I’ve often wanted to digitize my notes so that they don’t pile up in a huge box. While I do have access to a monstrous feed-scanning RICOH multifunction machine, It’s inconvenient to tear everything out of a notebook in order to make it work for me–though I find that with wire cutters, you can both save time and keep the crufty edge of spiral-bound pages from jamming the feed (LIFEHACK!)
So I stumbled on this whitelines spiralbound notebook and despite the hefty $6 it was going to cost me, I figured I’d try it. (On Amazon it’s going for a truly hilarious $11.19). Spoiler: I’m going to tell you right now, before you read the whole review: It’s not worth it if you can use an app like Notebloc.
Some first impressions: The paper was nice and thick compared to a typical higher price name-brand spiral notebook, I like the unobstrusive grid made with negative space (I like grid paper, but you can buy lined). One problem I tend to find with grid paper is that the lines are too dark, which is less distracting in lined paper, but really annoying in grid paper. The back cardboard is nice and thick for lap writing, a less important feature to me, but it has a way of becoming more important the more you pay for a notebook.
But on to the less “notebooky” aspects of this notebook, how does it digitize? One of the issues I’ve seen with “digitizing” apps that I’ve seen before like this is that they’re all trying to lock you into some kind of system. I think Rocketbooks have the same issue, but I’ve never tried them. Whitelines is no different, the app is free, but it only plays nice with the special paper, which can be circumvented as I describe a little later.
Here are samples of my notes as digitized by the app, versus me just taking a photo of them. I did nothing about the shadow of my hand, because one of the benefits of the app is that it just makes the whole process easy and I refused to angle the paper for better light, so what you see is a faithful comparison, except for the first page, which I forgot to take a picture of in the same setting. I don’t normally take such florid notes, but I wanted to see how well it picks up things like color and sketches. I started with dark inks and moved on to relatively weak mechanical pencil later on, so you do need fairly dark ink for it to work well, but fortunately, the thick pages make bleed-through less likely (though when I use sharpie to color the mushroom cap, that did bleed through.)
But let’s say you don’t want to pay (*checks Amazon again, this time with glasses on*, “Wow? Really?”) $11 for a 70 page notebook. (Hint: I don’t.) Now, you could use Frixion pens and hit them with a hair dryer to erase, (though if you live anywhere it snows in the winter, you might want to be aware that this reaction is reversible if left in prolonged cold.) But what if you cut off the corners, which the app uses to identify the page edges, and just glued them onto something else? It does work, but only if the corners fit on something the same size as the paper, like this entry form for a Barnes & Noble Recipe contest.
I also tried it on some butcher paper that lives on my desk as a roll which I pull to get more scratch paper for doodling, or lists, or whatever. This section is pretty full, and ready to get torn off and put in recycling, so it was a good candidate for digitization. Again, the page corners had to be taped to fit an 8.5X11 area.
But nothing about this seemed particularly impressive. You can achieve the same effects using free photo-editing software, although this is more convenient. But I wasn’t offered OCR, or any special tools by the app.
So I went to look for other apps, where I found Notebloc. Notebloc is decidely what you want instead of a “notebook system”. In addition to page edge recognition, it does a better job with fainter lines (as seen above), and it features OCR in multiple languages. It’s all Latin character languages, but still. That makes it useful for any printed documents you might want to be able to search, though it’s not great at handwriting (my handwriting, anyway.)
I recommend paying the $3.99 for Notebloc’s “Pro” ad-free version, considering that A) The ads are a little annoying and no, I do not want to play World of Tanks, kthx, and B) It’s a fair trade compared to buying very expensive notebooks that offer very little in the way of added features.
So overall, if you were considering this, there is a cheaper app option that doesn’t require you to buy into the notebook. It’s kind of a pity, because the notebook is actually really nice looking, in terms of its aesthetic, and the quality of the paper, but you can get that out of other notebooks that might be even cheaper on a per-page basis, or which aren’t spiral-bound.