Every now and again a curiosity comes along that leaves you scratching your head: why didn’t anyone think of it before? Against all expectations when you first take it out of the box, the Digimemo is one such product.

As its name implies, the Digimemo is a digital note-taker, identical in size and dimensions to a conventional paper clipboard, and every bit as simple to use. In the middle sits a pad of 150 x 211mm paper – any equivalent paper pad will work - on which you take notes using a supplied digital writing pen. The only limitation is that the thickness of the pad can’t be more than 12mm or roughly 120 sheets of paper.

After inserting four AAA batteries into the Digimemo and one minuscule button cell into the special Digimemo pen, you can start taking notes as you would on any sheet of paper. Every time you move to a new sheet of paper (the pen writes in conventional ink as well as registering the impressions electro-magnetically), you press a button to load a new electronic page. This you must remember to do or you’ll be overlaying your new notes on the previous electronically-registered page. A small LCD tells you which page you’re on.

The pages are collected in an 8MB internal memory, which is enough to take screeds of notes by our reckoning. In the unlikely event this isn’t enough space, this can be supplemented by plugging a CompactFlash card into a slot on the Digimemo’s side. Each memory store can hold a maximum of 999 digital pages each.

At the end of a note-taking session, getting the digital notes into a PC can be achieved either by using the CompactFlash card in a reader, or simply hooking up the Digimemo itself using its USB port. The software package is orientated towards keeping the notes in their visual form, and allows the user to store them in a proprietary format or turn them into a compressed format such as Jpeg.

File size is no problem. During tests, the average seemed to under 25KB – about the same as a basic Microsoft Word document. Notes can be amended using the drawing tools, emailed as attachments, or printed. The joy of the idea is that you always have not only the digital page but the identical ink one, giving you an automatic backup.

For those who want to risk it, a handwriting recognition program is supplied. This would be one way of turning notes into text, but it seems to be against the spirit of the invention to do this. The Digimemo is a way of storing precisely the notes you scribbled on a piece of paper, doodles and all. To some this might sound like a drawback, but to many it is the whole point. A page of hand-written, diagrammatic notes can often convey far more information to the author of those notes than trying to put the same notes into a text form.

The Digimemo’s nearest competition is clearly one of a number of expensive laptops using Microsoft’s Tablet PC software. These have some advantages over the Digimemo; they are more oriented towards turning notes into text, they integrate the note-taking application within Microsoft Office, they look pretty “cool”. But we’d suggest the Digimemo does 90 percent of that and retails for a fraction of the cost of one of those machines.

Who should think about using one of these devices? Anyone who attends lots of meetings that require note taking and wants a way of sharing them digitally, or perhaps just archiving them without keeping stacks of paper. Similarly, engineers who draw lots of diagrams would find it a useful way to keep them electronically for future reference.

The downsides are small. You can’t lose the pen or the device will be useless (replacements are available). The unit is powered from AAA batteries, so a spare set is a must. Other than that, this is a commendable product that makes complicated and pricey alternatives look remarkably silly.

OUR VERDICT

Tablet PCs are the obvious competitor, but they cost £1,000 and up. They combine visual note-taking with the functions of a conventional laptop, of course, but is it necessary to pay so much for such a simple application?