Livescribe Pulse Smartpen Review


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…cimg0313-1

Their Take-

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.

My Take-

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
-Smartpen case
-3 black fine point ink cartridges + 1 stylus cartridge
-Demo card and interactive stickers
-Interactive Getting Started Guide

System Requirements-
-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
-Internet connection
-Livescribe Dot Paper (purchased or printed yourself)

The pen is available in two different versions — each 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 the same.

Setup —

The Pen-

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 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 a built-in microphone.

When you first turn it 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. 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 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 Paper-


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 pen’s location 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 several different sizes and styles of pads in the books available. While they are certainly more expensive than standard paper, the amount of paper you get with each packet is relatively plentiful. 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 how 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. There are controls for using the pen and an easy understanding of the functionality they offer on the bottom of each page.

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 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 an advanced technology that actually works exceptionally well. It does so seamlessly.

Using 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. It has an amazing way of combining 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 TimeMachine 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 recording what is going on in the room as I take my notes as a 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.

Addendum —

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. I tried it on my HP 2140 because I wanted to test out newly released software from Vision Objects. My Script software ($29.95) converts 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. Once I cradled my pen, the process was simple– the desktop software re-created the page on the computer. I then The “convert” icon in the desktop software, and it automatically sends 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.

In Short-

The Pulse Smartpen is the answer to my longing for my tablet pcs’ functionality without needing to use a Windows device. It works incredibly well in various work settings and has already come in handy several times. It is one piece of hardware that is now ALWAYS with me!

More information can be found on 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 LiveScribe, Amazon, and other retailers.

Source: Personal purchase

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 less weight

What Needs Improvement: Requires special paper and pen refills; Transcription software is extra and currently Windows only; Expensive


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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.

6 Comments on "Livescribe Pulse Smartpen Review"

  1. Mark Licari | April 24, 2009 at 12:03 pm |

    I have had mine for almost a year and it works as advertised. I occasionaly get a strange look from clients since it is a rather large pen. As a side note, it is very durable. My Blue Heeler puppy pulled it off my desk and chewed on it. The metal casing has some scratches and a few puncture marks, but it still works just fine

  2. Larry Greenberg | April 24, 2009 at 4:04 pm |

    You had me at “favorite.”

    I just ordered myself one. 🙂

  3. thehotrod | May 4, 2009 at 8:49 am |

    This intrigues me. I was thinking about getting a tablet pc, but this might do the trick. What I’d like is to take notes and save them and search them later. Can the Windows software transcribe the notes and make them keyword searchable? Or can I or should I import it into OneNote or Endnote to make searching and archiving easier?

  4. thehotrod | May 4, 2009 at 8:50 am |

    Oh, I should have went to the website first. Yes, I can search.

  5. RT @geardiary: Review – Livescribe Pulse Smartpen This is only £99 on now, looks very cool indeed.

  6. RT @lukejr RT @geardiary Livescribe Pulse Smartpen only £99 on now, looks very cool < on my Xmas wishlist

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