I’m not shy about the fact that my goto e-ink tablet is my Supernote A5X. In this post, I thought it would be interesting to share the nitty-gritty details about how I use my Supernote in my day-to-day work (and I get a lot of readers asking me to talk about this as well).
It is the one e-ink tablet (out of my large collection of devices) that I really couldn’t be without. It sits beside me at my desk all day every day and I am (very) regularly jotting down thoughts, ideas and plans or referring to older notes I have made.
And I think it might be useful for those that are considering buying a Supernote to get the perspective of somebody that does genuinely use it in their day-to-day life.
The battery lasts a little over a week, so at close on a Friday I plug it in to recharge, safe in the knowledge that I am unlikely to need to do this again until the end of the following week. In this regard, it is like having an infinite supply of paper laid out on my desk, rather than an electronic device that needs to be charged daily.
I use the pre-installed ‘write-on‘ Supernote calendar to plan and record the work that I do.
The calendar synchronises with my Google calendar (that I access from my phone) so I always have my schedule to hand and can add new events and appointments when needed.
I must clarify that this calendar sync facility is text-only (your handwriting doesn’t synchronise), however you can add events using handwriting-to-text conversion rather than the on-screen keyboard.
The ‘write-on‘ feature of the calendar stays on the Supernote itself and is available for the 31-day monthly view and 7-day weekly view (unfortunately handwriting does not work for the single day view).
The way that I use the calendar is to tentatively note down the tasks that I intend to carry out on the 31-day view and use the 7-day view to note down the tasks I have actually done on a particular day – what I plan to do and what I actually do often varies based on importance, urgency , and my general mood!
This workflow means that I have some structure to my week, with a tentative plan of action, and a record of the work that I have completed.
At the end of each month, I go through the tasks that I have completed (on my weekly view) to write up a report of my monthly productivity.
On Supernote, notebooks are stored in the Note folder, and you are free to create and organise notebooks as you wish.
I have my regularly accessed notebooks in the root and two folders:
- Archive: I move older notebooks that I am unlikely to use very much into the archive folder to keep the root neat and tidy
- Projects: Within the Projects folder I have a set of subfolder for each project I am working on
I also have a Study folder in there but I don’t use this any more because I find Boox tablets are better for study-related tasks, so I moved all my study-related stuff to the Boox. I should note that Supernote isn’t terrible for this use case and I happily used it for study for quite a while.
Reasons for the switch to Boox for study include a more comprehensive and versatile reading app, a colour screen (which is visually better for some textbooks), the ability to split screen (textbook on one side, notebook on the other), access to the Internet for further research, keyboard (for typing), speakers (for audiobooks & lectures) etc.
I have two primary notebooks that I regularly use; my Work Journal and my Personal Journal – I create a new one of each at the start of every year and move the previous year’s notebook to the Archive folder.
The first page of my work journal has a list of my current projects, which are hyperlinked to a dedicated notebook for each project (more on these later).
The next page is a list of ideas for new projects that I may start in the future (basically, when I have an idea, I dump it here before I forget and review it at a later date).
I then have a page for the Strategic Direction of my business – basically, expectations and possible hurdles for my business over the next 12 months, followed by a page for my annual business goals.
I then have plans/goals for each quarter and month of the year and reviews of the previous month/quarter.
I use my personal journal to record my thoughts, fears, anxieties and any personal plans I have.
When I am experiencing uncomfortable emotions, such as worry, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, guilt etc. I find it very therapeutic to write down what I am feeling. This helps me to offload my inner feelings onto the page and think more rationally about my experience.
I also find it useful to flick back and read my notes about previous mental anguish – it is often very comforting to realise that most of the things I worried about never actually happened and reminds me that I should try to live more in the present.
On my Supernote, I also have a folder called Projects, and within that is a set of further sub-folders – one for each project I have worked on. And within each project folder is a set of notebooks for each version of the project (I won’t go into the way that I set version numbers for each project here because it is quite complex).
As mentioned earlier, active projects (latest versions) are linked to from the first page of my Work Journal.
I also have a notebook called Scratchpad, which I basically use as rough scrap paper for jotting down info whilst I’m on the phone or totting up numbers – there’s no organisation to it.
And I have a notebook called Handbook, which is my own philosophy of life, and reminds me of the person I am, my core values, and how I want to live my life – it changes very slowly and slightly over time.
To be 100% transparent, I don’t tend to do a lot of reading on my Supernote – for regular ebook reading, I use a Kindle Paperwhite, and for textbooks and research papers, as stated earlier, I use the Boox Note Air3 C.
However, I do sometimes use the native reading software and the Kindle app on the Supernote and they both work really well.
But I see the Supernote more as a note-taker, planner, and thought-organiser than an eReader.
How I use my Supernote Notebooks
My process when writing in a notebook is very simple.
For each new topic, I write a title at the top and lasso-select it to turn it into a title. The Supernote automatically puts all my titles into a table of contents, which makes it very quick and easy to navigate between topics/sections (see the TOC in the images of my Work Journal above).
If I reference other notebooks, I can easily link to them, again with the lasso-select (as I link to all my current projects on the first page of my Work Journal).
All my notebooks are real-time recognition, which does use slightly more battery power than a Supernote standard notebook but has the benefit of making all my notebooks handwriting-searchable. This is a very powerful feature that Supernote has implemented wonderfully because if I need to find information within a notebook quickly, I can simply do a search for it and I get the results almost instantaneously – this is because Supernote does the handwriting-to-text conversion in the background rather than on-the-fly. The handwriting search feature also extends globally, so all notebooks can be searched simultaneously – obviously it is not quite as fast but it’s still quite rapid.
Another powerful feature is being able to star pages in a notebook. If, during the course of my writing, there is something that I need to come back to later, I simply draw a five-pointed star next to it. I can then search for all my stars and action anything that is outstanding (and then delete the star). It’s sort of like a task management system.
Switching between notebooks and apps is also made very swift and simple by the touch-sensitive sideswipe bar on the right bezel. A quick swipe down (from whatever screen I am on) and I have one-touch access to all my most important notebooks (the list is customisable) and the calendar. It is difficult to explain how powerful this feature is for navigating around notebooks because it seems too simple – but it just works better than anything that other e-ink tablets have to offer.
Putting it all together
At the start of each month, I will write a report of my performance over the previous month in my Work Journal using the record of completed tasks from my calendar (7-day view).
I will then write a plan for the new month in line with my annual and quarterly plan and create a tentative timetable of tasks in my calendar (30-day view). During this process, I will also add any new projects (and remove any completed projects) from the first page of my Work Journal and the quick access sidebar.
I will also carry out a similar process at the end of each quarter/year.
During a typical day, I will sit down at my desk and check my calendar (30-day view) to see what I have planned for the day.
I will then navigate to the particular project notebook, make a new section/title (if needed) and make notes as I carry out the task.
Each task that I complete, I make a note of in the 7-day calendar view to maintain a record of what I have done.
Why Supernote is the best for my particular use case
One could reasonably argue that I could do all this (and more) on a Boox e-ink tablet, so the obvious question is why use Supernote?
There are several reasons for this, some objective and some subjective. I’ll start with the objective…
Firstly, the handwriting search on Supernote is, in my experience, much faster than that of Boox tablets.
Secondly, the quick navigation bar makes switching between different notebooks and the calendar quick and effortless (Boox does have task-switching gestures but they are a bit more clumsy).
Thirdly, the ability to automatically create a table of contents based on titles makes navigation within multi-page notebooks almost effortless. Boox doesn’t have this feature, although you can do something similar with tags, but again, it feels clumsy.
Fourthly, the Supernote is very light and easy to carry around, compared to Boox tablets, which tend to be heavier because they have more powerful hardware.
Fifthly, the battery life on the Supernote is very good, lasting around a week, with several hours of use, five days per week. In comparison, newer Boox tablets with Boox Super Refresh (BSR), whilst allowing a smoother experience when using third-party apps, will drain the battery a lot faster (I got a little over a day’s worth of similar usage from the Boox Note Air3 C).
Subjectively, the minimalist experience of the Supernote (no frontlight, speakers, third-party apps etc.) actually makes the experience more analogue and akin to using a pad of paper rather than an electronic device – to me, Boox devices feel like I am using a computer.
Also, from a subjective standpoint, having a device completely devoted to ideation, planning, and note-taking helps me to focus on my work without distraction. And whilst it is possible to disable notifications from Boox tablets or even install a minimalist Android launcher, I am the sort of person that will use features that are available, even to my own detriment. When I use Boox, it is so easy for me to fall into a black hole of web browsing or social media just because it is there – I have no such problem with the Supernote because it is limited to features that keep me productive.
And I think this comes down to personality type. There are plenty of people that can use Boox tablets for exactly what they need without becoming sidetracked by other things – and I seem to be able to use Boox pretty productively myself for study-related tasks. But when it comes to work, the Supernote just puts me into a high-level state of focus that I don’t get from any other e-ink tablet (except perhaps the reMarkable 2), and I am super-productive.
Again, subjectively, I love the unique tactile feel of writing on the Supernote. It is so exact and precise and, to me, just feels really nice. And most of the pens look awesome as well.
Finally (and again this is subjective), I just like Ratta Supernote as a company. Their goal is not to compete with all the bells and whistles that you get with a Boox tablet but to focus on the subset of users (like myself) that put a high value on a great writing and note-taking experience. I don’t want to go into too much detail about this here (I cover it elsewhere on the website) but they seem to genuinely care about their user base, bring innovative software updates, and have high regard for the sustainability and longevity of their products.
Whilst the Supernote is not the most versatile e-ink tablet, the note-taking experience (for me) is far superior to any other device.
It has a fantastic set of really useful and intuitive features that makes navigation and organisation of my notebooks (and calendar) quick and easy.
It has a certain minimalistic charm that makes me feel greatly satisfied whenever I am using it (a feeling somewhere between pleasant and joyous).
And, most importantly, it keeps me highly focused and productive.
Unfortunately, the A5X is no longer in production, but may be available on the open-box or second-hand markets (take a look at buying options here).
About the author
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.