At Splice, we’ve been closely following the changes and improvements in the world of Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELNs) to keep you updated. In this review, we’re focusing on the best electronic lab notebooks that offer the best price-performance ratio.
ELN software from PerkinElmer, Agilent Technologies, BIOVIA (formerly known as Accelrys), and IDBS won’t be on our list as their features lean more toward enterprise-level solutions. This review also doesn’t include Lab Inventory Management Systems (a.k.a. LIMS), which sometimes include bare-bone ELN-like features.
Currently, there are over 100 electronic lab notebooks available for researchers. In this article, we list the top 10 ELN software that fit our criteria and can support industry and academic research labs. The reviews follow below.
Paper Lab Notebooks
Let’s start with the tried-and-true paper lab notebooks. They’ve been around for centuries (even da Vinci had one) and can be found in every scientist’s cabinet. Sure, paper notebooks have their perks—they’re inexpensive and don’t need batteries to operate. But are they the most efficient way to record scientific research data?
Well, not really. Not digitizing experimental records results in a 17% loss of research data, and paper lab notebook can become bottlenecks in data management, especially when it comes to tracking digital data. They limit knowledge sharing, pose data integrity threats, and incur significant costs. Plus, they take up a ton of space.
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 of ELNs
Now, let’s take a glimpse into the future. Thanks to lab automation and digitization, researchers are achieving a level of output like never before imaginable. With emerging knowledge-sharing platforms, data can be distributed globally in a flash. The integration-based approach has allowed science to flourish and interoperability is swiftly becoming the new buzzword in modern research process. 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 gluing. Exciting, right?
While digital platforms like Google Docs, Share Point, Office Online, and One Drive emerged as alternatives to paper notebooks, they still fall short. Although they offer collaboration features, they can’t record the context of R&D work, metadata, or provide traceability or data security measures for regulated environments. They do not provide any structure to your research data, and are not designed at all for recording lab work or ensuring data integrity.
Enter the Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN)
An electronic laboratory notebook isn’t just a replacement for paper. Designed with scientific research labs in mind, it brings forth systematic, secure, and efficient research data storage, along with interoperable data distribution and improved data integrity.
Most ELNs today are cloud-based (some even have apps for mobile devices). This means that researchers can seamlessly collaborate in real-time, eliminate tedious manual data exchange, and overcome hurdles in communication. Electronic laboratory notebooks also incorporate data security measures to ensure research knowledge is well-protected, and prevent accidental loss of research data.
Since 2000, when governments worldwide granted electronic records the same validity as paper, the number of available ELN software has skyrocketed. Funding agencies like NIH and the European Commission have implemented research data management policies due to the rise of digital scientific data. Now, 75% of labs show interest in electronic lab notebooks, and those numbers keep climbing each year. Some still claim that paper is easier, but universities even need to run courses on paper lab book documentation—just check out Columbia University’s lab notebook maintenance manual and decide for yourself.
Regardless of your stance, it’s clear that a digital revolution is upon us. With over 100 ELNs out there, it can be overwhelming to choose. That’s why we’ve gathered the 9 absolute best ELN software to make your transition smoother when you decide to take the red pill.
Stay tuned for the reviews coming right up!
Our criteria – ELN Software features under the magnifying glass
Here are the criteria we are using to evaluate the following electronic lab notebooks:
|INTEROPERABILITY AND FLEXIBILITY
|BUSINESS MODEL AND PRICING
9 Best ELN Software Reviewed:
A user-friendly, cloud based ELN software with built-in lab inventory management, compliance, and team collaboration tools. It was started in 2016 by a group of biotech researchers , and it grew into a data management platform with additional laboratory management tools. Because of a focus on user experience, it is designed based on use cases in the lab, and has a modern user interface and structure that differ from many other ELNs.
- Intuitive and easy to use
- Great customer support and accessible training materials.
- Visualized workflow and file hierarchy (orginize projects/experiments/tasks)
- Built-in inventory management and protocol management (protocol templates and protocol library)
- MS Office integration, API
- Automatically generates reports
- Free account and free ELN mobile app
- No integration with CRISPR/CAS9 genome editing software
- Free account is for individuals not groups
- ELN software cost to access premium features
RSpace was first envisioned in 2012 at the University of Wisconsin, designed to support multiple groups in comparison to its predecessor eCAT. Later, through the collaboration
between several academic institutions, the software grew to become a feature-rich electronic laboratory notebook software well-known for its large number of integrations. It also introduced inventory management feature in 2020. Now based in Edinburgh, it is used by a large number of academic institutions.
- 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 integration
- GUI could use improvements
- Lack customization and flexibility
Probably one of the most known electronic lab notebooks due to its pre-IPO status in biotech, rapid expansion, and an incredibly high valuation, Benchling actually started out in an academic lab at MIT. It’s now a cloud-based platform for biotechnology R&D, with a large number of applications including an electronic laboratory notebook and molecular biology design functionalities. While it offers a free ELN option for academia, the applications seem to be designed more for enterprise-level use in biotech and pharmaceutical companies.
- Useful DNA tools (CRISPR guide and primer design)
- Templates for sequence mapping and sharing
- Free account with 10 GB of storage space
- Long onboarding time; deep learning curve to achieve simple tasks
- Limited (support) video content
- Expensive, extra ELN software costs for support or various applications (e.g. Workflow)
SAPIO Science provides lab informatics platform with electronic lab notebook, LIMS, and data integration solution. It emphasizes its informatics and workflow, and includes a specific feature call Jarvis that is meant to pull in instrument and application data directly from the source into its ELN and LIMS. It also has data analysis tools to provide data visualization and interactive rendering.
- Modern user interface
- Useful DNA tools (e.g., plasmid editor, CRISPER design)
- Built-in statistic feature
- No free option
- Report generation and structure data capture only available in higher level paid options
ELABJOURNAL (part of eLabNext products)
While other ELN companies usually build out functionalities based on an ELN foundation, eLabJournal is actually eLabNext’s 3rd product, following its protocol management (eLabProtocols) and inventory management (eLabInventory) software that eLabJournal integrates with.
- Useful add-ons and software integrations
- Flexible structure for protocol generation
- Collaboration option
- GUI not very intuitive or structured
- Lack video tutorials; unclear access to support page
- No free option except for protocol management.
LabGuru’s system is an all-in-one platform integrating an electronic lab notebook, LIMS, inventory management, automation, and informatics from different sources. It includes a set of pre-defined automation tools that simplifies automation.
- Advanced tagging system for easy search
- Track recording from batch number to concentration
- Modern interface
- Not very intuitive
- Project view too complex
- No free plan available
- Expensive subscription
- Lack video tutorials
Labfolder is an electronic lab notebook developed by Germany-based company Labforward, founded in 2012. Labfolder integrates with two other products from Labforward: the Labregister (for lab inventory management) and the Laboperate (for lab automation).
- Free account for smaller teams and free mobile device app
- Integration with Mendeley
- Not very intuitive
- Unflattering structured design
- The free option is limited to 3 team members, total 3GB of storage
eELabFTW is a free an open-source electronic lab notebook, typically run locally. The company behind eLabFTW (Deltablot) does offer a hosted option and paid user support.
- Focus on open-source option
- Translation available in different languages
- GUI could use an update
- No free option
- Lack video tutorials; unclear what other resources are available for hosted option
- Open-source option requires technical background to set up
LabArchives is an ELN that comes with good note sharing features tailored for academic users. Feature-wise, it ticks all the boxes you will look for in an academic electronic lab notebook, as its focus is on institution-wide implementation at universities or research institutes.
- Pubmed references entry editor
- Integration with GraphPad Prism
- Good file sharing features
- The graphical user interface needs a lot of improvements, not intuitive
- Quite complicated, additional training necessary
- Not a lot of storage space in the free version (total 1GB, max 25 MB/file)
- Limited support, direct contact
Every laboratory has its unique expectations, objectives, and capabilities, making it highly unlikely for a single, universal electronic lab notebook software to fully meet their diverse needs.
The laboratories of the future will undoubtedly depend on the seamless interoperability of instruments and devices. Fortunately, the best ELN software we have listed here are already ahead of the game, some demonstrating compatibility with mobile devices and various digital platforms. As technology advances, instrument compatibility will follow suit. This is something that can’t be achieved through analog systems such as paper notebooks.
If you are considering implementing an electronic lab notebook software in your lab, we are here to assist you. Take advantage of our free ELN Vendors Validation Template, a valuable resource to navigate the plethora of options and make an informed decision.
In conclusion, being a researcher in this era is pretty exciting. We’re witnessing a remarkable digital revolution in the realm of science, and it’s bringing endless possibilities for exploration and discovery. COVID-19 has certainly acted as a catalyst to accelerate this transition. Electronic laboratory notebooks are leading the charge when it comes to research data management, and it’s like a breath of fresh air for labs everywhere.
With so many fantastic electronic lab notebooks to choose from, each offering its own unique set of tools to make your work easier and more effective, I hope this review has helped you find the best electronic lab notebook that fits for your needs, so that you can move away from paper notebook and take a step into the future.
Ready to dive in? Here’s a step-by-step guide on selecting the best electronic lab notebook for your lab. Check out “A Complete Guide to Selecting an Electronic Lab Notebook for Your Lab” and get ready to embrace a digital tomorrow.
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.
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 software should ideally work on all major operating systems and browsers. This is an important factor especially if you are consideration lab automation.
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 electronic lab notebooks, it comes down to the specific needs of your lab. Based on the criteria described in this review SciNote electronic lab notebook scored the highest overall, however, we encourage you to review all contenders and find the best electronic lab notebook for you!