Note taking with a graphics tablet?

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by topicolo, Jul 1, 2007.

  1. topicolo macrumors 68000


    Jun 4, 2002
    Ottawa, ON
    So I'm going to be starting school at a place that "strongly recommends" laptops for lectures and group sessions this coming August. I've been told that the ability to add free-form text and diagrams with windows based tablets would be super useful, but I'd like to stick with a mac based solution. Has anyone tried pairing a MB or MBP with a graphire tablet to take notes in class? How well does it work for handwriting notes into powerpoint presentations, pdfs, or just generally taking notes? Can you see where your cursor is when you're using an external writing pad, or does it only appear when you press down with the pen? Also, I've already considered the Modbook and rejected it because of its price and the fact that I do need a keyboard for occasional typing sessions.

    I really would hate to switch back to windows just to get a tablet pc, so any insight into mac solutions would be appreciated.
  2. iToaster macrumors 68000


    May 3, 2007
    In front of my MacBook Pro
    The tablet should work. I don't know of anyone actually doing this, but it sounds like it should work. Ink will do the translation for you, although I don't know if you can get a bat. powered tablet to use with a lappy, or how awkward it would be to use, but it'll work.
  3. valiar macrumors regular

    Mar 14, 2006
    Washington, DC
    As far as ModBook goes, you can always use it with a Bluetooth keyboard. Not that this will make it any cheaper...

    As far as the graphics tablet goes - you really need to try it first. I could never get used to them myself. You also have to consider the space constraints: you will need to have space for both your laptop and a graphics tablet.
    Now, as far as Windows tablets go... I have had a chance to work with a full-blown Tablet PC - and my impressions can be very well summarized in the word "meh". Only two applications will genuinely support your handwritten notes, OneNote and Windows Journal. Windows Journal is seriously crippled - you don't want to use it as your main notetaking tool. OneNote is a great app, possibly one of the best Microsoft has produced - until the moment you want to export your notes, or work with them in some other program. At this point it becomes so convoluted it just is not worth it.
    If you lose your pen, you are out of luck. You will need to buy one that is exactly the same from manufacturer.
    The best tablet for taking lecture notes will have to be one of the Fujitsu P-series Lifebooks (P1610 is the current model). Their screens are touch sensitive, and these machines themselves are really tiny.
    However, I think that Tablet PCs in general are a... very kludgey solution.
    Heavy, expensive, hot, and battery-gulping.
    Been there, done that.
    My solution?


    (you can get both cheaper if you shop around. I got my io2 for $50 on Ebay).
    The Maxell pen is actually mac-compatible. And I use io2 under Windows in Parallels to keep my lab notebook. These pens are pure genuis. You just draw, write, and do whatever you want with them - and then download a vector graphics file. Really cool.
    And definitely the way to go for note taking!
  4. BrandonMatt0718 macrumors member


    Jun 27, 2007
    New York
    I don't know using a Graphics Tablet to take notes is not a good idea because its not made for that and there is a bit of a learning curve because the tablet its self is very sensitive its for better use when manipulating tasks in Adobe Photoshop because its pressure sensitiveness.
  5. chex macrumors regular

    May 17, 2007
  6. BlueArctos macrumors member

    Jun 17, 2007
    I'm in a similar situation, topicolo.

    I've been using an Intuos3 9x12 for over two years now as a graphic designer. I would trust Wacom to defend my family from criminals, so I can certainly vouch for the quality of its product-lines.

    WITH THAT IN MIND - If you're willing to shell out some major cash ($200), you could get the Wacom Graphire 6x8 Bluetooth Tablet. There is a definite learning curve, not because the medium (pencil and paper) is unfamiliar, but rather as a result of the unconventional disparity between the input device (the tablet you draw on) and the output display (the screen you look at).

    Advantages of the Bluetooth Tablet:
    1. It's wireless! Simply pair the tablet with your MacBook/Pro (which has built-in bluetooth), and you're set!
    2. It's Lap-tastic! You can set your laptop on the desk while placing the tablet on your lap. Unlike conventional paper notebooks, the graphire is hard enough to give you a stable writing platform while your MB/P is available for the quick and easy transition to keyboard entry.
    3. Long battery life. Wacom rates this thing for 25 hours of use per charge. The general consensus in the community is that you can get at least 20. Not bad at all.
    4. Pressure sensitive With 512 levels of pressure, you'll not only be able to take advantage of note-friendly applications such as Inkwell (Mac) and Vista Handwriting/Office One Note (Windows), but programs with dedicated Wacom support (Photoshop, Painter, etc).
    5. Cool factor As long as you keep yourself organized and backed up digital note-taking is a blast. Both Mac and Windows are beginning to properly support handwriting recognition AND indexing. Being able to index an dynamically search your handwritten notes and diagrams is a unique and spectacular advantage when you're dealing with months' worth of scatter-brained thoughts.
    Disadvantages of the Bluetooth Tablet:
    1. Reported lag times Some users (circa 2006) report a 1/2 second lag between point of input and ink on the screen. I have a feeling some driver improvements and subtle manufacturing changes have mostly eliminated this problem. A MacBook/Pro will generally have a high-quality bluetooth receiver as it is. Most people who did experience the lag didn't have a problem with it - only if you find yourself illustrating or painting will it really grind your gears.
    2. You have to lug it around. Carrying around a Graphire might prove to be too much for some students. On the other hand, you're already carrying a bag with the MB/P, and you could technically remove the spiral notebook you'd be replacing.
    3. "The learning curve is impossibly evil for non-artists." That's completely wrong. Thousands of individuals use Wacom technology for NON-artistic purposes. Think note-taking, CAD, medical imaging, teaching, presentations, annotating, signatures, people who can't use mice due to repetitive strain, etc. Plenty of people have mastered this device in less than an hour. Trust me, if you buy it chances are VERY good that you'll love it.
    4. "There's no pen tilt recognition." Unless you're an artist who can recognize the advantage of pen-tilt in a Photoshop environment, you're not going to miss the feature. Heck, I sometimes turn the pen-tilt feature on my Intuos3 off because it adds TOO MUCH dimension to the paintbrush.
    5. "This is old technology." I purchased my Intuos3 in 2005. It's still the latest and greatest version available. Wacom is also the world leader in tablet input technology. Seriously. These devices live for a VERY LONG TIME.
    6. "I've heard the pen is like a twig." Some experienced tablet users find the pen to be pathetically small. Most likely you won't care. If you do, you can always purchase a standard Graphire4 Pen separately.
    7. "Someone will steal it." No doubt your Apple computer will be higher on a thief's list of priorities.
    8. "It'll snap in half if I press too hard." The Graphire line is quite durable. This tablet will take more of a beating than your Mac will, although you should take care to transport it in a bag which does not contain rocks and/or bricks.
    Amazon has the tablet for $200.
  7. janey macrumors 603


    Dec 20, 2002
    sunny los angeles
    I use my intuos to take notes in like, math classes.

    works fine for me...

    edit: Obligatory screenshot:

  8. MacDonaldsd macrumors 65816


    Sep 8, 2005
    London , UK
    Out of interest what size of graphics tablets do you all use ?
  9. chex macrumors regular

    May 17, 2007
    mine is a graphire 4 , its quite small...I think A5
  10. BlueArctos macrumors member

    Jun 17, 2007
    I use an Intuos3 9x12. I've had the pleasure of also using the following Intuos & Graphire Models: 4x6, 6x8, and 6x11. (These would be functionally equivalent to models A6, A5, and A4, (A3 Wide?) I suppose). Wacom Europe actually has product lines available that we DON'T have here in the States. (The Bamboo seems very interesting.)

    I've also used tablets by other manufacturers. Most of them work fine, but none of them are great. You get what you pay for with Wacom. Especially with the Cintiq models. *drool*
  11. Bern macrumors 68000


    Nov 10, 2004
    Some people who use a Wacom for art might say that it is too sensitive for what you want to use it for. If you find that is true for you all you need do is place a sheet of paper over the tablet area and you're right to go. In fact it will feel just as though you are writing on a regular notepad with a regular pen.

    Using a small Wacom tablet (A5) is good enough for your needs. You really don't need to buy the Intuos if all you'll be doing is taking notes. The Graphire (which costs less) would be more than adequate.
  12. Sbrocket macrumors 65816


    Jun 3, 2007
    Have any of you that are recommending these graphics tablets used them daily to write out long blocks of text? In other words, have any of you had personal experience using one to take notes? I'm going to be starting my aerospace major next year, and since taking notes in engineering and math-intensive courses tends to rely heavily on your ability to quickly copy down formulas and diagrams most people I've talked to recommend just good, old-fashioned pen and paper to take notes. Personally I'd like to have more control over organizing and ordering my notes for lectures that would be simple to do on a laptop, plus taking digital notes means that I can easily find what I want by searching for it. Would a graphics tablet be a good digital replacement for simple pen and paper or no?

    (post 500, ding!)
  13. janey macrumors 603


    Dec 20, 2002
    sunny los angeles
    Like I said, I use my intuos3 (6x11) for notetaking. for plain text and code, typing is obviously a lot faster, but when you don't have the patience to do so otherwise because there's diagrams involved (and there's only so much ascii art you can handle), using a tablet for notes is perfectly feasible.

    Sometimes it's not entirely feasible to whip out my laptop, like in some chem labs..ugh, don't want someone to spill something on it... and I use paper and pen instead, and then scan the notes once I get home.

    I've had no problems using or carrying around my intuos3, it's vastly thinner than any of my (paper) notebooks, and fits inside the laptop compartment in my bag just fine. I usually put it on top of or lean against the keyboard when I use it.
  14. Sbrocket macrumors 65816


    Jun 3, 2007
    As nice as it looks, I'm not sure I can find any way to justify spending $280+ on an Intuos3 6x8 just for note-taking. The difference between the Graphire and Intuos lines isn't immediately apparent, but I'm guessing that the Graphires are just less precise?

    I suppose looking for a good scanner to stick in my room would be the best way to keep digital copies of my notes.
  15. janey macrumors 603


    Dec 20, 2002
    sunny los angeles
    Well nobody said you had to get an intuos3. any other tablet works, the graphires are pretty dirt cheap for the same thing (if you're only notetaking, of course).

    edit: graphire4 3.6"x5" ish sized tablet is under $100 shipped. I would honestly suggest that you get what you pay for, and wacom makes some of the best tablets (and mac drivers), so..
  16. 7on macrumors 601


    Nov 9, 2003
    Dress Rosa
    I for one would get a modbook. those things look fantastic, ordering myself one before too long - hopefully before apple releases their own touch screen computer. I'd rather have a wacom in my screen than a muli-touch of apple's (with apple's you can't use a stylus)
  17. /V\acpower macrumors 6502a

    Jul 31, 2007
    Personnally i would still recommend pen & paper and each week take the time to transcript on the computer.

    You have organized notes and you passes at least twice on everything, so it's a very good way to study.
  18. /V\acpower macrumors 6502a

    Jul 31, 2007
    I've used Wacom tablets for some years now (but only under XP, my first Mac is "Not yet shipped", and I don't see why it would react differently in MacOSX) and you always see the cursor.

    The tablet detect the pencil approximately 1 inch before touching the surface. So just moving the pen in the air close to the tablet is moving the cursor and it "click or write" only when you touch the surface.
  19. noxlady macrumors newbie

    Jan 3, 2007
    Works well, with caveat

    I'm an algebra teacher, and I'm using the Wacom Graphire Bluetooth to deliver my class notes. I've got the laptop hooked up to a projector, so the kids see what I'm writing as I write it. It took about about a week to get used to writing on the tablet while looking at the screen, but I've got the hang of it now :) It's nice to be able to stand in the back of the room, right behind off-task students, and loom until they start taking notes <grin> The only problem is that I've been using it with a PC laptop, and am switching to a MacBook next week. I've been using PowerPoint -- the annotation features are pretty slick on the PC. Unfortunately, PowerPoint on Mac erases your annotations when you flip the page. Darn them anyway! The tablet totally works with Macs -- I've brought it home to test it a couple of times, but I've got to figure out what software I can use to deliver multi-page notes, which I can save as PDFs (through the print dialog, if nothing else) and post on my class webpage. Any hints would be appreciated! (Circus Ponies NoteBook 3.0 looks like it's going to have some really neat stuff, but it's not coming out till 2nd quarter 2008!)
  20. awmazz macrumors 65816

    Jul 4, 2007
    Inkbook for $20.

    You can save your handwritten notes as handwritten notes, or converted-to-type text (using the Inkwell engine). You can even paste pictures and pdfs (multiple pages too) into it and write over them. Move any word or picture around at will as well. Multiple pages too.
  21. noxlady macrumors newbie

    Jan 3, 2007
    Yes, it's the best option so far, but graphing is no good!

    I like inkBook, except when I try to draw a graph. First I have to draw my x & y axes, then I put tick marks on the axes, and lastly I plot some points and draw a line or two. Unfortunately, inkBook translates my axes and tick marks into objects and when I try to draw my lines on top of them, I end up dragging the axes around instead!!! I tried pasting in a little pre-made grid for a graph, but again, I couldn't write on top of it. I just got the little hand moving the dang thing around! Really, I need an option to turn off the intelligent editing, and just treat my drawings or pasted in graphics as non-draggable marks on a page. I guess I could open a separate graphics program for my graphs, and just copy the finished graphs into inkBook, but that does rather defeat the point of the notebook metaphor...

    Thanks though, for the suggestion. Any other ideas? Or a gentle cue that I'm doing something dumb in inkBook and the quick how-to-not-mess-up hint???

  22. awmazz macrumors 65816

    Jul 4, 2007
    Mode: Sketch is what you want for that.

    Or in Ink mode, pause the cursor before pressing and drawing over another object. Pressing on it immediately and moving the pen is like a straight click and move, I think.

    PS. In preferences, you can change the paper type to grid or even plain if you want to draw graphs. I'm only new to it myself using the demo version so am still learning too.
  23. ksd20039 macrumors newbie

    Dec 6, 2007
    2 related questions

    I have been using my iBook in college for notetaking and have recently purchased a 6x8 Graphire, that I would like to use in my math and science classes. My questions are: which software would work well with copying text and diagrams into word docs. I had difficulty drawing and Word recognizing the tablet. And, does Wacom or a another company sell overlays (lined and graph paper style sheets) that I could place on the tablet. Writing on lined paper is easier for me, but I am looking for something that would be set in place and not move when my hand moves, such as just laying a sheet of paper over the tablet. Thanks.
    I am hoping that the digital notepads will support Mac and be improved in their next versions.
  24. DachWuff macrumors newbie

    Apr 18, 2008
    Uh question about that graphire tablet. It looks like it displays images on the tablet, is this true or is it just a design on the tablet? It seems a bit distracting to me if it's just a design of generic people.
  25. apple_iBoy macrumors 6502a

    Oct 28, 2003
    Philadelphia, PA
    I'm a fellow tech-head who has taken many a class note on a laptop. I'm at t-minus 5 weeks from my Ph.D. defense, so I've been at it for awhile now. Chemistry undergraduate, engineering graduate.

    In my experience, laptop notes are wonderful for "concept-heavy" courses, where a professor might be talking at length and you can transcript into bullet points or short paragraphs. I've done this with great success in a whole variety of different courses, from philosophy and history to biology and some "light" engineering. It really is a beautiful system when it works.

    However, in classes where you'll be frantically trying to get a derivation from the board (especially math you know you're not going to be able to easily find elsewhere), my advice is to eschew the laptop and just stick with a trusty pad of paper.

    Then, if you still want a digital copy of all your notes, you can LaTeX your math-heavy notes on your own study time. This strategy has the added technique of getting you well-practiced in LaTeX, which will be infinitely handy when it's time to write up your thesis.

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