Can a news reporter live with a digital notepad? We test the best high-tech alternative

When I’m not reviewing gadgets, I’m a news reporter in rural Derbyshire. And the most important tool of any reporter’s trade is a notepad.

Throughout my career I’ve rarely been seen without a ring-bound ruled notepad in my pocket but I’ve often wondered whether technology has come far enough to replace this old-fashioned way of taking notes.

And one of the best devices I could find to have a stab at teching up my day job was the Kobo Sage e-reader. An e-reader is usually solely designed for reading digital books, and that’s what Rakuten’s Kobo range does best. But the latest device, the Sage, takes things a step further by offering up a digital “pen”, which allows you to take notes.

On the face of it, then, its 8-inch e-ink screen and Kobo Stylus is one of the best solutions for exploring the world of digital note-taking. But does it work?

I’ve spent several weeks with it now, and the short answer is, yes.

Its clever software is able to convert your notes into clean text, even with my dodgy handwriting, and this is impressive stuff. As it means you can spit out documents to other devices without having to transcribe them.

My dodgy hand-writing was a bit of a match for it at times, but as you get to know it, and as it gets to know you, it does get better. Obviously, converting my shorthand was too much to ask, but jotting down bits of a conversation, or making notes in a meeting was a joy with the Kobo.

The Kobo Stylus comes as an optional extra, costing £40 over the £250 cost of the e-reader itself. And I’d thoroughly recommend the Power Cover, which acts as a luxury leather-clad charger and battery bank. It’s another £70, but worth every penny.

So obviously, it’s not cheap. Not when a reporter’s notepad costs a quid and lasts several weeks. But it’s a different way of doing things. And it can be a great time-saver.

While the hand-writing recognition is generally very good, it does make some amusing howlers from time to time, although they’re easy to work out.

And there’s a diagram function, which takes some working out but it’s very effective if that’s the sort of thing you might use for work.

I also wish there was a more sophisticated way of ordering saved notes, perhaps even a more organised sub-folder system. Currently there’s just an alphabetic storage system. Maybe this will arrive in firmware update one day?

In the main, though, the Kobo Sage performed very well as a substitute notepad. I was impressed with the battery life, the screen quality, the responsiveness of the stylus and the compact size. It’s similar in stature to an A5 notebook.

But I absolutely loved the quality feel of it. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s so beautifully made it feels worth every penny. It’s a good device to use for taking notes, but it’s an absolutely gorgeous e-reader.

In practice, though, I did find myself reverting back to my paper notepad. I think there’s definitely a future in which a reporter will be able to make a switch to an electronic notepad, but we’re not quite there yet.

Although the Kobo Sage is good enough to remind us we’re really not far away.

Stacee R. Grigg

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