eWritable > Blog > Handwriting Search on E-ink Tablets: Which is best?

Handwriting Search on E-ink Tablets: Which is best?

Last updated: September 2023

I recently received the following email from an eWritable user:

Hello Dan

I appreciate all the research you have done on E ink notebooks. Can you tell me if any of them have a searchable note feature. That is the most important thing to me. The ability to search a keyword to find my notes on that subject without having to read through all my notes.

Thank you
Billie

Although several e-ink tablets boast handwriting recognition, this is often only utilised as handwriting-to-text conversion.

The reMarkable 2, for example, does have a search function, however, it will only search text (such as that inserted with the text tool or keyboard folio). Any handwriting will be ignored. Of course, you can convert handwriting to text and then perform a search, but this isn’t really the same thing and would quickly become very tedious.

On the Kindle Scribe, there is no notebook search functionality at all (although Amazon has recently introduced handwriting-to-text conversion).

In fact, out of all the e-ink tablets I own, only three manufacturers provide the functionality to search handwriting within notebooks for specified words; Supernote, Boox, and Kobo.

For each of these devices, I created a simple 4-page notebook with a single sentence on each page that contained the word ‘test’. Then I carried out a handwriting search for the word ‘test‘.

Boox Handwriting Search

Boox devices include the Tab Ultra, Tab Ultra C, Tab X, Note Air2 Plus, Nova Air2 and several other e-ink tablets. They all run virtually the same software (the Tab range has a slightly different user interface) so should all be able to carry out a handwriting search.

I tested the handwriting search on my Tab Ultra and older Boox Max Lumi2.

The Tab Ultra found all occurrences of the handwriting in 5.3 seconds. The Max Lumi2 did it in a slightly longer 5.9 seconds – this is perhaps due to the slightly lower hardware specs of the Max Lumi2.

Supernote Handwriting Search

The current Supernote series consists of the Supernote A5X and the Supernote A6X, which both run (almost) the same software.

On my Supernote A5X, all occurrences of the handwriting were found in a very impressive 1.6 seconds.

This seems to be because Supernote’s real-time recognition notebook scans for handwriting in the background whilst you are writing and somehow caches it so that handwriting recognition is super speedy.

Note that handwriting search is not possible in Supernote’s standard notebook – when you create a notebook, you have a choice out of standard notebook which supports layers and real-time recognition notebook which supports handwriting recognition.

However, there is one caveat – the caching is not immediate, which means if you perform a handwriting search immediately after you’ve finished writing on a page, it will return zero results. To get around this, you simply have to be inactive within a note for a few minutes for the background processes to catch up (after 30 seconds of inactivity, realtime recognition initiates).

With Supernote’s August 2023 software release, you can now search handwriting across all your real-time recognition notebooks at once.

Kobo Handwriting Search

On the first try, the Kobo Elipsa 2E only found three out of the four instances of the word test. This may have been because of my messy handwriting (I admit it’s not the neatest!) and after a rewrite, it was able to find all four instances in a time of 3.9 seconds.

Like the Supernote, Kobo has two types of notebook – basic and advanced. Handwriting search is only possible in with the basic notebook.

A Further Handwriting Recognition Test

In response to a comment below, I did a test of handwriting recognition on a Boox Note Air 3C and Supernote A5X to see if there were any differences in accuracy. Apologies for only using these two devices, but these were all I had with me at the time – I’ll add others at a later date.

To do this, I wrote a single page of handwriting and then converted it to text.

Although I wrote out the same prose on both tablets, there are bound to be small nuances between the handwriting. Basically, they’re very similar but not completely identical.

Here’s the Supernote original and handwriting-to-text-conversion:

As you can see, it is very nearly 100% accurate (it thought the word ‘maxin‘ was ‘makin‘ but that’s perfectly acceptable to me).

And on the Boox…

Boox got the word ‘maxin‘ correct but used the word ‘rake‘ instead of ‘take‘ and ‘out‘ instead of ‘our‘. Admittedly this could be because of the way that I form my r’s, but, like the Supernote, there’s a lot of accuracy there and I can’t really have any complaints (particularly as my scrawl is not the neatest!)

The only real differences were that Supernote was a fair bit faster but you have more options with regards to what you do with the converted text on Boox.

Verdict

Supernote, Boox, and Kobo tablets all have handwriting search features.

Supernote, Boox, and Kobo all had 100% accuracy in the original small test (although Kobo didn’t pick up one of the words at first but as stated already this could have been due to my messy handwriting). However, in my experience, 100% accuracy is not typical with any of these devices when searching through a large number of pages – I’d usually expect it to make the odd mistake now and again (so perhaps 95% accuracy would be a better estimate).

In terms of speed, the Supernote is the hands-down winner. It takes a few minutes to index each page in the background, but after this is finished, the handwriting search is lightning quick.

Kobo is second in terms of speed.

Boox’s implementation of handwriting search is somewhat slower, and the search duration increases with each additional page that it has to scan. However, once it has performed a search, it does cache the results, which means subsequent searches are somewhat quicker (but still not as quick as Supernote).

Both Supernote and Boox allow you to search the handwriting of several notebooks at once, a feature which is not available on Kobo.

If handwriting search is an essential feature that you need from an e-ink tablet, my current recommendation would be a Supernote.

If handwriting search is something that you would like, but would use infrequently, a Boox tablet should also be a consideration. A Kobo Elipsa 2E is also an option, however personally, I would always pick a Supernote/Boox over a Kobo.

I don’t own every single e-ink tablet (yet!) so cannot advise on the performance of handwriting search on other devices, however, I have researched which e-ink tablets have this functionality, and they can be seen on my e-ink tablet feature comparison matrix.

About the author

Website | + posts

Dan Dutton is passionate about E-ink writing tablets, which bring together the pleasure of writing on paper with the power of digital technology. When he bought his first tablet, he realised that there wasn't a lot of unbiased information available for people that were considering buying an E-ink tablet, and so he built eWritable.

20 thoughts on “Handwriting Search on E-ink Tablets: Which is best?”

    • Hey Jadah,

      Sorry I don’t know how the Mobiscribe compares. I’ve been told that it can do handwriting search, with the first search taking a bit longer (as it converts and caches) but I haven’t had any direct experience myself.

      Dan

      Reply
  1. Hi Dan,

    This site (and especially this page) is really helpful. Thank you.

    Interestingly, from youtube videos I thought that the reMarkable would outperform the Supernote. So I just wanted to check in and verify that I am understanding what you tested correctly. Basically, I write songs and poems and brainstorm business ideas. And I take all my notes on yellow legal pads. I have piles of them all over the house.

    All the time, I will recall a line from an unfinished song or an idea from a yet-to-be enacted business plan and I will scour my piles of notebooks looking for the page where that line or note was.

    Are you saying that if I can recall a word or two, then Supernote can help me find that page (even if nothing is starred or marked as a keyword)? Are you also saying that reMarkable cannot do this?

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Yes and yes. The only issue would be if the sn could not read your handwriting accurately enough but i have quite a messy scrawl and it works okay for me. On the rm2 you can do a search but you have to manually convert your handwriting to to text first and then do a text search.

      Edit: just wanted to add that handwriting search on sn is on a per notebook basis – you cannot search handwriting across multiple notebooks at once.

      BTW, your notetaking system sounds a lot like mine used to be except I used a5 hardback notebooks rather than legal pads.

      Reply
  2. For searching handwritten notes, can the Kobo search all notebooks for a word, or only the currently open notebook (the latter would not be very useful for me) secondly, for those of us that have been taking notes on several other devices, can the kobo (or any ereader) search handwritten notes from imported PDFs? For instance, a hundred notes from notability on an iPad that were imported into the ereader in their respective folders/subjects.

    Reply
    • As far as I’m aware, only Boox offers handwriting search across multiple notebooks, but I should mention that the process is very slow as it converts and scans handwriting on every page of every notebook.

      Similarly, Boox has an OCR function in its native reading software but I’m pretty sure that you can only do one page of the pdf at a time and there used to be limits regarding how many times you could use the OCR (not sure if that’s still a thing).

      Unfortunately, I don’t I have a lot of experience in this area, so if anyone else knows more about this, please leave a comment below.

      Edit: with today’s update, Supernote now supports universal handwriting search across all notebooks.

      Reply
      • Re: Boox’s speed on handwriting search.

        Is that a one-off hit or every time? I can understand the former (caching the results for any page that hasn’t changed), the latter would be crazy.

        Reply
        • Thanks for the comment – I just went back and did some more tests and found that Boox does indeed cache the text after the initial search.

          I searched the handwriting of a 41-page document and it took about 40 minutes for the first search. Any searches after this took a lot less time – around one or two minutes. So I think we can safely say that Boox implements some sort of caching.

          In comparison, a similarly-sized document on the Supernote caches automatically in the background if you leave the notebook open (but inactive) for 30 seconds. There is also an option to check the caching queue and trigger it manually. All handwriting searches on the Supernote (following caching) are either instantaneous or take no longer than a few seconds.

          Thank you for prompting me to go back and check this πŸ™‚

          Dan

          Reply
          • Thanks Dan.

            If you could go back and made a change to one of those 41 pages, and/or add a 42nd page… is is still 1-2 mins (perhaps +1 min for the changes) or is there a big time hit?

            Does it mak sense -for handwriting performance reasons – to have fewer longer notebooks or many smaller ones πŸ€”

            The organisation, hand-writing recognition/conversation quality (inc. learning & custom dictionaries), speed of conversation & searching etc. is a massively under-reported area, yet seems so fundamental to using these for work purposes.

            If you were able to cover this, and reflect it in the data/tables, it would be a fantastic asset to all.

          • Adding an extra page makes no discernable difference to handwriting search on boox, although I’d guess that adding another 40-odd pages would.

            Boox scans notebooks page by page so assuming the same amount of content I don’t think it would make a difference whether it was in one notebook or multiple. However, if you had multiple notebooks, you could do a search in a single notebook which would be quicker due to having less pages.

            I may expand this article to cover the points you have made – I agree that there is not a lot of info on this. Something I will be doing soon on my tablet comparison table is split up the handwriting recognition tick/cross into handwriting search and handwriting to text conversion.

            Cheers for the feedback.

  3. Yes, an article expanding on this area would be fantastic.

    With the latest Supernote update, a real head-to-head could be done.

    With more exposure on this, perhaps Supernote & Boox (+ Remarkable etc.) would enter a performance/feature race 🀞

    Reply
    • remarkable seem to be getting left behind in terms of software – the flagship feature in their most recent firmware update was the inclusion of documentation and getting started guides on the tablet! Supernote regularly release useful and innovative updates and it’s nice to be able to follow along with what they’re planning on their public roadmap. Boox are due another big update anytime soon – probably in line with the usual release of new products leading up to the holidays so I’m looking forward to that. Another one to watch is Bigme who seem to be aiming to compete directly with boox.

      Reply
  4. Well, as a brand new user of Supernote A5X I must admit I am profoundly disappointed by the handwriting recognition…did I expect to much or are there better ink tablets for handwriting recognition?

    Reply
    • Hey Francesco, What issues are you experiencing exactly? Is it with handwriting search or handwriting-to-text conversion? From my experience, Boox and Supernote have the best handwriting recognition, however, there is not a lot of difference between them in terms of accuracy (although Supernote does seem faster).

      I just did a test of handwriting recognition on a Boox and Supernote and have added it to the article above (under the heading ‘A Further Test’ so that you can see the difference (which admittedly is not very much).

      Dan

      Reply

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