OneNote on a Tablet PC is great. You can write out your notes and have them be understood. But, not everyone has a Tablet PC. Even if you do have one, there are times when you would like to just be able to take notes and draw pictures in a notebook and have those notes show up in your OneNote notebook.
Capturx from Adapx is one solution. They sent me one of their pen systems to test out and I want to share my results and opinions with you. The system they sent me retails for $299. For now, when you purchase a system from them, you will get additional notebooks as well.
The package sent to me contained a pen, a dock, the USB connector, the CD with the software and a small instruction book. In addition, I was given extra pen tips and a notebook to take notes in.
The basic installation is in two steps. First, you need to install the pen control software. Once that is installed, you need to install the OneNote connection software. So far, so good. That works just fine.
Now, if you are running on Windows XP, you will be prompted to download the Tablet Extensions so that OneNote can understand your handwriting. Since I am running on Vista, I didn’t need to do that. My version of Vista (Ultimate) has the extensions already installed. I figured that would mean that I could just connect my pen and off we would go. No such luck.
It turns out that if you are running on Vista, you need to make a small change to your system to allow the pen control panel software to run with sufficient privileges. I contacted Adapx to find out what was wrong. They worked with me and we found out the problem and the solution. The group there at Adapx was wonderful about getting me whatever I needed to make the system work on my machine. (For exact steps on enabling the pen software on Vista, see the How-To article on my main site.)
The instructions say to dock the pen and charge it fully before using it the first time. But, you all know me… I just went ahead and started writing. If I had docked it before I started writing, it would have allowed me to set up a password before taking any notes. Since I didn’t, I wasn’t able to add the password until later.
Ok. Steps followed. Pen installation completed. Rating at this point: Fair to middling.
Using the system to take notes
Taking notes with the system is simple. Open the notebook and start writing. The first time you write in a new notebook, you need to check a box on the first page that says “New Notebook”. Checking this box tells the system that the notes in the pen go in a notebook that will be named with the other information on the front page of the notebook. Each page in the notebook will become a page of notes in your OneNote notebook.
The pen writes very nicely. You need to press down slightly more than some users are used to, but the ink is clean and the pen feels nice in your hand. It is a thick pen, which bothered some of the users who did test writing for me, but most users liked the feel of the pen.
One of the negatives of the system is that you have to use the notebooks that Adapx sells with the pens. They are very nice notebooks. Lined, waterproof, hardbound, nice looking. The negative? The pages are only 5.8 inches by 8.3 inches in size. I found myself wanting a bigger page. My hand didn’t fit in the book very well. Not to worry though… The Adapx team has told me that a full size notebook should be available by the end of the first quarter of 2008.
Each page in the notebook has a very faint, very fine grid on it. This grid is what is read when the pen writes on the page. A 10x magnification of the page shows the grid and the pen stroke, as shown below:
One question I got as I demonstrated the pen system was whether the pen would record writing on other paper. As far as I can tell, unless the grid is there, the pen does not record the writing. I had one user try putting a very thin piece of paper over the grid and writing on that, with the hope that the pen could see the grid through the paper. It could not.
What can you take for notes? Anything you can put on paper. I did test notes with several different styles of handwriting. The handwriting is ported directly into OneNote and interpreted using the Handwriting Extensions. The handwriting was handled as well as any that I have seen entered directly into a Tablet. In fact, because people were writing in a notebook, many felt more comfortable with the system than with the pen for a Tablet PC. (For some pictures of the notes, see the How-To article.)
One thing you should note: When the note pages are created in OneNote, the new pages are set up as a fixed size page. This can cause some interesting results when you print. The pages still print fine, you just need to be aware that your printer may ask you to load paper the size of the notebook. I told the printer to just print to regular sized paper and all came out fine.
Over all, I like the pen and the notebook. The notebooks do tend to be a bit expensive, starting at $21.95 per notebook – with discounts for purchases of 5 or 10 notebook packs. On the other hand, they are very nice, very sturdy, waterproof notebooks. They were designed for field use and seem to stand up to almost anything.
Transferring the notes to the computer
To transfer the notes from the pen to the computer, you dock the pen. The first time the pen is docked, the control panel comes up and asks you to set a password for the pen. The password ensures that your pen is connected to your machine and that no one else can gain access to the contents of the pen. Since I already had notes on my pen, someone could have stolen my pen and my first few test notes without me being able to stop them. I recommend you do as I say, not as I did… Charge the pen and apply a password before you start taking notes with it.
One nice thing: When you set up the password, you are also asked for a hint. That hint will always be shown on the password request dialog, so don’t do anything like put the password in is your hint.
Charges seem to hold a very long time. Writing time for a fully charged pen is about 5.5 hours. Idle time for a charged pen is about 12.5 hours. Idle time seems to be time with the pen cap off and the pen waiting for you. If the pen cap is on, the charge seems to be held for several days.
The pen itself will hold just over 200 pages of data. I don’t think you can get all of that written in the time the pen stays charged. I will say, I had help writing on the pages. I went as many as 12 pages between dockings with no problem.
Now we get to Kathy’s second real problem with the pen system: I sleep my laptop all the time. Unfortunately, like some USB devices on Vista, the pen doesn’t like to talk to my system when the system comes back from being slept. In order to get my content from the pen to OneNote, I usually have to reboot my laptop and then do the docking. This isn’t a problem with the pen so much as with Vista, but it is still annoying.
I did not test the Bluetooth connection for the pen. None of my computers have Bluetooth enabled, so I didn’t have the capability. If it works as well as the regular docking, you won’t have any problems with it (other than possibly needing to re-boot to get your notes downloaded).
One of the features I really like is the options for when to download content. I played around with all four options. I was hoping that manual download would allow me to get around the sleep problem – it didn’t . In reality, I didn’t see much difference between “Prompt for Download” and “Manual Download”. Where I did see a difference was in the silent and auto download options. Silent asks for the password, then does the rest of the download without asking anything else or reporting anything else. Auto provides the status dialog, but doesn’t ask if you want to download or not. It just downloads the content and then tells you when it is done.
In all cases, if OneNote isn’t open the pen control software opens it to add your content. If OneNote is open, you can keep working on the notes you have taken while the download works.
While testing this product, I had a large number of other users write in my notebook, use the pen, dock it, and play around with the system. All were impressed. In fact, several of the users had never understood what they could do with OneNote before. Now, they not only understood the product… they plan to purchase both OneNote and a pen system to go with it. That is one of the strongest endorsements of a product I have come across in a long while.
All in all, I think this is a good system. The flakes I have found are because of Vista, not because of the pen. The system is more expensive than I would like, but that is understandable due to the technology involved. Overall, I would say that if you are looking for a solution that lets you take handwritten notes and add them to OneNote without buying a Tablet PC, go with this system. I haven’t been able to do any real damage to it. I haven’t found any bugs the team hasn’t worked with me to solve or work around. I like the pen. I like the notebook. In fact, I like them enough to have told my husband that extra notebooks would be appreciated (when the bigger ones come out.)
(Looking for a more detailed tutorial on my experiences? Check here!)