Top Back-to-School Note-Taking Tech

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If your child’s heading off to school in the fall, chances are that—in between hanging out with friends and playing Ultimate Frisbee on the Diag—they’re going to have to take some notes in class. However, in lieu of buying piles of spiral-bound notebooks for every single class, these note-taking gadgets should help make those classes go by a little bit faster.

Livescribe Echo Smartpen

Improving on the original Pulse smartpen, the sleek Echo can not only record handwritten notes and sync the text with recorded audio, it now comes with more space—the pen comes in 4GB and 8GB models—to store those notes and lectures. The micro-USB and 3.5mm audio ports are also easier to access and thanks to a flattened area on the body, the pen will no longer roll around if it’s on a flat surface.

Users can also install apps on the Echo’s internal memory from Livescribe’s app store. Apps include everything from Hebrew verse reviewers to games, and, while many apps are free, most usually cost several dollars. The store is currently in beta, so the selection is slightly limited, but Livescribe says that new apps will be launched monthly.

Livescribe also has Livescribe Desktop, a free program available on the company’s website which allows you to edit, manage and share your saved notes. Like the Pulse, the Echo also requires Livescribe’s proprietary paper. The company does sell a variety of specialized notebooks—one three-subject notebook will cost $7.95—but if your printer is Adobe PostScript compatible and can print at 600dpi or higher, the paper can also be printed for free.

Price: 2GB/$129; 4GB/$169; 8GB/$199
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Wacom Bamboo Pen & Touch

The 9.8 x 6.9-inch Wacom Bamboo Pen & Touch, with a 5.8 x 3.6-inch pressure-sensitive pen area, offers plenty of space for doodling note-takers and artists. It features four ExpressKeys, customizable buttons that allow you to set custom shortcuts. Plus, multitouch support means your favorite student can navigate the desktop via simple gestures, such as pinch-to-zoom and rotation. Compatible with PCs or Macs, the Bamboo also comes bundled with Adobe Photoshop Elements and Nik Color Efex Pro.

Price: $99
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Iogear GPEN200N Mobile Digital Scribe

Unlike the Livescribe Echo, which requires the company’s special paper to make use of most of the pen’s features, Iogear’s Mobile Digital Scribe only needs its receiver to work with any type of paper or writing space. Your young pupil can simply place the receiver at the top of the writing surface before class begins.

After taking notes, they can plug in the receiver via USB to transfer the files over to a computer, and Iogear’s bundled notes application can also convert notes into editable text or export them as a JPEG. The Mobile Digital Scribe also supports 12 languages, including Chinese, Korean, and Spanish.

Price: $99
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VisTablet PenPad

The VisTablet PenPad might be the cheapest device in this round-up, but it certainly doesn’t skimp on the usability. The PenPad clocks in at a slim 7.5 x 7.5 inches with an active area of 6 x 4.5 inches, which gives users ample space to work without losing too much room on their desk. Plus, the tablet is flexible, so it’s easy to carry to and from class without worrying about a rogue textbook cracking the screen. Like most tablets, the PenPad also doubles as a mouse and it can take full advantage of the integrated tablet functionality on Mac or PC.

Price: $39.99
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