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I’m finding the joy in writing again with a little help from the Supernote Nomad

Handwriting, I just can’t quit you.

Photo by Cheyenne MacDonald/Engadget

I've recently accepted the fact that I am, and always will be, a pen-and-paper kind of gal. When it comes to writing, nothing does it for me quite like the act of scrawling by hand. I’m more creative, less distracted and more emotionally invested in what I’m doing than when I type on a keyboard.

But over the last decade or so of writing professionally, I've become disconnected from writing by hand. I spend most of my time hunched over a laptop, and have unwittingly conditioned myself into writing almost exclusively in this way for the sake of efficiency. While that’s undoubtedly what works best for the day-to-day demands of news blogging (I mean, how else could we do it?), my shift away from notebooks has killed my will to do any creative writing outside of work. These days, every time I crack open a laptop to write in my off-hours, it feels like a chore.

But what also feels like a chore is typing up pages upon pages of handwritten text after dumping all the words in my brain out onto paper. This burden is what first got me looking into digital notepads; since many of them can convert handwritten notes to text files, they’re kind of the best of both worlds. For a while, though, none of the available options really spoke to me — the reMarkable 2 and other E Ink tablets are just too big for my taste. Then, Ratta came out with the Supernote Nomad, and I was sold.

The Nomad is perfectly compact. With a 7.8-inch screen, it’s more like the size of an ereader, meaning I can toss it in a mini-backpack and bring it with me everywhere — and I do. My Nomad arrived in May (I ordered the $329 Crystal version, because I’m a sucker for a transparent shell) and I've been using it just about every day since. I was cautiously optimistic about what actually writing on this thing would be like, but it exceeded all of my expectations.

It took only a few minutes to get used to, which mainly came down to me getting over my somewhat irrational fear that the pen — the one that’s made for this device — would scratch the display. (It was expensive, okay?) The tablet doesn’t come with a writing implement, and I shelled out a little extra for the $89 Heart of Metal pen, a decision I’m super happy with. It’s nothing like a stylus, but instead has a sharp, precision tip like a real pen — hence my initial hesitation.

The experience of writing on the Nomad is so close to the feeling of actually using a pen and paper. There’s texture to it, something you don’t get with the smooth experience of writing on an iPad. I write pretty fast, and haven't had many issues so far with lagging. It comes with a bunch of writing templates, including lined “paper” with a few different ruling size options, and you can create your own templates or download those made by others. I haven't messed around much yet with custom versions, though, because the built-in offerings have been adequate for free writing, note-taking and organizing my life.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well the handwriting recognition tool has been able to convert my chicken scratch to typed text. My handwriting is fine at best, but when I'm working fast, things can get pretty messy. It's not 100 percent accurate — it’ll throw in the occasional string of gibberish — but the device mostly gets it right. You can export the converted writing as a .TXT or .DOCX file, and have the Nomad format it for you. This requires some cleaning up, but it’s never a huge job.

Supernote devices can sync with a number of different cloud storage providers, like Dropbox and Google Drive (though Google is currently not working for me, so that’s one point against it), along with the company’s own cloud. You can lock individual files and folders behind a passcode, too, which I really appreciate. Nothing haunts me more than the thought of someone reading through my unfinished drafts, some of which aren’t destined to ever see the light of day.

And I’ve finally ditched my paper planner — something I never thought would happen. Supernote’s built-in monthly calendar and weekly planner have finally given me an alternative that actually works for me. One of the main things that’s kept me using paper planners is that I like to doodle as a way to make important events or tasks stand out, and the Supernote Nomad allows me to do this. The only thing I miss is using stickers and pens of different colors, but I’ll survive.

In the last month or so using the Supernote Nomad, I’ve probably gotten more writing done (the “for me” kind) than I had in the last year. It just doesn't trigger that dreaded “you’re at work” feeling that my laptop and even other distraction-free writing devices, like the Freewrite Traveler, have. Eventually, I hope to get around to drawing and reading on it as well, but for the moment, all I want to do on this thing is write because I'm having such a great time doing it. And before you ask — yes, I wrote this article on my Nomad.