Having tried various laptop styluses, the Google Pixelbook, the iPad Pro with Apple Pen, the Rocketbook Wave and God knows what else over the years, I’m determined to find a digital notetaking solution that works. But Christ alive, the RoWrite isn’t it.
RoWrite review: what is it?
The RoWrite is perhaps the most over-engineered product I’ve ever clapped eyes on.
In theory, it’s a great idea. Jot notes or diagrams using normal pen and paper, press a button and have a digital copy of them beamed by Bluetooth to your phone.
In practice, it’s terrible. Truly, gobsmackingly, wouldn’t-even-wish-it-on-Piers-Morgan woeful.
RoWrite review: what’s wrong with it?
Let’s start with the design. The device is housed in an A4-sized portfolio on which no expense has been spent. It’s a symphony of textured grey plastic that somehow manages to be heavier than my iPad Pro with its keyboard attached.
This is quite an achievement considering it contains barely anything. Inside there’s a pad of just 20 plain A5 sheets, and a spare lined pad of similar size. Then there’s the special battery-operated RoWrite pen, which isn’t much heavier than your standard Biro.
The bulk of the weight is generated by the tablet-style device underneath the pad that detects the pen strokes. This must be made out of steel-reinforced lead: smack someone over the head with the RoWrite and you’re going down for attempted murder, manslaughter at best.
RoWrite review: how does it work?
It doesn’t. At least, it doesn’t work anywhere near well enough.
When you write on the paper with the magic battery pen, you’re meant to get both a paper copy and a digital version, so you can share diagrams with colleagues, distribute meeting notes, that kind of thing.
However, this depends on a number of conditions. First, the tablet must be switched on – something I kept forgetting to do when picking up the RoWrite to jot something down. Because my brain isn’t trained to power-up a notepad.
Not only must you remember to turn it on, you’ve got to remember to press the B button (why B?) every time you turn a page. Fail to do that and your digital pages will overwrite one another, giving your notes an unwanted Dali-esque quality.
Don’t get too carried away with flipping pages though, because as I mentioned at the top, the notepads are only 20 A5 pages thick – presumably so the sensor below can detect the pen strokes. Want a replacement pad? That will cost you £15 for a pack of ten, or 7.5p per A5 page. And the only thing special about this paper is that it has two holes punched into the top so that it sits on the tablet nicely. (Insert a phrase about Dick Turpin having the courtesy to wear a mask here.)
Even then, the paper is terrible. A thin, shiny substrate that smears the ink all over the page when I write at speed with my left hand. Yes, to top its crimes, the pad is racist. Marvellous.
RoWrite review: what do the digital versions look like?
They look like your notes after you left them in the back pocket of your jeans and stuck them in the washing machine. Here’s a scan of the paper notes I made – i.e. I’ve taken the paper off the device and put it under my own scanner. My handwriting’s no work of art, but I think most people would be able to read it:
Here’s the digital version of this page, as delivered by RoWrite:
That reasonably crisp and clear handwriting has been smashed into a blurry mess. I think most people would read ‘CAREY’ as the name at the top of the scanned sheet, but RoWrite makes it unintelligible. And that’s my teacher’s pet, trying-hard-to-be-neat, full caps handwriting. My jotting down interview notes cursive is near obliterated.
Things don’t get much better with diagrams. Here’s a scan of a hand-drawn map:
And here’s what RoWrite does to it:
The small detail is blunderbussed. The road names are much harder to read. I would genuinely be better off simply scanning the paper than relying on RoWrite to make my shabby handwriting look even worse.
RoWrite review: how much will all this cost me?
The RoWrite itself, with pen and a couple of pads included, will set you back £120. The pads, as mentioned, add another £15 each time, and you’re going to need refills almost immediately. You can use ordinary paper, but RoWrite (naturally) doesn’t recommend it and without the holes punched at the top, there’s a strong danger it will slip and make the resulting scans more useless than they already are.
That said, if you’re still thinking of buying this, it’s the hole in your head you should be worried about, not the holes in the paper.
An unmitigated, over-engineered disaster – you’re better off with paper, pen and regular scanner