Know someone keen on being a writer? Believe it or not, technology can help them out, and you’ll even find a couple of pressie ideas if that’s where their mind is focused.
Pen to paper
Some writers haven’t made the transition from pen to keyboard, and that’s totally fine. There’s something to be said for the emotion that nib to paper elicits, almost like the words are the art form and the pen is letting you carve them out of the paper.
Beyond the emotional reaction, there is a real cognitive benefit to writing by hand, allowing your brain to flex more of the muscle and come up with doodles and drawings as you conceive the words, the story, and bring it to life.
The digital world does have a few solutions if you know someone who still loves to use an analogue writing mechanism, and that’s where we’ll start.
One of our favourite little gadgets over the years, Livescribe relies on a pen with a special camera at the base that reads the carbon imprint your pen strokes make across a specialty type of paper, which many now just call “dot paper”.
The name isn’t just a fun moniker, either, because dot paper is made of little tiny green dots mathematically arranged so that when you make your pen strokes, the arrangement of these dots is tracked so it knows where you made them. This allows them to be stored digitally and connected with the audio you were listening to at the time, ideal if you were speaking or listening to someone and taking notes.
That’s been the general idea of Livescribe over the years, and in the third iteration, Livescribe is about sending these notes to an Android phone or tablet, or even an iPhone or iPad, all of this happening in the background.
Basically, you can take notes or write a story and expect it to appear on a phone or tablet afterwards.
Wacom Bamboo Spark
If recording the audio doesn’t matter much to you, but instead you are far more keen on skipping specialised paper and bringing your own with you, Wacom has something that is now hitting our stores.
Yes, the very people that practically engineered the digital pen and stylus as we know it today — and still provide some of the technology for big companies like Samsung and HP — has digital paper, and you can bring your own to the package.
It’s called the Bamboo Spark, and we’re literally just getting ours now, which is why we don’t have much written about it.
Essentially, the Spark is a combination of a wirelessly powered real-ink pen and an electro-magnetic resonance board able to pick up on the strokes you’re making to paper on the board and also power that pen, kind of like Wacom’s other graphic tablet pens which haven’t needed power and instead grabbed it from the board.
When you write or draw on the special board, which is built into a folio for both the paper and either your phone or tablet (Android or iOS is fine), the information can be transferred to that phone or tablet into image or PDF format.
We’re not sure if transcription is provided — our guess is no — though other applications can probably take care of that, and at least you’re not stuck trying to find specialised paper.
HP Pro Slate 8
Price: $649, plus $69 for the folio
If the previous ideas sounded like amazeballs concepts, but you didn’t have a tablet to link them to, why not try a full-on combination.
Earlier in the year, we checked out the HP Pro Slate 8, an idea that basically blended everything you’ve read thus far, but packaged a specialised tablet and a specialised pen inside the box, pretty much all ready to go.
This one arrives with an 8 inch Android tablet that can be used for more than just scribble capture, but primarily, that’s what it’s here for, and the technology is a little different.
Rather than rely on carbon capture or electro-magnetic movement, HP’s relies on location, because the tablet is in a specific position — to the right of the paper in the folio — for a specific reason, and that is it will capture anything written or drawn on the size-matched paper in that spot.
The pen itself can be used as both a pen and a stylus, which is something few actual pens can do, so if you decide to scribble notes on the tablet because you’re out of paper, well, you can do that, too.
Forget the paper
Paper is a little passe for so many people, so we get to turn to computers and tablets. Don’t get us wrong, we love to write using our hands and pens — it’s like carving the words out of the medium! — but we’re faster typists than we are scribblers.
Most people probably are, actually, since we’re all growing up in a world dominated by computers, so if you think the person you’re buying for would be better suited for something digital, try these options.
Asus Transformer Book Flip TP200S
If you know someone keen to write without a computer, there’s always that as a gift.
The Asus Transformer Book Flip TP200S doesn’t have the easiest to say name — take a breath, people — and it’s not the highest end product out there, but given that it’s one of the first budget machines with a decent screen, a totally acceptable and comfortable-to-use keyboard, even supports USB Type C out of the box ready for a world that’s about to change for the format, it’s hard to find a lot wrong with it.
What does it have going against it?
Well, you see, it’s not a particularly fast computer, and the Type C isn’t being used to charge the machine, but as far as budget computers go with decent keyboards, it’s definitely worth looking at, and hey, Office 365 is included in the box for one year. Just what a young writer would dig.
Incipio ClamCase Pro
Perhaps you don’t need to buy that special someone a computer, because perhaps they rely on a tablet that they always carry around with them, and perhaps — just perhaps — it’s an iPad.
Awesome. Let’s work with that.
One of the best keyboard cases we’ve ever reviewed (and not just this year), Incipio’s ClamCase Pro is definitely worth looking into. Hell, this gift guide was typed on one.
Essentially, it’s one of the more solid and better designed keyboard cases we’ve ever used, with a keyboard arrangement that feels more like Apple’s own MacBook Pro computers, while offering the sort of hinge modern 360 degree laptops provide, meaning you can lie it flat or use the iPad just like the tablet it was meant to be used at.
Granted, it does add some weight to the package — about 500 grams — which means an iPad Air 2, for instance, will feel more like it weighs 1.2 kilograms, but it is the best keyboard you’ll find for an iPad device.
Apple MacBook (2015)
Price: from $1799
Now if the person you’re buying for doesn’t own a computer or an iPad or anything digital and they’re serious about their writing (and we have no idea what they’ve been using up to this point… stone maybe?), let’s try something that won’t stop them from writing in any location.
Apple’s attempt at a super slim writing machine, the MacBook — no Pro, no Air, no nothing, nada — is a tiny laptop that weighs under a kilogram and is marginally thicker than even its own iPad Air 2.
Inside is a processor made to get work done, though not do too much more, a set of fixed storage just like Apple’s other laptops, and a screen that is among the company’s best yet. We wish this sort of tech would come to the Air, which now looks meh in comparison to this little thing.
And then you have the keyboard, which is interesting because it relies on a new mechanism created to let Apple get the most out of the small space without compromising the keys considerably.
We’ll be honest and say this is going to be one of those things you either love or hate. After extended use on it, we love it, and it didn’t take long for our fingers to find something to adhere to. When we placed it on a surface like a wooden table, we felt it almost picked up on the qualities of the wood, feeling more like that hard and inflexible material, while on our lap or our bed, the keys felt soft and almost pillow-like.
Amongst the reviewer community, it’s a pretty solid division, too: some like it, some don’t.
We think people who don’t may want to shift their writing surface to see if it matches what they do better, and if they are someone who likes writing whenever inspiration strikes them — a coffee shop, a park, whatever — the light weight and tiny size will certainly make that possible, too.
Oh, and we had more to say about that keyboard, which was worth a whole separate article just because of how controversial it was.
The perfect keypress
Ok, so that title is a bit of a false truth, because there’s no such thing as “the perfect keypress”, and the reality is everyone will have a different keyboard preference, but this selection may be just the improvement your laptop or desktop
Apple Magic Keyboard
Made just for the Apple owners out there, this one offers much of the same keyboard experience you’ve had in your devices for yonks, but brings in a rechargeable battery and easy pairing via a Lightning port, which is also the same one you’ll be charging the keyboard from.
Oh, and if you have an iPhone or iPad, you gain another Lightning cable to charge your device from.
Overall, it’s not a bad experience at all, and is pretty much just a more modern take on the same Apple number-pad-less keyboard we’ve been using for ages.
Logitech Wireless Illuminated Keyboard K800
The keyboards that many of us have at home are probably the sort that if you compared them to what came with a new laptop would probably shock you.
In fact, that basic keyboard is kind of a thing of the past, especially now that you can get backlit keyboards home that are light enough to let you work in the dark.
Auto-adjustable backlighting is also the next step in backlit keyboards, allowing the keyboard to match your settings to provide the optimum lighting arrangement. This technology even works with your hand placement, because when you’re taking the time to drink that cup of coffee or stretch your hands, the backlight will turn on and off based on how close your digits are to the keys.
Razer Black Widow
Gamers need a different type of keyboard, but this could be handy for those of you that not only like to game, but also write, because this is a very different type experience.
While most keyboards have moved away from the heavier and louder mechanical switches, Razer’s Black Widow brings them right back for a typing experience pretty much spot on with what life was like for a gamer back in the 80s to early 90s. That means its loud, accurate, and very well built, so don’t expect to need to replace this for a while, unless you truly throttle your keys.
It also lights up in the dark, so if you’re doing some night-time writing, well, you’ll have your keystrokes up in neon colours, which could be handy too.
Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard
Microsoft’s fabric based keyboards used in its Surface and Surface Pro devices can be a little hit and miss, with a feeling that makes them one of those things you just have to try, much like the MacBook keyboard.
But there’s one catch: to try one, you need to actually have a Surface.
That’s a rather expensive caveat, so Microsoft has come up with an alternative that will let anyone with a mobile phone or tablet take a stab at the fabric design.
It comes in the form of a specialised fold-up keyboard named pretty much what it is — “Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard” — and basically this takes much of the same layout and keyboard design Microsoft uses in its Surface keyboards, but throws it into a fold-up square that recharges with microUSB and connects to either Mac, iOS, Android, or good ol’ fashioned Windows.
Its size is pretty much the main reason for checking this thing out, because at not much bigger than a compact disc case (you remember what they are, right?), you can keep it with you and write to a phone or tablet whenever you want. Awesome.
Software as a solution
We’ll come out an say that software is rarely going to be that perfect present, unless it’s a game or something.
Seriously, who wants to open a present and say “oh my, a copy of Office! Yay!” We’re probably sure there’s someone out there like this, but they’re rare.
That said, if the person you’re buying for is a writer and they already have a great keyboard or a great computer, software might just give them the kick in the pants they need to get something done.
Essentially, it’s a thoughtful present, even if it’s not terribly sexy one.
Evernote (Android, iOS, Mac, Windows)
Price: Free, or around $70 per year for the premium version
Made for people who take just notes or possibly so much writing that it cease to become “just notes”, Evernote is basically a written storage system.
You create “notebooks” and store everything in these categories of notebooks, and because there’s an Evernote app on pretty much every platform, you can literally take notes anywhere.
On your phone, on your tablet, on a computer, on a watch; if there’s an Evernote app, it’ll connect to your account.
Technically, Evernote is free, making it a pretty cheap present in the grand scheme of things, but there is a premium account and it delivers more storage for the account, the ability to scan business cards, and an offline access mode for mobile phones, which is super handy if you plan on writing when data is at a premium, like overseas when you don’t have your data plan working.
Scrivener (Mac, Windows)
Used by this writer for pretty much all of his books, Scrivener is an app that won’t attract an awful price tag and yet gets so much done.
Specifically made for writers, this will let someone accumulate all the notes and research needed for a book, a script, or something else, and then organise their chapters into various folders as they work, with Scrivener offering up a virtual cork board if you’re having layout problems, or just move things around using folder reorganisation.
You can write in the main window or go to a distraction-free mode where the desktop will fade away to nothing, allowing you to concentrate on the words, because that’s important.
And when you’re done, there’s always a quick and easy export to PDF, printers, or that handy eBook of the future, ePub.
Office 365 Personal (Android, iOS, Mac, Windows)
Price: $89 per year for one computer, or $119 per year for up to five computers
Office. Seriously. We don’t need to explain this one to you. This is the app that made productivity apps what they were today, though these days, the pricing structure is a little different from what it used to be.
Rather than buy a single product that they can keep forever, this time, you buy it as a subscription, so if you want to keep them happy, just keep that subscription going.
A caffeinated fix
As full-time writers, we can tell you that by the time the creativity starts getting unleashed, there’s a good chance you’re going to want to stay awake, and so… caffeine.
But if you need a gadget to keep that caffeinated fix a reality, well, here are three.
Price: $79 for the machine, $29 for the milk texturiser
At just a ten percent of the cost of one of the other gadgets we’re about to get to, Aldi’s Expressi is a re-engineered take on what a budget espresso machine should be like.
Here in Australia, we value our coffee, and so you generally won’t find a lot of the long black percolated drip stuff you find overseas. Aussies like cappuccinos and flat whites and macchiatos and other beverages with long c-sounds and foamy milk.
Aldi’s take on this category is meant to be simple and very inexpensive, and with a price of around $100 not including the pods, that’s about is inexpensive as it gets.
We can’t guarantee everyone will like the coffee varieties — we tried one and liked it, and another we, well, didn’t — but with 12 to choose from, you’ll find something that works, especially if caffeine as a must have in your written life.
Breville Tea Maker
When coffee won’t do, why not try tea.
Random fact: quite a lot of tea has the caffeine in it you think a coffee might, and there’s a good chance that it will be more balanced on your belly, too.
Breville’s Tea Maker isn’t just another kettle, though, because while you could take that route — and there’s nothing wrong with a kettle — the Tea Maker is about proper brewing of tea.
Specifically, it includes a tea infusion basket that will lower itself into the hot water at the right time to steep the leaves and make the tea right.
Nespresso by KitchenAid
The most expensive beverage maker on this part of the list, you’ll probably think this is the best built gadget of the lot… and you’d be right.
Generally, anything that features the name “KitchenAid” implies it will be built like a tank, and that’s what we saw from this smooth and metal beast.
You’ll get your coffee, and your kitchen will even look stylish while delivering it.