If you’ve ever read a review of the Apple Pencil and have been told “it’s just like writing on paper”, it’s not. You’ve every right to hunt down the journalist and poke him/her in the eye. The Rocketbook Wave, on the other hand, is just like writing on paper, because that’s exactly what it is. A paper notebook and pen.
So what is it doing on here, a tech website, you might wonder? Well, the Rocketbook Wave is like Brian Cox – it’s smarter than it looks.
You scan its pages with your smartphone and swiftly beam the results to email, Dropbox, OneNote or pretty much any application you can think of. What’s more, you can wipe those 80 handwritten pages clean by sticking the book in the microwave for a couple of minutes, giving you a fresh notebook to fill.
Is this the note-taking solution we’ve been waiting for? Let’s find out.
Rocketbook Wave review: writing
The first thing to note about writing in your Rocketbook Wave notebook is that you can’t do it with your common or garden Biro – at least, not if you want to wipe the notebook clean later. For the disappearing ink trick to work you need to use pens from the Pilot Frixion range.
One blue ballpoint pen is provided with the notebook, but supplies aren’t difficult to find nor outrageously expensive. A pack of five rollerball pens costs £8.99 on Amazon. There are many different colours and highlighters in the range, too.
Writing in the books is literally writing with pen and paper. I suspected the paper might have a plasticky texture to repel the ink, but that’s not the case. It feels just like ordinary paper and the ink dries almost instantly. Even as a left-hander, used to smudging ink across the page as I write, this is no better or worse than writing with a ballpoint pen on an ordinary pad. You have to take a little care, but not much.
One thing that does irritate me slightly is the paper isn’t lined. Instead, there’s a faint grid of dots on the page, which helps with the scanning process. You can just about make these out as you write, helping to keep your handwriting straight, but it’s not as convenient as a conventionally lined page.
Rocketbook Wave review: scanning
Once you’ve written a page or two of notes, it’s time to digitise them. This is where the accompanying smartphone app – for iOS or Android – enters the fray.
The app lets you select a variety of ‘destinations’ – apps or services to send your scanned Rocketbook notes to. Rocketbook works with a comprehensive list of services, including Google Drive, Evernote, Dropbox, OneDrive, Slack, email and more.
One bit of advice: if you’re using a service such as Dropbox or OneNote, create a folder/section to store your Rocketbook notes in before you pair the service with the Rocketbook app. The Rocketbook app doesn’t allow you to create a new folder in other services, which is irritating.
Each of those different services is assigned a different icon in Rocketbook (the diamond for Dropbox, say). On the inside cover of the book, there are slots to make note of which icon is assigned to which service. Then, at the bottom of each page, you simply tick the icon(s) that you want to upload the page to.
Then get your smartphone out, open the Rocketbook app, press the camera button and scan your page(s). You can scan multiple pages in one hit, but annoyingly each page is treated as a different scan that has to be named individually. You can’t create a single file with several pages, which is frustrating if you simply want to keep a batch of notes from the same meeting together, for example.
The scanned pages are saved as PDF files and come out looking like this:
Below are links to the full-res PDF of the scan you can see above, plus two further pages of handwritten notes, so you can see the full quality of the scans:
As you can see, the scans have bags of detail, more than enough to make handwriting legible. These are scanned at the default resolution of 3,264 x 1,836, but you can boost that all the way up to 4,032 x 3,024 (on my test Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge smartphone, at least).
The way the dots on the page fade in and out is distracting, as are the blue blobs you see at the bottom of the scan – although I must stress I’ve only seen those when scanning the first page of my test Rocketbook Wave. Maybe something has been spilled on the page, although there’s nothing visible…
Overall, I’m impressed with the quality and ease with which the scans are handled. Each one has arrived at its destination flawlessly. Just make sure you tick right in the centre of the icon of the service you wish to send the page to. Once I was slightly off to the side and the tick wasn’t recognised.
Rocketbook Wave review: erasing
Now for the magic part: erasing the book. To wipe the book clean, you have to place it in a microwave oven with a rotating turntable. The book has to be able to rotate, but only the very smallest of microwave ovens won’t accommodate the ‘Executive’ sized book I was sent for review, which is 15.2 cm x 22.6 cm. The larger ‘Standard’ sized book (21.6 cm x 24.1 cm) might have been a struggle, though.
You’re told to put a cup filled three-quarters of the way up with water on top of the book to stop it from burning. Once you’ve done that, you set the microwave going and keep a careful eye on the rocket icon on the front of the book. When that disappears, the job’s half done. Flip the book over and repeat the process on the other side. The whole thing takes about three minutes to erase in my 900W microwave. Keep a pair of oven gloves handy, as the book gets pretty toasty!
Are the pages wiped completely clean? Not quite…
You can still see the faint trace of what’s been previously written on the page once the book has been zonked in the microwave. It’s not hugely distracting when you’re writing in the book afresh, but it’s there. Certainly, this isn’t a solution for MI5.
And, of course, the more times you write on each page, the more underlying marks are left. Each notebook can be reused five times, according to Rocketbook. I’m on my third usage of this test book and the marks are getting more obvious, making it even harder to see the grid of dots on the page. It’s not a showstopper, though.
Rocketbook Wave review: the verdict
The time comes to discuss the price. The Executive-sized Rocketbook Wave costs £25.99 from Amazon. On the face of it, that’s a stonking amount to pay for an 80-page notebook, but a fiver per use is just about palatable.
The question is, would you make good use of it? Having an easily-digitised version of handwritten notes is great, especially if you’re in a profession like I am where handwritten notes sometimes have to be retained for legal purposes.
That said, these notes aren’t easily searchable. Yes, OneNote can transcribe handwritten scans, but it doesn’t do so reliably (at least not with my GP-grade handwriting). The advantages of digitisation are few.
And then we come to the drawbacks of the system. You have to use a certain brand of pen or you’ll ruin the books. Scanning isn’t fuss-free and it’s time-consuming. And wiping the entire book is a procedure that leaves behind imperfect results.
What’s more, after a couple of weeks of being bundled around in my bag, this paper notebook is already starting to look tatty. Are those fragile paper pages going to survive another four uses over the course of months or even years? I’m not so sure.
You can’t help but admire the cleverness of the Rocketbook Wave. But it’s just a bit too clever for its own good.
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Rocketbook Wave scores
A clever way to digitise handwritten notes, but the Rocketbook Wave is dragged down by irritating flaws