Best electronic lab notebook review (ELN) for your lab 2021 (2022)

Splice has been actively following the changes and improvements of the Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELNs) landscapeto provide you with the latest information. This June (2020), we updated our list of the Top 9 Best ELNs you can currently choose from. Our review focuses on ELNs that offer the best price-performance ratio.

ELNs from PerkinElmer, Agilent Technologies, BIOVIA (formerly known as Accelrys) and IDBS are missing from the list as their features are more appropriate for regulated environments. At the moment, there are over 100 ELNs available to researchers. In this updated article, we have expanded our previous list of the top 7 ELN list to the top 9 ELNs that fit our criteria and can support academia and the industry. The reviews follow below.

Paper-based Lab Notebooks

It is no secret that the paper-based laboratory notebook is the most widely used form of experimental data tracking in labs worldwide. It has been around for several centuries (even da Vinci had one), and you will find it in the cabinet of every scientist. But does that necessarily imply that it is also the most efficient way of recording scientific data?

Experimental records that aren’t being digitized account for 17% loss of all research data and lab books are becoming the bottlenecks in information management. This poses big repeatability threats, enormous costs and considerable limitations for knowledge sharing within an organization and the community.

To be fair, paper lab books have done a fairly decent job up to this point. Many features make it great; e.g. they’re inexpensive and don’t require batteries to run. On the other hand, there are only a few things we have not modernized for over a century, let alone a millennium. Technological advances simply make things better, and you won’t find anyone doing their taxes on an abacus.

A Glimpse of the Future

Automation and digitization enabled researchers to achieve a level of output like never before imaginable. With hundreds of emerging knowledge-sharing platforms, data can now be globally distributed before you can say “DNA”. The integration-based approach has allowed science to flourish and interoperability is swiftly becoming the new buzzword in modern research. Imagine all your instruments sending analytical data directly into a single software platform. No more running around with USB sticks, copy-pasting, printing, cutting and glueing. Please, do tell more.

Introducing the Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN)

ELN stands for Electronic Laboratory Notebook, but it spans far beyond just a replacement for paper. It brings forth systematical, safe, and efficient data storage along with interoperable data distribution.

The majority of the recently-developed ELNs are set up as cloud-based software (like Dropbox). This means that researchers can seamlessly collaborate in real-time, eliminate tedious manual data exchange, and overcome hurdles in communication.

Did I mention that electronic lab notebooks (ELNs) are coffee-proof?

Since 2000, when worldwide governments issued laws granting all electronic records the same validity as paper records, the number of available ELNs increased exponentially. Today, 75% of labs are showing interest in the technology. The fact that these numbers keep rising with every update to this article (annually) is an excellent sign for ELNs and science in general. Still, naysayers who claim that using paper is easier than its electronic counterpart remain. But is that really the case? Universities conduct whole courses on paper lab book documentation – just look at this lab notebook maintenance manual from Columbia University and decide for yourself what is really easier. If we learned one thing during the COVID-19 crisis, it is that organizations can very rapidly switch to digital if forced to do so.

You might also be interested in: Return on Investment When Implementing an Electronic Lab Notebook

Whatever your stance on electronic lab notebooks may be, it is clear that a digital revolution is at our doorstep. With over 60 ELNs out there, it is tough to decide where to even start. That is why we rounded up the 9 very best ELNs that will make your transition easier for when you choose to take that red pill.

Our criteria – ELN features under the magnifying glass

Best electronic lab notebook review (ELN) for your lab 2021 (2)

USER EXPERIENCE

  • Graphical user interface (GUI)
  • Intuitiveness
  • Support (on-line support, available manuals and video tutorials)
Best electronic lab notebook review (ELN) for your lab 2021 (3)

INTEROPERABILITY AND FLEXIBILITY

  • Multi-device compatibility
  • Working with different operating systems and browsers
  • Cloud
  • Real-time collaboration
  • Instrument integration and open APIs
Best electronic lab notebook review (ELN) for your lab 2021 (4)

BUSINESS MODEL AND PRICING

  • Licensing model, business model and monetization
  • Free version (yes or no)
  • Cost efficiency

The verdict – Our choice of the 9 best ELNs

Best electronic lab notebook review (ELN) for your lab 2021 (5)

PROS:

(Video) Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELN)

  • Intuitive and easy to use
  • Inventory management and MS Office integration
  • Automatically generates reports & manuscript drafts
  • Exports all data in a readable format and API
  • Free account option

CONS:

  • No integration with CRISPR/CAS9 genome editing software

Best electronic lab notebook review (ELN) for your lab 2021 (7)

PROS:

  • Possible archive management, built-in metrics and analytics
  • Can connect to the eCAT sample tracking system
  • Supports chemical structures
  • Free to use with unlimited storage
  • Many integrations

CONS:

  • Not open source
  • GUI could use improvements

PROS:

  • Very user-friendly and quick to set up
  • Useful DNA tools (CRISPR guide and primer design)
  • Templates for sequence mapping and sharing
  • Free account with 10 GB of storage space

CONS:

  • The free plan is tied to a single user and has limited functionalities
  • Limited (support) video content
  • Cannot create reports
  • Expensive and niche-oriented

4. ELABJOURNAL

(Video) Labii Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN)

PROS:

  • Useful add-ons and integrations
  • Flexible structure for protocol generation
  • Collaboration option
  • Good inventory management

CONS:

  • No video support content and unclear access to support page
  • No real-time communication
  • No free option

PROS:

  • Advanced tagging system for easy search
  • Track recording from batch number to concentration

CONS:

  • Not very intuitive
  • Project view too complex
  • No free plan available
  • Expensive subscription
  • No video support content

PROS:

  • Sketching
  • Free account for smaller teams and free mobile app
  • Integration with Mendeley

CONS:

  • Not very intuitive
  • Unflattering structured design
  • The free version is limited to 3 team members

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7. LABARCHIVES

(Video) Sapio's Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) Plasmid Editor Quick Overview

PROS:

  • Pubmed references entry editor
  • Integration with GraphPad Prism

CONS:

  • The graphical user interface needs improvements, not intuitive
  • Quite complicated, additional training necessary
  • Not a lot of storage space in the free version (25 MB)
  • Not open source
  • Limited support, direct contact

PROS:

  • Supports all operating systems and browsers
  • Suitable for high-level chemistry labs

CONS:

  • No free account, only free trial
  • Niche interface, not very intuitive
  • Not open source
  • Only suitable for chemistry labs

PROS:

  • Mendeley Data Repository integration

CONS:

  • Poor GUI
  • No support content
  • Cannot import inventory or protocols
  • No preview of attached files
  • Not compatibile with Android

Each lab has its own set of expectations, intents, and capabilities, which will most likely never be fully met by a single, universal ELN.

Labs of the future will indisputably rely on interoperability of their instruments and devices. I believe that ELNs we have listed here will be capable of withstanding the test of time as they are already compatible with smartphones, tablets, and many other digital gadgets and platforms. The instruments will follow next.

Looking to implement an ELN? We can help. Download ourfree ELN Vendors Validation Chart

(Video) Electronic Lab Notebook Overview | Atlantis Bioscience

Conclusion

It’s an exciting time to be a researcher. We are witnessing a digital revolution in science, and we’ll get to explore the benefits it brings. The COVID-19 restrictions will likely accelerate that transition and have indeed already done so. The electronic laboratory notebook is at the helm of the revolution when it comes to labs and a much-needed breath of fresh air in experimental data management. There are now several great ELNs to choose from, each providing its unique set of tools to make your work easier and more effective. I hope this review will help you choose yours and make a step towards a digital tomorrow.

Decided to give ELNs a try? Here’s a step-by-step guide to selecting the best one for you: A Complete Guide to Selecting an Electronic Lab Notebook for Your Lab

Q&A

What are the key elements to consider when picking an Electronic Laboratory Notebook (ELN)?

Users typically indicate user experience (UX), interoperability, flexibility, and pricing as the most important considerations when it comes to picking an Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN).

What are the characteristics of a good Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) user experience (UX)?

An ideal ELN should be intuitive to use, have an attractive, easy-to-use graphical user interface (GUI), and a dedicated support system (online support agents, manuals and video tutorials).

How can an Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) be interoperable and accessible?

Interoperable ELN’s typically enable multi-device compatibility (desktop, tablet, mobile), cloud access, collaboration in real-time and integrations with lab instruments via open APIs. An ELN should ideally work on all major operating systems and browsers.

What is important to consider when it comes to pricing of Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELNs)?

ELN’s come with various pricing models, it is important to find the one that best fits your needs and capabilities. Look out for vendors offering free versions, they can be a great option for labs on a budget or to simply try the product out before committing to a purchase.

Which Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) will work best for me?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution with ELNs, it comes down to the specific needs of your lab. Based on the criteria described in this review SciNote ELN scored the highest overall, however, we encourage you to review all contenders and find the best fit for you!

(Video) #4 Electronic Lab Notebook | eLabNext Tutorial

By Luka Zupancic MSc,University of Applied Sciences Technikum Vienna

*Splice is a scientific news blog funded byBioSistemika LLC, a software development company that also co-founded sciNote LLC (free open-source ELN). All of the ELNs included in this review were scored by an independent author and researcher, based on the major criteria identified in thelargest study on user perception of electronic lab notebooks ever published, to provide the most relevant and objective insights for our readers. The author states that the views and opinions are entirelyhis own.

FAQs

How do I choose an ELN? ›

The choice for which electronic lab notebook or ELN is the best for you, your team, and your organization, ultimately boils down to preferences around user experience, features, pricing, compliance environment, and so on.

How much does a electronic lab notebook cost? ›

The basic version is free but limits the user to 20 experiments. The pro version costs $49 and allows for an unlimited number of experiments. You can try the pro version for free for 30 days. The lab version costs $196 for 5 users and allows an unlimited number of experiments.

What is the difference between a lab notebook and a regular notebook? ›

They are written in permanent ink, and mistakes are crossed out rather than erased. Lab notebooks have many uses, including record-keeping, organization, and legal proof of your work.

What is ELN software? ›

An Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) is a software tool that in its most basic form replicates an interface much like a page in a paper lab notebook. In an ELN you can enter protocols, observations, notes, and other data using your computer or mobile device.

What is a good lab notebook? ›

Mostly every chemistry lab notebooks include grid graph pages for drawing purposes. Also, they offer the best quality papers and robust, durable binding.
...
Best Lab Notebook: Lab Books for Electronics, Chemistry and Biology.
List of Top 7 Best Lab Notebooks
Best Lab Notebook EverBarbakem Scientific Lab Notebook
Affordable PickiScholar Composition Book
5 more rows
Aug 2, 2022

How do I organize my electronic lab notebook? ›

How to Organize a Lab Notebook and Get the Most Out of Your ELN
  1. Establish a project-based structure rather than a researcher-based structure. ...
  2. Set up robust, up-to-date templates. ...
  3. Set up standardized naming conventions and metadata fields. ...
  4. Set up a robust user permissions hierarchy.
Jul 30, 2021

What is Biovia ELN? ›

BIOVIA Notebook. BIOVIA Notebook is an intuitive web-based ELN which allows users to get up and running quickly with minimal training. It is easy to use on mobile devices, with a flexible experiment editor, powerful search functions, and electronic signatures for procedure authorizations and IP protection.

Is Benchling free for academics? ›

Since 2012, Benchling has modernized the research process for over 200,000 scientists across 7,500+ universities and institutions. Throughout this time, we've always offered our product completely free to academics.

What is Hivebench? ›

Hivebench is an electronic lab notebook created by scientists for scientists. It is meant to help you prepare, conduct, and analyze experiments all in one place. Hivebench improves the content management (protocols, experiments, results, and more) in order to facilitate its utilisation by users.

How do you make a lab notebook? ›

Lab Notebook Set Up | How to - YouTube

Why are lab notebooks important? ›

A Lab Notebook Helps You Keep Track Of Your Work

As long as you carefully record all the steps of your experiments and the results you discover, you can always pick up where you left off after a break. The notebook also helps you double-check your work before you move on to an important step.

How do you make a lab notebook? ›

Lab Notebook Set Up | How to - YouTube

Why is a shared electronic project notebook useful? ›

It's a place where you can record and store your experimental results. Unlike a traditional notebook, an ELN allows you for accessing, sharing, and analyzing data in a way that is not possible with a paper lab book.

How do you use an electronic laptop? ›

How We Use Electronic Lab Notebooks - YouTube

Videos

1. PerkinElmer Signals ™ Notebook Overview Video
(PerkinElmer Informatics)
2. Chemotion ELN and repository
(Chemotion ELN)
3. ELN for Research - Inbox
(LabArchives)
4. STARLIMS ELN - Taking your lab to the next level
(CSols, Inc.)
5. Introduction to SciNote and its main functionalities
(SciNote - Electronic Lab Notebook)
6. How to manage experiments in SciNote | SciNote tutorial
(SciNote - Electronic Lab Notebook)

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