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The best smart pens for note-taking, drawing, and more

Livescribe Symphony Smartpen.

With the growing popularity of tablet deals and laptop deals with touchscreens, more people are recognizing the convenience of using a smart pen. These helpful devices are made by some of the most trusted brands in the computing industry, and they come with a variety of features that make processes such as note-taking and drawing easier, faster, and even more exciting. There are a lot of smart pens in the market to choose from though, so if you need help in making a decision what to buy, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for our recommendations — one of these smart pens will surely catch your attention.

The best smart pens

  • Best smart pen overall:
  • Best smart pen for note-taking:
  • Best smart pen for drawing:
  • Best smart pen for older iPads:
  • Best smart pen for Microsoft Surface:

How to choose a smart pen

To choose a smart pen, you need to figure out your intended purpose for the device. Some of them work best with a specific device or platform, while others are more focused on tasks such as taking notes and drawing artwork. You should study the features that come with the smart pens that you’ve got an eye on and think whether you’ll be able to maximize most of them, if not all. It would be a waste if you’re not able to — for example, if you buy a smart pen designed for creative professionals but you’ll only use it for writing text.

You’ll come across an almost unending list of smart pens if you take a look at what retailers are offering online, but you should focus on well-known brands. There are very affordable options out there, but some of them are cheap knock-offs that won’t be able to provide you with the benefits that you should be getting from a smart pen.

How we chose these smart pens

First and foremost, our recommendations for smart pens are driven by our desire to get you the best value for your money. If you’re going to spend your hard-earned cash on a device, you should feel that your purchase is worth it. We also chose these smart pens based on their popularity, which means a lot of people have given them high ratings — that also means their stocks are always at risk of selling out, so once you’ve decided what to buy, push through with your purchase as soon as possible.

Apple Pencil (2nd Gen)

The 2nd gen Apple Pencil laying on a table.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends
Pros Cons
Low latency Requires certain iPad models
Excellent for all purposes
Magnetically attaches
Tap commands

The second-generation Apple Pencil is a go-to tool for professionals, as its low-latency capabilities make it the perfect device for drawing, taking notes, signing documents, among many other applications. You need one of the more recent iPad models if you want to use it, but that’s not a problem for people who have already invested in the Apple ecosystem. The second-generation Apple Pencil features a flat edge that can magnetically attach to your iPad, and you can use tap commands to change tools easily and quickly.

Weight/Length 0.7 ounces/6.5 inches
Compatible devices Select iPad models
Batteries Rechargeable

Livescribe Symphony

Livescribe Symphony Smartpen.
Pros Cons
Digitize what you write Durability
Convert text to shareable files
Record audio while writing
Looks like a real pen

For a smart pen that focuses on taking down notes, you can’t go wrong with the Livescribe Symphony. Everything you write on paper, Livescribe’s dot paper notebooks, or on the free Livescribe+ app using the smart pen gets digitized instantly, allowing you to convert the text to PDFs, documents, or images that you can share quickly and easily. You can even simultaneously record audio while writing, which you can play back at any time to help make sure that you don’t miss anything.

Weight/Length 1.0 ounces/5.9 inches
Compatible devices iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows
Batteries Rechargeable

Wacom Pro Pen 2

The Wacom Pro Pen 2 on a white background.
Pros Cons
Complete control over drawing Requires certain Wacom drawing tablets
Lag-free tracking
No batteries required
Extremely light

Wacom is a trusted brand among creative professionals for its drawing tablets, so you’re sure that the Wacom Pro Pen 2 will work perfectly for drawing. The lightweight pen offers 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity and about 60 levels of tilt recognition, which gives you complete control over every line your draw, and its virtually lag-free tracking will make sure that every stroke will be properly registered. It only works with a specific set of Wacom drawing tablets, but it doesn’t require batteries as the Wacom Pro Pen 2 uses the drawing tablet’s magnetic field for power.

Weight/Length 0.4 ounces/6.2 inches
Compatible devices Select Wacom tablets
Batteries None

Apple Pencil (1st Gen)

Apple Pencil
Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends / Digital Trends
Pros Cons
Sensitive to pressure and tilt Still needs an iPad
Great for drawing
Low latency
Works with older iPad models

If you’re using an older iPad model and you’re not planning to upgrade any time soon, the first-generation Apple Pencil should be the smart pen of your choice. It’s sensitive to pressure and tilt for drawing purposes, and its low latency makes writing text seamless. You need to consult our guide on which Apple Pencil works with which iPad though, just to make sure that you should be getting this version of the device.

Weight/Length 0.7 ounces/6.9 inches
Compatible devices Select iPad models
Batteries Rechargeable

Microsoft Surface Slim Pen 2

The Surface Pro X used with the Surface Slim Pen 2.
Pros Cons
Slim design Requires certain Surface models
Haptic motor mimics writing on paper
Precise tilting and shading
Wireless charging

If you own either of Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2, Surface Pro 8, Surface Pro 9, Surface Pro X, or Surface Laptop Studio, the Microsoft Surface Slim Pen 2 will prove to be the perfect companion. The slim design makes the smart pen easy to hold, with its haptic motor making it feel like you’re writing or drawing on paper but on the device’s display. The Microsoft Surface Slim Pen 2 offers ultra-precise tilting and shading with 4.096 points of pressure sensitivity. and it comes with built-in wireless charging. There’s even space on the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard or Surface Laptop Studio for storage.

Weight/Length 0.5 ounces/8.0 inches
Compatible devices Select Surface models
Batteries Rechargeable

This article is managed and created separately from the Digital Trends Editorial team.

Jackie Dove

Jackie is an obsessive, insomniac tech writer and editor in northern California. A wildlife advocate, cat fan, and photo app fanatic, her specialties include cross-platform hardware and software, art, design, photography, video, and a wide range of creative and productivity apps and systems. Formerly senior editor at Macworld and creativity editor at The Next Web, Jackie now writes for a variety of consumer tech publications.

Paula Beaton

Freelance tech and travel writer living in (somewhat) sunny Scotland. Gamer, tea addict, never without a good book.

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