The Digital Pen That Delivers

I was in a meeting a few months ago and one of the vendors had an unusual looking pen. I quickly did a Google search and discovered the pen was called a “LiveScribe” pen and it has quite a loyal following.  The pen digitizes your handwriting, records meeting audio and a whole lot more.  After some online research and the discovery of a great deal on eBay I had one to try for myself.

The first thing I noticed once I unpacked the pen is its size.  I’m used to full sized pens with the daily use of my Dunhill Sidecar but this one was just a little bit chunkier (and all plastic).  The weight is well balanced and it’s pretty easy to get used to the feel of the pen.

The “secret” to the LiveScribe system is a special Moleskine like notebook with micro-dot paper and a pen with a infra-red camera in the tip. Navigation “buttons” at the bottom of each page control various functions of the pen.

If you don’t want to use the Moleskine type notebooks you can print your own pages if you have access to a 600 dpi color printer.  Other notebooks are available in various form factors.

After you turn on the pen (important) and take notes, you plug the pen into your computer and the software downloads a copy of your notebook.  The mico-dots tell the application what notebook and page the notes were written on.  You can have up to 8 notebooks in the system (200 pages each) before you have to start archiving data.  It’s pretty impressive how well this all works.  Individual pages from multiple notebooks can be grouped together into a virtual notebook within the software.  All pages can be printed for more flexibility.  Being left handed I found the spiral bound started notebook to be a little difficult to use but the Moleskine type books are working great.

The latest software upgrade allows you to draw a double line anywhere on the page and write “email”, “Facebook”, or “Evernote” and once you sync the pen your notes will perform that pre-defined action, such as email a copy of your notes as a PDF.

A built-in audio recording function allows you to record meetings and directly tie the recording timeline to your notes.  After the meeting you can tap any word in your notes and the recording will start playing what was recording when you were writing that particular word.  I have played with this feature a few times but very few of the meetings I attend really need to be recorded.  I did use it for a 2-hour vendor seminar and it worked perfectly.  The 4GB model will record up to 400 hours of audio.

Livescribe offers various applications such as foreign language translations and games such as hangman.  One of the most used features, besides the pen, is the calculator.  Inside the notebook covers (front and back) are calculator “buttons” that you can tap on at any time to perform just about any calculation.  If you need to perform scientific calculations an optional app and calculator card can be purchased for around $6.

For those of you that use Evernote, all of your notes can be synchronized with the online service.  An optional OCR application can even turn your handwritten notes into editable text!

This pen has a lot of powerful functions built into a small package.  The development of applications is a little slow but the apps that are available are solid and work as advertised.

The biggest thing you have to get used to is turning the pen on each time you use it.  If you don’t turn it on the pen will not capture your notes electronically & it works just like a (dumb) pen.

The Livescribe system, which includes the pen and a starter notebook is priced as follows:

  • 4GB Model $149.99**
  • 8GB Model $199.99
  • Journals vary in price from $9.99-19.99

**I was able to find my 4GB model on eBay for about 1/2 price.

It remains to be seen if the Livescribe pen is a toy or a productivity tool.  For now I’ll have to say the concept is working quite well and I have been happy with the purchase.

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