’s placement on a page,  color, symbols around it, inclusion in diagrams can convey so much more information than simple written text.  It is the difference between reading notes, and visually communicating.  A tablet will make you a better visual note taker.

While I loved the Galaxy 10.1,  its mechanical demise ultimately made me look elsewhere.  I was surprised to have a screen failure only about three years into the tablets life, but I did.  At this point I had to decide whether to stay with Android, migrate to a Windows Surface Tablet, or look at the just released iPad Pro with Pencil.

While I like the Android OS, I also had an iPhone. From experience, I knew that while Android was good, there were times it was just not quite right especially in online browsing.  My wife’s NY Times on her iPad was always superior to the same application on my Android.  Indeed, in many cases of applications that I had for both Android or IOS, the IOS apps were always superior. So while I wasn’t opposed to another Androird tablet, I wasn’t wedded to it. What ultimately steered me away from purchasing another Samsung was the apparent lack of progress on the writing applications and hardware for their tablets.  The tablet I would have purchased at the end of 2015, seemed pretty close to the tablet from 2013 from a writing perspective. It didn’t feel as though I was moving ahead.

What about the Windows Surface Pro?  This tablet is billed as a laptop replacement, but I didn’t want a laptop replacement, I wanted a writing tablet.  Indeed, a co-worker has a Surface Pro and he seems conflicted.  He shows up at a meeting, rips off a keyboard, leaves it on the table, sometimes he puts it back on. Sometimes he shows up without it.  I don’t think these devices do well trying to serve too many masters.   In fact, the availability of a keyboard for the iPAD Pro actually concerned me and I think confuses the message for what it is for.  I did not do a formal evaluation of the Surface.  Since its cost was about the same as the Pro,  and I viewed the tablet more as an extension of my phone than of my desktop, more a mobile device, than desktop,  placing Windows on my tablet just didn’t seem right.  It was also not clear the application ecosystem I use would be available on Pro.  A mistake? Maybe. I am sure there are plenty of Window Surface folks that can chime in.

So how is it going with the iPad Pro?

Awesome.  I purchased both the Apple Pencil (on eBay since it was sold out at the stores) and the Kavaj leather case that contains an integrated pencil holder.  I can easily go an entire day taking notes on a single charge.  I recharge the pencil overnight, which I don’t enjoy, but am willing to deal with it for its pen like qualities.  The Pro is heavy and big.  It is not a Kindle for reading books. In fact, it is too big to easily read books while lying down. My Samsung was a better size for book reading.  But for all other work operations, this Pro is superior- note taking, web browsing, bringing up Google Docs sheets, drawing sketches, the large screen of the Pro is just tremendous and indispensable for a business person like me.

For applications, I use GoodNotes for all my notetaking. For $7.99 on the App Store, it is a steal.  I experimented also with 53Paper, and while I think this application is revolutionary,  for basic notebooks, GoodNotes is superior.  But I continue to experiment with 53Paper especially the manner it improves my drawings.  I have also downloaded and am using Autodesk Sketchbook  for diagrams.

Citrix GotoMeeting has a client for iPAD that contains a whiteboard.  Need to bring up a white board during a session?  Click on the white board and it appears.  While not super high resolution and the palm rejection doesn’t work, you can still do quick sketches for remote participants.  So while I may connect to the GotoMeeting on my laptop, I may also join with my iPad just to use the white board.

File Jan 27, 12 38 53 PM
GotoMeeting White board application.



The PRO’s ability to synthesize photos, images, white board diagrams into a single notebook keeps me highly organized.  I serve on my town’s finance committee.  I am sent lots of PDF files that I simply download to my iPad and open in Goodnotes, then annotate away in these long meetings.

File Jan 27, 12 46 24 PM.png
Annotating a PDF for my duties on the town finance committee.

There are some other features of the Pro which are interesting.  Somehow, you can place a call from your tablet through your iphone provided the iphone is within  range.  Haven’t figured out how that works yet – but I know it does since I was taking a phone call on my iPad at my house when my cell phone was upstairs.

The Pro also has the ability to do split screen work. I sort of knew this, but stumbled across it in a meeting last week.  You can run two apps simultaneously.  For me, this means on one half of the screen I can take notes, while on the other half of the screen I can look at something on the browser like our company WIKI page or watch a GotoMeeting while taking notes on the meeting.  Powerful stuff.

File Jan 27, 10 20 42 AM
My iPad Pro in split screen mode. Taking notes on the left, and reading a web page on the right.

While the PRO has been a great replacement for the SamSung, it still has some shortcomings especially the extent of Pencil enabled programs.  Basic email, for example, doesn’t support writing.   If it did, I would probably drop my notebook.  Charging the pencil can be a hassle since it is one more device that requires charging before going to bed. Writing this post, I went out and dug out my old HTC Flyer and discovered the pencil on the Flyer is very similar in design as the Apple Pencil. Look at the tips.  The difference is that the Flyer used a AAAA battery (yes, quad A), while the Apple Pencil has a rechargeable battery. So the Pencil isn’t that advanced compared to something around four years ago.

Apple Pencil on top and HTC Flyer “pencil” on the bottom from 2012.

Overall, A+ on the PRO.  I would go as far to say that if you are an executive in a company,  if you aren’t using a tablet like this to assist you with information retrieval, notetaking, and communication in your daily work life, especially if you are in a lot of meetings, your productivity is suffering. The iPad Pro can increase your productivity during these discussion times whether you are actively participating in the meeting or pausing to check in with others. The tablet presents a socially acceptable technology device to use at all times. Finally, figuring out how to transform your communication from a text/typewritten format to be a more visual communicator is only something that can help influence your organizations.  The iPad Pro delivers!

Blog at WordPress.com.