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Mobile phone companies may have helped bring back the stylus, but it’s not exactly replacing pencils or pens for digital note-taking. HP, however, has a different take. Will it work?

Despite how many of us are using both virtual and physical keyboards on a regular basis, one question we get asked regularly without fail is how can you make a pen digital.

Yes, the pen is still important, and while a screen can make it possible to synchronise our documents with ease in the cloud, making them available to all sorts of devices, it seems there’s nothing quite like the frantically scribbled scrawlings of someone taking notes or drawing.

We’ve seen a few different solutions over the years, from Livescribe’s digital reincarnation of the pen that read carbon indents on special dot paper, to Samsung’s take whereby you could replace the pad with a phone and the pen with its own S-Pen, a smartphone and stylus combination that offered digital notes to go.

But both solutions bring in some degree of compromise, between the necessary dot paper of the Livescribe to the fact that no matter how you fancy it up, writing on a screen just isn’t like writing on paper, an issue that affects Samsung’s Galaxy Note phones, tablets, and pretty much anyone using a stylus on a digital device.

Microsoft and Lenovo have both also managed to get in there, bringing stylus-based concepts to screens and asking you to write on the screen, with Windows computers taking your scribbled and turning it into something it can work with.

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HP’s take, however, is different, bringing pen, paper, and a tablet to the table in a neat little folio, with the technologies working to make handwritten notes digital.

To do this, HP has produced an 8 inch tablet for the concept called the HP Pro Slate 8, though there is a 12 inch version available with the apt name “HP Pro Slate 12” just in case you need something bigger.

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The tablet reminds us of the HTC One series of devices, is made from metal, features a speedy Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor with 2GB RAM and 16GB storage, a 7.9 inch 2048×1536 display that is every so slightly higher than Full HD, runs Android, and generally feels like a decent little machine, and a real improvement to the sort of Android tablets HP has been throwing out of late.

That’s part one of the package, because the digital age demands something digital, and so there it is.

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Connecting to this is a wireless Bluetooth pen, in that it is both a pen and a Bluetooth transmitter, allowing you to write conventionally on a piece of paper and have those gestures translate to the screen.

You don’t need special paper to make this happen, though it helps to have paper made for the size of HP’s Slate portfolio, since the app is designed to work across from it, essentially mapping out the space for you to write in and translating your pen movements in that space.

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That’s the other part of the package — paper you can find everywhere — and provided the pad is in the right place (at the left of the tablet), you can write on it and have the information transmitted to the tablet, your pen movements being translated to the screen, being stored in apps like SmartNote and HP Notes, the latter of these feels like a rebranded edition of HP Notes.

In reality, this combined pen to tablet system could prove useful for people who are frantically looking for a way to translate their pen-based notes to a digital environments, and it’s very reminiscent of the sort of technology Livescribe created, though with less emphasis on a proprietary paper type laden with dots that were near impossible to see.

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That said, it’s an expensive way to get your notes digital, especially since the tablet will set you back a good $649 without the portfolio, which fetches its own price of $69.

The pen comes with the tablet, so that’s cool, and you get both a stylus and a pen tip inside the pen, making it possible to take notes with a real pen, and then take out the pen tip and flip it around to turn into a digital stylus that won’t take notes.

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In action, it’s a curious concept, because just like many have wanted, HP’s Pro Slate makes it possible to scribble in real life with a real pen, and have an Android tablet suck in those real details and make them digital.

You could probably do the same thing with a phone camera, but you’re never going to remember to, and you can even throw away the original and have a digital version if need be.

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But after using it for a few days, we’re not sure if it’s going to be for everyone.

While we still love the cognitive process of writing, of drawing, of scribbling our thoughts down onto a pad while we try and listen to the world around us, our fingers are much faster at taking notes when a keyboard is involved.

In fact, when we have a laptop out, or even a tablet with a keyboard attached, we can move our fingers fast enough that we don’t need to scribble things down, with Evernote capturing our thoughts in typed text form, often while audio is being tracked.

Much to our surprise, HP’s Duet Pen works in Evernote, as well, though your handwriting shows up as an image, and you can’t capture audio at the same time, missing a useful feature that would have made the HP concept even stronger altogether.

This won't work.

This won’t work.

HP’s take on writing also comes with a slight issue, and that’s the limits set out by the app and the hardware. From our testing, the digital scribbles only work and translate when the paper is in the right position, specifically to the left of the tablet, and only with paper roughly the size of the tablet. Even the paper HP provides isn’t quite the right size, and you’ll miss out on some of your writing or scribbles if you take to working in the margins, as these aren’t picked up by the tablet.

That said, it is a neat idea, and one we can see some people embracing, particularly those who love to scribble and write, and still have nice hand-writing (not us).

If you like the idea of having your scribbled notes become digital, with export options available as image, Adobe Acrobat PDF, and text, the idea could have some merit, especially if you can’t live without a pen, just be aware that you’ll have to use HP’s otherwise the idea just won’t work.

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