By Thomas Shambler
Montblanc's new 'augmented' paper turns written scribbles into digital notes
Five years ago, the only luxury brand that was dabbling in the world of technology was Vertu. And far from becoming a dominant player in the mobile market, it remains an outsider – despite the fact that its product is, in fact, a piece of technology. But over the last few years – probably on the back of brands like Apple and Google increasingly vying for luxury status – a few other high-end brands have thrown their velvet-lined hats into the technological ring.
Most notably, Montblanc has become no stranger to the gadget field. Last year it announced not a smartwatch (like its competitors at TAG Heuer), but a smart 'e-strap'. The deceptively clever gadget isn't meant to be worn as a standalone device. Instead it's paired with a TimeWalker Urban Speed watch. By adding smarts to the strap and not the watch itself, Montblanc managed to please both techno-savvy punters and the horological inclined as well.
Its second stab at technology came through a partnership with Samsung. Not only supplying leather-bound cases (that replace the back cover entirely, not just wrap around it) but a smart stylus. The e-Starwalker looks like a regular Montblanc writing instrument but has a stylus inside. It lets users take notes via their device, and – with the twist of the body – hides an 'analogue' pen, too.
But now Montblanc has revealed its latest effort: Montblanc Augmented Paper. It's a US$685 notepad that will take your written notes and doodles and transfer them into the digital domain. It's true; the leather envelope looks like an expensive folio accessory, but it's pleasing to the touch (Montblanc uses the same supple black Italian leather for this as its Urban Spirit collection). Open it up, however, and you'll find a specially-adapted StarWalker ballpoint pen and the included paper notebook, under which lies Montblanc's handwriting recognition technology.
Using the device couldn't be simpler. You write notes using the StarWalker on the pad, and while you do that, an electric panel underneath the paper records all the strokes of the pen. It can recognise words, symbols and even absent-minded doodles. Once you're done writing, press the button on the side, and all your scribbles will be transferred wirelessly to a bespoke app in digital form. The clever part is that once transferred the Augmented Paper will convert your handwritten notes into searchable text.
Montblanc says its augmented paper is best-in-class, with handwriting recognition in 12 languages, including English, German, Russian, Spanish, Italian and Chinese. However, in practice, you're going to need to keep your handwriting nice and neat (if you want the software to make it searchable, that is). If you have scrawled or rushed handwriting, you're sure to confuse the digitisation technology. Montblanc recommends you use its own brand of paper. However, the pad will work just as well with any old foolscap.
The rechargeable battery provides eight hours of use, while the on-board memory lets you take notes on 100 pages before needing to wirelessly transfer your notes to the app (which is available on both iOS and Android). For keen note takers, there are three ballpoint refills for the StarWalker pen tucked safely inside.