A few years back I was introduced to one of the earlier versions of the Livescribe Smartpen. At the time I remember being very impressed with the technology, so when I had the opportunity to review this current version, I jumped at it.
It a nutshell, the smartpen gives you the best of both worlds – you get the tactical feel of pen and paper, with the smarts of having those notes digitised, for later referencing and searching. I have never found writing with a stylus on a tablet to be any good, so this smartpen is a good hybrid solution.
The smartpen has three components:
- The pen itself
- A dot paper notebook
- An iOS device (iPad or iPhone)
Installation is quite simple. Find the Livescribe app in the app store, install it, then turn on the pen to pair it. Once this is done, you’re ready to go.
To turn the pen on, you twist it in the middle, which also extends the nib of the pen out (this prevents use of the pen without it being switched on). Charging is done through the micro USB port at the end.
The pen has a small infrared camera which picks up tiny dots printed all over the paper. The notebooks are inexpensive to buy, or if you have a printer capable of printing at 600dpi, you can print your own paper.
Because each piece of paper in the notebook has dots unique to it, the app can separate your notes by not only notebook, but also by page.
One of the most powerful features of the pen is the ability to record meetings. To begin a recording, just tap the record image in the notebook. Not only does the app record your notes, but also the audio (using the iOS device). Using the Pencast mode of the app, you can play back the audio and watch your notes draw before your eyes. If you need to jump to a specify point, this is also achievable.
The best part of this, is in a meeting, you no longer have to take detailed notes, or worry about missing an important part. Your notes now only have to be a summary of what’s being said, as you can easily recall all the discussion of the meeting from the audio.
The second feature I am most impressed with is the note transcribing. In Feed mode, if you swipe from left to write, the app converts your handwriting to text, making it easier to search in future.
In the interest of science, I roped in my cafe staff and a random customer to get them to write. Even with the five different types of hand writing, the app was able to convert to text pretty accurately.
The pen also has internal memory in it, so if you’re not within range of your iOS device, you can still take notes which will sync once back in range.
I’m a big fan of the Livescribe pen, my only complaint is no Android support at this time, though I’m told this will be available later in the year. If this support was out now, I would be purchasing one of these right now.
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