Livescribe Pulse SmartPen review (Gadgets)Posted on March 6th, 2009 No comments
Notes, notes, notes. In my real life as a web designer and software developer, I meet with clients routinely. During the course of these meetings, brainstorming sessions take place and I try to write down all the ideas and directions as fast as I can. However more times than not, I have a hard time focusing on my note taking and the discussion at the same time. Over the past month, I have been using a simple device that is proving to be very effective in keeping me involved in the discussion and taking notes at the same time. That device is the LiveScribe 1GB Pulse Smartpen available on Amazon.com or Target stores. The pen writes like an ordinary pen, but the similarities stop there. The pen also records your handwriting using special notebook paper and it records audio at the same time. Ok, I know what your thinking….so what! Well, during the audio playback, use the pen and tap on any word or drawing that you wrote while recording and the audio plays back exactly what was being said at that time. Here’s the awesome part. Now I don’t have to take meticulous notes or jot down verbatim the ideas, slogan or specific wording that comes up. I just write down various keywords or snippets of the conversation. Then, when I am back at my computer or whenever I need to go over what was said at the meeting, I just tap on a word or diagram that I jotted down, listen to the conversation and take any action that need be. Apart from the purchase of the pen, you do need to use special paper to make all this happen. Sure, the pen will write on regular paper, but the beauty and functionality is in the paper as well. Each page of the paper is coded with thousands of little dots that tell the pen (through its infrared sensor) what page in the notebook the writing is taking place and where on the page. If you look very closely at a page (at my age I have to use my glasses) you can see the little dots. However, they are not noticeable otherwise. The special paper is available in college ruled spiral bound notebooks and both lined and unlined journals. They are sold in packs (usually 4 notebooks per pack in notebook form and 2 per pack in journal form) with each notebook or journal numbered. Yes, the pen even knows which notebook or journal was used to take the notes! I’ll show you where this comes into play in a moment. At the bottom of each page, there are various icons that you can tap with the pen to start/stop recording, pause, adjust volume, playback speed, audio bookmarking and a way to jump to various places in your recording.
Even though you can use just the pen and paper for note taking and audio recording, you can add to it’s functionality by downloading the LiveScribe software that is available for both Windows and Mac OS with the Mac version just released out of beta. The pen comes with a nice little USB charger/dock. There is a magnet in the dock and all you do is set the pen flat in the dock and the magnet guides the pen in the proper spot so that the connecting points are lined up. When you launch the LiveScribe software, it senses the pen and begins a transfer of the audio and pen strokes stored on the pen. If it is the first time connecting the pen, you will be prompted to name and register the pen. After the transfer, the LiveScribe application will display each notebook used in the left panel and the pages with notes on the right panel. I have a separate notebook for my web design and custom software meetings, another for personal notes and a journal that I record information for my kids high school hockey and baseball activities (I’m their coach for both of these…whew!)
All my notes are stored on my Mac through the LiveScribe software. You can view the note pages, print them out or even click on an area of the note to hear the recording, just like when using the paper. I can delete the notes on the pen to conserve storage space on the pen and still have all the notes and audio available through the software.
Currently, the SmartPen comes in a 1GB and 2GB version. $149 for the 1GB model and $199 for the 2GB model. According to the LiveScribe website, the 1GB model can store 100 hours of audio recording, however there are various audio recording quality modes that may affect this number. The audio quality is very good and I usually leave it on the default setting. You can change the audio quality to various modes including mono, stereo and with the included headset you can even record in 3D. There is a microphone in each earpiece and the headset has a special jack that fits into the end of the pen that allows this. You cannot use your regular headphones (such as the ones you use on an iPod or iPhone) as the SmartPen has a 2.5mm jack whereas most devices with headphone jacks are the 3.55mm inch kind. I usually listen through the speaker located on the side of the pen itself and have no problems.
You wouldn’t think that a pen could have applications, but the Pulse Pen does. Pre-installed on the pen are various utilities such as time, date, battery life remaining and storage remaining. You can get to these utilities by taping on the menu icon on the paper or just draw your own menu icon. There is even a development kit for the pen that allows developers to write applications specifically for the pen. A few that are included in the pen include Calc, Piano and Translator. With Calc, you can write an equation on paper and the LCD display on the pen will show you the result. Handy if you don’t have a calculator around. My iPhone has a calculator app, so I don’t really use this feature. There is also a Piano application that guides you through drawing a simple piano keyboard on paper. When you are finished drawing the keyboard, you simply tap on the simulated keys to emit a piano like sound from the pen. I sense a good bar bet with this. “Hey, I bet I can draw a piano keyboard and play notes that you can hear” There is a demo translator that will convert English into Spanish, Swedish, Arabic and Mandarin. There are only a handful of words and the numbers zero to nine to work with. I have no idea why those languages, but having the pen say “Beer” in Mandarin is a hoot. Hmmm…something more for that bar bet.
Overall, I give the LiveScribe Pulse Pen 5 Gizzies on a scale of 1 to 5. A Gizzy is a Gizbitz rating that I just made up. I use the pen constantly and it is always in my laptop bag or on my desk. Various accessories such as the Livescribe Single Subject Spiral Notebook, 4-Pack, Nos. 1-4, Premium Leather Case and SmartPen Ink Cartridges should be on your list too, either for yourself or a great gift for that note taker in your life.
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