After placing the Livescribe Echo Smartpen number one in my “Top 12 gadgets for students 2011-2012” I thought I might write a more detailed review of the pen and whether it is any good for students going to university this September, or whether it is simply a gimmick that will get boring after one lecture.
On opening the box there is surprisingly little inside:
- An introductory notebook
- Two pen caps
- Two ink cartridges
- A mini USB to USB cable.
- Three instruction/tips booklets
- Oh.. and the Pen!
One thing that is missing is a CD with software on to use the pen, this is downloaded from the Livescribe website for free. Personally it doesn’t bother me much as I have a reasonably fast connection, but this may be annoying to some students with limited connectivity to the internet. The software file comes zipped at 130 MB and is available for both the Mac and the PC.
The software seems really intuitive and connected smoothly to my pen where it proceeded to update the firmware. Within the software you can have your notes and audio files recorded on the pen neatly organized. You can also download applications of various kinds from the App store. In some ways the software is quite reminiscent of iTunes. The App Store seems a little underdeveloped at the moment when compared to the iTunes app store anyway, a few more reviews of products would not go a miss.
One of the pre-installed applications is called “Piano” which allows you to draw out a piano and start to play it. It works amazingly well, I was most impressed. Although the “Piano application itself is not particularly useful (well maybe in some of the really boring lectures!), the level of precision and complexity that was possible was amazing.
Transfer of notes from the notepad to the computer is effectively like scanning them in, a carbon copy is uploaded onto the computer, every dot, doodle, arrow or squiggle you draw is transferred.
As well as being able to store your files on your computer the software also allows you to upload your files directly to Google Docs, Evernote, Facebook and an Email.
Despite looking rather chubby, the pen is comfortable to hold and grips well. It has small but clear OLED screen on the side, which can change orientation depending on whether you are left or right-handed. The top of the pen has a headphone socket and a mini-USB port for uploading your work and charging up the pen. I found the pen to interact promptly with the commands pre-printed on the bottom of each page in the notebook supplied in the kit, and was also impressed at the ability of the pen to be able to remember what was said at the moment I was writing something.
I found this function in particular to be so accurate as to able to click on different parts of a single word and hear the part of the audio that was said at exactly the moment I wrote that letter.
The pen can also act as a scientific calculator by taping on the various functions and numbers of the calculator drawn into the front of the notebook.
My initial test of the audio has found it to be incredibly good. Having set the pen on the “automatic” microphone level I was able to walk from my living room into the kitchen (about 8-10m) spouting nonsense to myself. Amazingly the pen was capable of picking up all my musings. The only thing I noticed was that the further away I got the louder any background noise got, while this was fine for a Sunday evening test in my house, it my be problematic with loud breathing, people whispering or generally being clumsy in lectures.
The pen does not have to be used as a pen to record audio, and can be used simply as a dictaphone, by holding down the on/off button once the pen has been turned on, similarly the pen can simply be used as a pen and does not have to be used to record audio.
Initial and Future Costs
The only thing that might put students off is the rather hefty price tag, the pen starts at £99 for the 2 GB version going up £145 for the 4 GB and £149 for the 8 GB. While this sounds like quite a bit, you will be able to achieve almost the perfect set of computerized lecture notes with accompanying audio with this product which is probably worth at least that value when it comes to revising for your exams. Especially since after a heavy night of drinking the pen will still be able to record just as well, even if you are somewhat incapacitated when it comes to writing notes.
While you can print out your own paper, Livescribe also sell pads at around £5 each, containing 100 pages of paper in each. Refill cartridges for the pen are also available in packs of 5 for around £5. Each cartridge should write approximately 35 pages of A4. Unfortunately neither pads or refills are particularly cheap when compared to their non-smartpen counterparts.
I have really enjoyed using this pen, I was incredibly skeptical at first, but I’d be happy to recommend this pen now to students keen to ensure that they don’t miss a word of lectures, both written and audio. Fortunately I don’t have to do lectures anymore but if I did I’d be really grateful for one of these pens, the amount of time saved by being able to go back to specific points in a lecture where you wrote something no longer makes any sense at all; or to go back and find out what on earth was the lecturer was going on about while you were drawing a doodle.
Overall, good software, great pen, a little expensive but I think it will appeal to the kind of person that wants to create a detailed and comprehensive set of lecture notes, and doesn’t want to miss a thing.