Style and substance
First we used pen and paper. Then we typed on computers. Now new technologies allow a marriage between the two. Everyone differs in how they prefer to take notes but I’ve always been a fan of handwriting on real paper despite my love for computers and a fast typing speed. The latest trend in this mash-up is a pen that writes on paper but simultaneously saves the writing to a device or the cloud.
We’ve recently been playing with the Stylograph, a pen and notebook combination from French company Orée. They make what I can only describe as artisanal tech. They’re probably best known for their accessories made from single pieces of wood including a wireless phone charger, Bluetooth keyboard and trackpad. Like their other products, the Stylograph is striking to look at and beautifully crafted. But is it any good? Here’s our review of the Orée Stylograph.
The Stylograph is a pen and notebook combination, and both are equally important. The pen itself doesn’t feel like your ordinary ballpoint pen but it doesn’t feel like a chunky tech product either. It’s beautiful. The shell is made from pure copper and feels like a premium product, which it is. Fortunately it uses normal ballpoint cartridges, which means you can save some money.
The pen weighs 52g, which is heavier than the average ballpoint pen but isn’t a problem in use. Actually, the extra weight makes it quite comfortable. If it was much heavier it would be a nuisance and your hand could tire but fortunately it’s nowhere near that heavy. The longest I used it for was over an hour and I had no problem. A little bit of weight in the pen makes it feel like you have more precise control.
The pen can write on any paper as it’s just an ordinary ballpoint pen in terms of the ink. Where the technological magic happens is inside the pen itself. There’s an accelerometer inside and a camera near the tip that combine together for great results. The camera reads a special pattern hidden in the paper that tells it where on the page you’re writing and also what page you’re on. It’s only when combined with the special notebook that the pen becomes a brilliant tool.
I’m the type of person who buys cheap notebooks or maybe goes a bit over the top in Paperchase now and then. I get through them quickly so there’s no point buying anything too fancy. But when I held the Stylograph notebook I wanted to keep it forever. Unlike some competitors, this is a leather ring-binder rather than a traditional notebook. Fortunately it doesn’t feel like a clunky ring-binder you would find in an office. Instead it’s just a pretty notebook that guarantees every page will be flat and ready for writing.
It comes with 190 pages of thick, mineral stone A5 paper. It feels smooth and durable to touch and write on. The paper supposedly doesn’t degrade when archived but we couldn’t test that as the time machine is out of order. Every odd page is blank and every even page is lined.
You can’t really see the micropattern on the paper that the pen’s camera reads; it just looks like high-quality notebook paper. The only obvious point of interest is a small symbol at the top of every page. It’s in the shape of a paper aeroplane, like you’re sending one of your pages off to someone else. That’s exactly what it is. When you tap this symbol with your pen, the app gets to work.
The Stylograph works for a free app available for iOS and Android. As you use the pen and notebook, your writing or sketch is instantly transferred to your smartphone. If you’ve got the screen unlocked you can see it mimic you. The accuracy of the writing (or drawing) is just perfect. It’s almost creepy watching it recreated instantly on my phone and I’ve used similar products before. I showed it to some friends and they were surprised, believing this kind of tech “would work but not be 100% accurate.”
The app is simple, which is what you want from a product designed to feel like using a traditional notebook. The pen pairs with the app using Bluetooth and everything else happens automatically. The micropattern in the paper tells the pen the page you’re on so it automatically writes on the corresponding digital page. If you then flick through the pages and write on another, the app does the same no matter how hard you try to catch it out. Trust me.
When you tap the little symbol at the top of each page with your pen, an email is automatically composed with the note attached as a PDF file. You can also export multiple pages as one file from within the app itself. This uses the standard iOS share sheet so you can email the notes or save them to a service like Dropbox. I was impressed to see that the pages can be exported as PDF, PNG, or even SVG, which is useful for vector work. Writing in the notes can be transcribed to text using over 50 languages.
When I started using the Stylograph, I simply swapped out my ordinary paper notebook I use everyday. I do keep a lot of notes online, especially when they’re important details about future plans I may need to check from any computer. But for making notes quickly at an event or when doing research I like to scribble on dead trees. At first, my experience was much the same. I created notes and I was happy in the knowledge that they were safe on my smartphone as well as in the notebook itself.
Then I was on the phone to a friend about a computer problem. I was trying to help but couldn’t accurately explain what I meant in words alone. So then I did exactly what I would do if my friend had been standing right beside me: I grabbed my notebook and drew an illustration to explain the problem. Once I’d finished it I tapped the little symbol at the top of the page and it was ready to send. It took an extra 5 seconds to send my doodle and help him out. I liked the look and feel of the Stylograph as soon as I got my hands on it but this was when I realised how much I enjoyed actually using it.
Like drawing an image for my friend then sending it, I discovered most of my favourite features not from a list somewhere but by using it as an ordinary notebook. I had a delightful surprise when I thought it had gone terribly wrong. I was writing up some notes but forgot to pair the pen with the iPhone. Or more accurately, I forgot that I turned Bluetooth off the night before so it hadn’t paired automatically. I checked the app and found that none of my work had been saved. Then I connected the pen and phone and suddenly all the writing I had done was on the app. The pen itself stores the writing until it’s able to sync across! This means you could even write without being around any of your devices and save your work later.
As you can tell from this review, I really like the Stylograph. It’s a pleasure to use and it’s super stylish. All that comes at a price though. The pen and notebook will set you back €300 (£229). With 190 pages the notebook should last quite a while but you can buy refills for €25 (£17.09) from within the app itself (always free shipping on refills). That’s not too bad and an improvement over some alternatives that ask you to buy the entire notebook again. You already have the leather ring-binder, so you only need more paper.
Do I like the Stylograph? Yes. Would I recommend it to others? Absolutely. Is it worth the money? That really depends on who you are. If you don’t care about style and just need something that works, there are alternatives. On the other hand, if you’re the type of person who would consider buying an pure copper, electronic pen with built-in accelerometer and camera, then you might not mind the price. The competitors still cost hundreds anyway and Orée’s attempt has superior build-quality and style.
What you’re paying for here is technology that doesn’t even feel like technology, which is something I really like. It’s great when tech does what it’s supposed to but gets out of the way to let you focus on the content that matters. Oh and it’s damn pretty.
Here’s the official promo video: