Back To School 2007: Note Taking Gear


Having gone through about eight years of college, I tried all sorts of methods of “better” note taking. Some actually delivered on their promises to make my life easier, but most simply overcomplicated things and turned out to be more hassle than they were worth.

Collected here are a few options that, if used diligently, will make your life as a student (or anyone who takes a lot of notes) easier on the whole.

Belkin TuneTalk Stereo for iPod
Price: $54

Recording your lectures is probably the most failsafe method of logging your notes. While I was in school, I used a crappy Olympus digital recorder that logged everything in some draconian proprietary format. It was infuriating, but it got me through.

Today, there are better options. Using your iPod (everyone has one of those right?) in concert with a Belkin TuneTalk Stereo, you can record everything your professor says straight to your iPod. It features two high-quality omnidirectional mics that record in impressive quality and it has an input for an external mic.

You can then review your notes via iPod, back it up to iTunes, and then have everything categorized for easy follow-up.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Preferred
Price: $200

The crappiest part about recording your lectures is having to transcribe them afterward — seriously, they’re essentially worthless otherwise. One option is to pass transcription responsibilities off to someone in the class who didn’t take notes. This could work, but, more often than not, it ends in disaster.

Your best option is to simply do it yourself. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this is an imperfect solution, the best route is listen to the lecture again and write everything down. This option, however, will deliver some results in a pinch. Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 Preferred offers voice-to-text transcription capabilities that can deliver to you some semblance of written notes. Sure it’ll set you back $200, but when faced with the dilemma of transcribing or catching up on your drinking, Dragon Naturally Speaking is your friend.

Google Docs
Price: FREE MWHAAHAHA (disclaimer: Google might own your soul after using Docs)

If Google Docs existed when I was in college, I’d probably be a happier person today. Gone are the days of needing to tote around a flash drive (because let’s face it, those things are heavy), we’re in the age of Web 2.0. Now we can save everything to one consolidated location and have it logged and indexed for future use.

You’re familiar with Google Docs, I’m sure, but if for some ridiculous reason you’re not, I suggest you familiarize yourself immediately. No product on this list holds as much potential to make your college career easier. Giving you the ability to quickly search through thousands of documents should be reason enough to use it. If you need more though, how about its community editing features, its massive storage, its Web accessibility, its slick interface and its ability to work cross-platform on basically any Internet connected advice.

Google Docs is your friend. Embrace it.

Microsoft OneNote 2007
Price: $80

Yojimbo for Mac
Price: $40

If, however, you can’t embrace Google, then Microsoft OneNote 2007 for Windows and/or Yojimbo for Mac. Both options are developed specifically for people taking notes on the fly. With options for shorthand and categorization, either of these could prove to be an immense boon for college note takers.

Unfortunately, neither of these products were available to me while I was in college, so I was debased to Word. What these programs offer are environments tailor-made for note-taking. I’m personally a fan of writing notes out and these options streamline that process significantly.


FLY Fusion Pen from LeapFrog

Pen: $80 Media: $8

The Fusion Pen is a retake on the old Luddite method taking notes by hand. Utilizing special dot-matrix paper, the pen can interpret written data with an onboard camera. But the Fusion doesn’t just transfer crappy pictures of your writing to your computer, it actually discerns the letters and transfers it to a word processor, giving you the ability to edit, expand, spell-check and search your hard-written notes.

It’s a cool product that has the slight downside of needing proprietary paper. The notebooks are priced at $8, which isn’t so bad. The problem is that they’re probably not readily available in most stores. So if you’re going to use this, you’re going to have to make sure to have plenty of 80 page notebooks stocked up, because 80 pages don’t go very far.

So there you have it, a few options to make your life as a student and easy one. Once you have some of these excellent notes at your disposal, don’t be afraid to get entrepreneurial and sell them to your less diligent classmates. It’s a good source of beer money.