The Livescribe Echo Smartpen aims to drag the humble pen into the modern world by giving it a tech makeover and some serious smarts.
If you’re use to using a cheap Biro the Echo smartpen will bigger in the hand then you’re use to. It’s comfortable to hold, with the rounded bottom half tapering off at the top of the smartpen. At the top the Echo has a USB charging point, headphone socket, power button, OLED display screen, microphone and built in speaker. Around the middle of the pen is a silver band, which unfortunately isn’t totally flush with the main body, not a massive problem but for this high price tag this lets the premium feel down.
At the bottom is a ballpoint ink tip (a replacement is included with the pen) and the smartpens ‘eye’ for looking at the special paper used to take notes. These are protected in transit via a removable cap, a small cap which could be frustratingly easy to misplace as unlike normal pens the cap can’t be stored on the top of the pen, so it has to stay loose. It would’ve been nice if this was somehow attached or been made part of the pen (e.g. retractable into the pen body) in order to prevent it getting lost.
Along with the replacement ink for the Echo smartpen you also get an interactive start guide, tips and tricks booklet and a Livescribe starter notebook, 50 sheets of the dot paper you need to use with the pen.
Setup has been made very simple via the getting started guide that demonstrates the Echos smarts by getting you to not only set up the pen but also getting you to make and playback notes.
Once setup you’re ready to start note taking. In order to achieve this the Livescribe Echo smartpen uses special paper which is covered in dots, giving the paper an off white/blue look. You won’t notice the dots when looking, they don’t distract from the task at hand, but this does mean you’ll need to ensure you’ve a supply of special paper to hand as you can’t use the smart features with ordinary paper.
In use the pen is very easy to operate, just turn it on and start making notes. So far, so pen like. The smart part comes when you transfer the notes to your computer via the Livescribe software. Once copied across you can playback the notes made on each page of your notebook, and when playing back you hear the audio of the meeting as well as see the written notes. You can quickly jump forwards and backwards by clicking on different parts of the note, for example lets say you have noted 10 points but can’t remember what point 8 was actually about, just click on point 8 and you’ll hear the discussion that was taking place when you made that note.
The software is very easy to use and can be integrated with a number of different applications, such as Evernote or OneNote. A nice feature is that you don’t require the software to playback notes, you can do that directly with the pen and notebook. As with the example above, if you switch to playback mode and then ‘click’ on point 8 in your notebook then audio will playback through the pen.
The Echo smartpen has a few other tricks up it’s sleeve in the form of an app store. You get a piano app built in which allows you to draw a keyboard and then play the piano using the pen, a nice little feature that isn’t really of any use but demonstrates the versatility of the pen. If you want more useful apps you’ll need to head to the dedicated app store where you can purchase things such as translators, where you write a word and then pen will speak a translation (a demo of this is included on the pen), or a handwriting to text app that will convert your notes into typed formatting.
Once you fill up the included notebook you can either purchase special notebooks specifically designed for use with the Echo smartpen, unfortunately this does mean that if you’ve been converted to Parax stone paper you’ll have to give up your luxurious writing pad in order to take advantage of the smart aspect of this pen. Alternatively if you don’t fancy buying notebooks you’re able to print your own from the Livescribe desktop software. To do so you’ll need an Adobe PostScript compatible colour laser printer with a print resolution of at least 600 dpi.
Overall the Echo smartpen is well worth considering if you’re in a lot of meetings or lectures where you might want to review what has been said at a later date at the same time as checking your notes. It performs this function brilliantly and is only really let down by the less than premium finish and the need to use special paper. Having to sync notes via a cable maybe off putting for some, but Livescribe have thought of that and have a number of different models, reviews of which are coming soon!
Available now from Amazon: http://amzn.to/1rc8q0V
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- Capture everything you hear, write, and draw on Livescribe paper directly to your smartphone, tablet, or computer – allowing you the ease of writing on paper with the mobility of having a digital copy.
- Simultaneously record audio while writing with the Livescribe+ app to add voice to your school or meeting notes. Tap anywhere on your notes to play back audio from that exact moment in time, as many times as you need to hear it.
- Convert your handwriting into text and make your handwritten notes searchable with the Livescribe+ app, which currently recognizes up to 28 languages. Students can share handwritten notes or assignments directly from paper with friends or teachers. Professionals can share ideas and collaborate with colleagues or clients.
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