I ordered a Livescribe Pulse Smartpen a few weeks ago after seeing an ad for it. Having now used it for a few weeks I can honestly say that, other than my various Apple products, this may well be my favorite technology purchase ever.
It certainly has all of the qualities necessary to stand out as a tech “home run”. It certainly has the “cool gadget dimension handled. Likewise it has the “technology that makes your life easier and you more efficient” market covered. And to think, I sat looking at the sealed box for two days after it arrived from Amazon debating whether or not I would actually open it.
Let’s take a look at this remarkable gadget… I mean… Work device. Let’s take a closer look…
The Pulse smartpen records and links audio to what you write, so you never miss a word.
Capture Everything: The Pulse smartpen records audio and links it to what you write. Missed something? Tap on your notes or drawings with the tip of your Pulse smartpen to hear what was said while you were writing.
No Need to Lug the Laptop: The Pulse smartpen automatically captures everything as you write and draw. Transfer your notes to your computer, organize them, and even search for words within your notes. Find what you want in seconds.
Share Your Notes: Transform your notes and audio into interactive movies. Upload your creations online for everyone to see, hear and play.
What Comes In The Box-
-The Pulse smartpen (1.3 ounces, anodized aluminum housing)
-2 GB of memory (actual user available memory will be less)
-Livescribe Desktop software (download)
-3-D Recording Headset
-100 sheet dot paper college-ruled notebook
-USB mobile charging cradle
-3 black fine point ink cartridges + 1 stylus cartridge
-Demo card and interactive stickers
-Interactive Getting Started Guide
-Intel Mac with Mac OS X 10.5.5 or newer, Windows XP™ 32-bit SP2 or higher, or Windows Vista™ 32 or 64-bit operating system
-600MHz CPU or higher
-300 MB minimum free disk space
-Available USB port
-Livescribe Dot Paper (purchased or printed yourself)
The pen is available in two different versions — each exactly the same, except that one has 1 GB of memory and the other has 2 GB of memory. I opted to spend the additional $50 to get the 2 GB of memory but in retrospect 1 GB would’ve been more than enough, particularly since I dock the pen every night which frees up space. Other than the capacity difference, the systems are exactly the same.
The pen is an interesting device. Bigger than the standard pens, it is even thicker than my Pelican fountain pen, and that is one big pen! Despite its size, the pen is actually rather comfortable in the hand and is, thankfully, well-balanced. It is an unusual looking device that immediately indicates it is no standard pen. It has a small LED display, a speaker, a built-in headphone jack and the built-in microphone.
When you first turn on the pen immediately asks you to set up. It asks you to indicate whether you’re a lefty or righty, and it asks you to set the time and date. Both of these activities immediately give you a taste of what it is like to use the pen since the setup actually takes place by tapping specific icons on the starter notebook. You are then “invited” by the pen to turn to the first page of the starter notebook and walk-through the basic tutorial for using the pen and paper replay functionality. Don’t forget, the pen is, in and of itself, a computer and a relatively powerful one at that, and so it does everything but say, “Listen up dummy, I’m the boss here, just follow my lead and you’ll be using me in no time…”.
The Desktop Software-
The next step is to install the desktop software. Now available for both Windows and Mac, I love the fact that the company doesn’t include a CD with the software but rather, assuming that anyone using such a pen has easy access to the Internet, invites you to download the software from their website. Not only is it more convenient but it’s also more environmentally appropriate. After all, it makes no sense to include a CD or DVD of software that will likely be used once or twice and be obsolete as soon as the first updated version is released.
[Note from Judie – It’s also much more convenient for those (like me) who are using a laptop or netbook that doesn’t have an optical drive!]
Software installation is typical, and within a few minutes you’re invited to plug in the USB mobile charging cradle and place the pen on it. This will charge it, set up the connection between the pen and the computer and invite you to register your device. Registration is definitely worthwhile here, as it increases your warranty and support from 90 days to year, provides software updates, and gives you free space on the company’s servers for uploading your documents. From there, you’re good to go.
The third piece of technology that goes into making this experience is the notebook. The paper has tiny dots all over it that are picked up and recorded by an infrared receiver in the tip of the pen. It tracks the location of the pen, so that the patterns can be recreated on the computer and linked to the specific words being spoken at the time those marks were made.
There are a number of different sizes and styles of pads in the books available, and while they are certainly more expensive than standard paper, the amount of paper what you get with each packet is relatively plentiful. In addition, if need be, you can now choose to print your own paper and save yourself some money. I prefer to use their notebooks, since they include tutorials and other gizmos that be quite useful such as a calculator and they come nicely bound. In fact, when I first ordered the pen from Amazon I also ordered a number of the special moleskin notebooks that are part of the system. I love the way they feel they’re exactly the right size to carry with me all the time for quick notes. When you turn to any page of the notebook is immediately apparent that this is no typical notebook. On the bottom of each page there are controls for using the pen and an easy understanding of the functionality they offer.
Before ordering the unit, I had read up quite a bit on the device and watched a few overviews on YouTube. Still, the first time that I saw the pen re-create a page of notes on my computer within seconds I was blown away. Then, when I was able to tap in my notebook on the word, or click the word on my screen and in both cases hear what was being said at the time — I was in awe! This is advanced technology that actually works exceptionally well. It does so seamlessly.
Using of the device-
As previously noted, when the unit arrived from Amazon I did something that is absolutely out of character — I didn’t open the box immediately. In fact, for three days I debated whether or not I was going to open the box or send it back to Amazon sealed. About five minutes after finally deciding to open the package I realized that I had wasted my time debating this — this is one of the most remarkable pieces of technology I’ve ever seen and it has an amazing way of combining of the “wow” factor that all of us techno-geeks look for and real-world usefulness.
The ability to sit in a meeting and take notes and then, within a few moments of getting home at night, have the pages re-created on my computer and backed up by Time machine is absolutely something that I need since I’m prone to losing paper. (For years I used a tablet PC to do this but the choice between carrying a 4 pound tablet PC everywhere versus carrying the pen and a moleskin notebook isn’t a choice, it’s an obvious decision.) Having the added functionality of being able to record what is going on in the room as I take my notes as an added bonus and while I will likely not use this functionality as often as simply using the pen to take notes, having it available to me is a wonderful benefit.
Earlier today I loaded the desktop software on my HP 2140 and tested it out on a Windows machine. It worked as well as it does with my Mac – albeit slower due to the differences in the hardware. One reason I tried it on my HP 2140 was I wanted to test out new released software from Vision Objects. Theirconverts your handwritten notes to text. Sadly it’s not currently available for OSx. I took a page of notes and then attempted to convert it to text. The process was simple — once I cradled my pen the desktop software re-created the page on the computer. I then The “convert” icon in the desktop software and it automatically send the page to be my script software where, a few minutes later, it was flawlessly converted to text. This is a remarkable addition to the system and something that I hope will be coming to the Mac soon.
The Pulse Smartpen is the answer to my longing for the functionality of my tabletpcs without needing to use a Windows device. It works incredibly well in a variety of work settings and has already come in handy a number of times. It is one piece of hardware that is now ALWAYS with me!
What I Like-
Amazingly simple to set up
Works exactly as advertised
Lets you recreate notes on your computer and connect them to what was said at the time
Fulfills much of what a tabletpc can do for less money and let weight
What Needs Improvement-
Requires special paper and pen refills
Transcription software is extra and currently Windows only
More information can be found at the LiveScribe website. The smartpen is available for an MSRP of $199.96 for 2GB and $149.95 for the 1 GB. It is available from the manufacturer, Amazon, and other retailers.