The technical marvel of Moleskine's Smart Writing Set

Handwriting is damned-near impossible to replace. Most of us have been using pen on paper since we were young, and there's an intuitive feel to writing or drawing on paper that digital screens and tablets struggle to match. At the same time, though, we're constantly carrying devices with incredible computing power in our pocket, and it seems a shame to let that go to waste while we're doodling on dead trees.

A powerful step up from the slightly blurry snaps of notebook pages that litter our camera rolls, Moleskine's Smart Writing Set combines the best features of low-tech handwriting and cutting-edge computing to make instant digital copies of your handwritten notes and quick sketches that you can edit, transcribe and share in seconds. Using the easy, natural interface of pen on paper then watching your handwritten notes appear on your phone screen feels somewhere between science fiction and magic, making the Smart Writing system feels like the major upgrade that the stationery world has been waiting for.

A person writing in a notebook, with their handwriting duplicated on an iPad beside the notebook

This isn't Moleskine's first Smart Writing Set, but there's a major technological leap forward that makes this a new evolution for the brand. Previous versions used an infrared camera to make digital copies of your handwriting, where the Ncoded technology embedded in each page of the Smart Notebook can work in concert with the Smart Pen to keep track of even the most minute movements of your pen, and duplicate them in editable digital form. Drawing diagrams and flow-charts, writing emails, or sketching a quick illustration to get your point across are easier on paper than trying to do the same with the tip of your finger, and being able to share digital versions of your ideas in seconds means the Smart Writing set captures the best of both worlds.

That technology change also adds to the Smart Pen's battery life, giving you hours of worry-free writing, which is perfect, since the pen redesign makes for a more ergonomic fit in your hand, so you won't want to stop just because a battery light blinked at you. When it does need a charge, the included USB charger snaps into place easily, and charges the pen quickly so you can get back to work with minimal delay.

A hand writes in a notebook that's sat on a table, and that handwriting appears on the screen of an iPhone beside the notebook

That technological change doesn't just affect the pen; the Ncode technology has led to a redesign for the Smart Notebook, too, and somehow this new version feels the closest to Moleskine's internationally-recognisable Classic notebooks yet. The last version of the Smart Writing System featured notebooks with rounded plastic edges around the sides of the notebook – the cover looked right, but the actual internals were chunky, and lacked the elegant simplicity of the iconic Moleskine.

Holding the the 2022 version, though, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the Smart Notebook from the non-Smart ones. In a sleek, basic-black design, the Smart Notebook looks and feels exactly every other black Moleskine notebook – classic, elegant, with every detail down to the rounded corners in its place. It's not until you open it up and see the email icon at the top of the page that you might start to suspect that this humble notebook has more going on than meets the eye. The Ncode technology is nearly invisible on the page, but the Smart Pen can pick it up with ease, creating a digital map of your page and recreating every line and letter.

The savvy system can also transcribe your handwriting into clean, readable text, so if you find using pen on paper helps you think better but your handwriting could use some work, the companion Notes app will get your message across. Even better, the Moleskine Notes app can also be used to sync your entire notebook to cloud storage, and allow you to search the whole thing for keywords so you don't need to flip back and forth to find that one important spot among the Smart Notebook's 176 pages.

For a more relaxed notebook, there's also the Smart Cahier in Moleskine's Smart Writing range, which are also uncannily similar to the card-covered notebooks that students and sketchers love. With the same lightweight covers as the non-Smart Cahier notebooks, you can carry several to help keep your uni subjects or projects separate, while still enjoying the digital double of all your work that's easy to search and edit.

Moleskine's Smart Writing Set, including a Smart Writing Notebook, the Smart Writing Pen and a charging cable for the pen

The up-front expense of the Smart Writing System is significant, but given the sophisticated technology in play, it's understandable that such gear would attract such a hefty price tag. The cost of a fresh Smart notebook, though, is on par with what you'd pay for a standard pen-and-ink Moleskine – the Smart Hard Cover Notebook costs exactly the same as its old-world equivalent, making it extremely practical to upgrade and enjoy the digital features like cloud backup and live transcription along with all the classic Moleskine details, from the timeless design to the 100gsm ivory-coloured pages you've gotten to know so well.

In an age where we've all become a little jaded, it still feels delightfully futuristic to watch the words you write in your notebook appear on your phone screen as you go. Watching Moleskine's Smart Writing Set in use feels like magic, and I think we could all do with some extra magic in our lives.

Moleskine's Smart Writing Notebook and Smart Writing Pen with an iPhone showing a hand-drawn image on the screen

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