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Digital Gadgets For Note Takers


If you’re a student or someone who takes a lot of notes, here’s a listing of digital gizmos that have dramatically changed the way I cover meetings and other events. Odds are one of them could help you, too.

One thing that often speeds things up for me is a digital camera and I’m not talking about shooting photos of people and places. I often use my camera to take shots of documents, rather than typing them on my laptop or writing them out by hand. Not long ago I used my camera to copy a list of 20 or so people who attended a meeting I was covering. They passed a signup sheet around the room and when everyone had signed in, I shot a digital photo of the list. Later, when I wrote my story, the photo I’d taken told me who the people were and gave me the correct spelling of their names.

I often use a digital recording app for my iPhone to help me cover meetings and other events, especially when I’m busy shooting photos at the same time and can’t take notes. The app I use is called Recorder. The version I have is free, but there is also a pro version that you can purchase. There are dozens of other apps that do the same thing, and Apple includes a free recording app when you buy the iPhone. The sound quality is excellent with Recorder, and the iPhone’s mike does a great job of picking up people talking at a meeting or other event.

The thing I really like about Recorder is that it’s simple to wirelessly transfer recordings to my computer, which frees up space on my phone. I find it’s also easier to scan through the recording to find what I’m looking for when it’s on my computer. And once it’s transferred, I can keep the recording in an archive I set up for as long as I like.

I used my iPhone to record speeches at last Friday’s veterans’ program outside the Bradford County Courthouse. It gave me the freedom to take photos while knowing that I would be able to quote the speakers in my story.

Of course the problem with recording events is that you sometimes end up virtually sitting through the entire event a second time listening to your recording. This may be fine if you’re a student and feel you can benefit sitting through a class a second time, but I’m often in a time crunch and here’s where the next two digital aids really save me some time and make my job easier.

The first is a note-taking app for the iPad. There are several out there and they all do about the same thing. Most require you to pay for them. I use one called Notes Plus, and I also have a demo version of a note-taking app called SoundNote. To use them you also need to purchase a stylus for the iPad which costs about 10 bucks. Or you can type your notes using the iPad’s built-in keyboard or an external Bluetooth keyboard. The beauty of these apps is that they key your writing or typing to the recording that’s being made on the iPad. It takes a while to get used to writing with the stylus but after a little practice I could read what I’d written with no problem. SoundNote keys your recording to the page where you’re writing, so when you go back to listen to a particular part of a meeting, your recording is right there with what you wrote, which makes it really easy to find and saves loads of time. SoundNote is even more precise. Use your stylus to tap on a word you wrote and SoundNote plays what was being recorded at that exact point of the meeting. The sound quality of recordings made on the iPad is excellent, and you can also easily transfer recordings and written notes to a Mac or PC for future use.

And here’s the coolest note-taking gizmo of the bunch and also the most expensive. It’s called Livescribe and it’s a slightly larger than normal-size ballpoint pen but has a digital recorder built in. The least expensive model costs $90, so if you frequently lose pens, this gizmo probably isn’t for you.

Here’s how Livescribe works: First, you need special paper to really get the full function of this pen. You can buy it or print it yourself on a color laser printer with a template that’s included with the pen. Livescribe writes just like any ballpoint pen, but the difference is that it’s also recording what’s being said. To listen to the recording, just tap the pen on any portion of your notes, and the recording will play starting at that point. The recording quality is excellent and there are controls printed at the bottom of each sheet of paper where you can adjust the volume, jump forward or back 10 seconds and a long list of other things that are really quite unbelievable.

The Livescribe pen also comes with software so you can transfer recordings and PDF files of your written notes to your computer. You can also use the pen to simply record an event without writing notes. It has a rechargeable battery that will last for hours, and there are various options for the amount of storage space the pen contains, with the larger capacity models obviously costing more money. Don’t ask me how this thing works, I don’t have a clue.

So there’s my rundown of digital note-taking gizmos that have dramatically changed the way I do my job. And in case you’re wondering, I still also use a plain old pen and paper frequently. Old habits are hard to break.


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