A smart pen that listens to me and loads my notes on my computer
The Livescribe smartpen, around the same size as a Montblanc fountain pen, is basically a computer in a pen that records everything you say and write and synchronizes it, so you never miss a word or confuse a sentence. You can access the audio by tapping parts of your notes and also upload them to your computer, where the Livescribe software archives ensures they are fully searchable.
This and other innovative ARM Powered products were on display last week at the ARM Technology Conference (Techcon) in Santa Clara.
The smartpen includes an OLED display, stereo microphone, loud speaker and a magnetic dock/data connector, infrared camera and USB connector, but despite all these gizmos, it is still light weight.
And it still feels like a pen – mostly
The build quality of the pen is good, with a comfortable rubber grip. It has an OLED screen that brightly displays pertinent info, stereo microphone, a loud speaker and headphone jack, and a magnetic dock/data connector. However, it's closer in size to a magnetic marker than a pen, and you have to hold the pen relatively high so as not to block the sensor. This feels a little cumbersome in the hand, but you mostly get used to it.
The Echo smartpen is powered by an ARM9 processor customized by Austria Microsystems, a member of the ARM Connected Community, which was chosen because it is specifically targeted at the audio processing embedded system market. It also fit into Livescribe’s price/performance ratio – the Livescribe 4 GB Echo smartpen comes in at well under the $200 mark for online purchases – by reducing the extraneous component count.
Smart pens need smart paper
The Echo smartpen does, however, need smart paper to work. This comes in the form of Livescribe Dot, which is made up of tiny microscopic dots on the notebook page, together with what the company calls the Dot Positioning System (DPS), this is the key to creating the ‘interactive’ documents. This is great in that you don’t need any additional hardware, but the downside is you can’t use any old scrap of paper to take down notes.
How the smartpen works with a camera, calculator and translator
The smartpen uses a built-in infrared camera to track everything the user notes down. Each sheet of ‘Dot’ paper has icon controls printed at the bottom of the page, including record, pause, stop, bookmarking and playback controls. There is also a calculator and phrase translation for Spanish, French, German, Japanese and Korean, simply by tapping the smartpen on them.
To start you hit the record button on the paper before you begin to write, then as you jot notes, it simultaneously records the audio and links the two. When you stop recording, you can tap anywhere on your notes and it will playback the audio from the moment they were written. Upload your notes to a computer and you can create an archive. There is also a nifty search engine with handwriting recognition, indispensible for anyone who finds themselves staring at notes they’ve taken, desperately trying to work out what they actually say!
Livescribe online community benefits
Notes can be exported into a PDF. In addition, if you join the Livescribe community you can upload and convert notes into interactive Flash movies and share them online or via Facebook.
Livescribe has just announced a link up with Evernote, which enables you to type a text note, clip a webpage, grab a screenshot or snap a photo and store and retrieve them anytime you need them from wherever you are. Initially Livescribe users can download software that will enable them to upload their notes and audio captured with a Livescribe smartpen directly to their Evernote account. In the future, the companies have promised to simplify and streamline information sharing between Livescribe and Evernote.
Save trees and be able to read your notes
Battery time really depends on how you are using the smartpen. You can get up to five hours before a recharge if you are writing and recording audio at the same time, but if you are just recording audio you can push that out to six hours.
Livescribe has made a very neat job of digitizing notes and as more apps are created for the Smartpen, it will increasingly help manic note takers like myself tackle information overload. I’m also happy that it is saving trees in the process – all the Dot paper is fully recyclable.
Jan Howells, editor IQ Magazine and IQ Online, ARM, is a gadget queen. Jan tracks the globe for innovative and exciting ARM powered products to cover and feature in IQ magazine or IQ Online. Jan was key in pulling together devices and video footage for the ARM Powered Showcase at this year’s Techcon. She has an in-depth knowledge of the home and lifestyle consumer technology market and a special interest in green, sustainable computing. She holds a postgraduate degree in journalism/communications.
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