Name: Livescribe Echo smartpen
Type: Smartpen with built-in audio recorder and digital note taking functionality
Software System Requirements and Specifications: Click here
Price: From £99.99 (subject to built-in storage size)
A significant step up from a trusty old Bic, the Livescribe Echo smartpen takes note taking to a whole new level by allowing you to sync audio to your scribbles and send them all over the web in just a few simple steps. But can it achieve results any more accurate than a fast hand and attentive ear couldn’t manage just as well with a humble biro? Read on to find out.
Whether you’re a seasoned journalist carrying out a career-making interview, or a fresh-faced undergraduate sitting in on your first university lecture, the accuracy of note-taking can make or break you. Whether it’s down to poor handwriting or an inability to keep up with the information being thrown your way, it’s almost always impossible to catch everything. Or at least it is if you’re using a standard pen and dictaphone combination. The Livescribe Echo smartpen range is both of these items and much, much more, pulling your scribbles slap-bang up to date with 21st century tech.
Available in 2GB, 4GB and 8GB sizes, Livescribe Echo smartpens are a fair bit chunkier than your average biro, and as a result take some getting used to before you’re writing as fluently as you usually would. This is easily forgiven though considering the onboard storage and inclusion of a microphone audio recorder, built directly into the pen, as well as a 96×18 pixel OLED screen for browsing stored audio files, a 3.5mm headphone jack for listening back to recordings directly from the pen with a pair of headphones and the microUSB port on the flat end used for transferring files and powering the rechargeable battery.
But these additions are hardly the most impressive elements of the Echo pens. Making use of a supplied dot-paper pad, each Livescribe Echo smartpen also features a tiny infra-red camera near its tip that also records the exact handwritten notes that you are taking, making them available as a digital file. Thing get really special when used in conjunction with the afore-mentioned audio-recorder; syncing your notes and recordings with the Livescribe’s software lets you view them combined as “pencasts”, interactive pages that show your notes and the exact audio being recorded as they were written. Simply taking the pen and taping on your handwritten notes then allows you to clarify specific audio clips saved at that precise time of writing, meaning you can write one thing and still keep an exact note of what you may have missed being said at the moment you were frantically scribbling a separate thought.
It’s a superb idea that ensures your notes can be doubly accurate, preventing you from missing the nuances of speech or atmosphere that a hastily hand-written note can. It also lets you focus more on what’s actually being said to you; take only minimal notes during the interview, meeting or lecture, sync the audio being recorded and then play it back later on, fleshing out your notes and continuing to add to the real-time pencast at a latter hour.
This concept has already been used impressively in the earlier Livescribe Pulse smartpen range, but the inclusion of a £100 entry-level model here makes the new units far more affordable for the student population among those most likely to benefit from its usage.
The Livescribe Echo range however also comes with an updated software suite. You can now create a standard PDF of a pencast compatible with Adobe Reader 10, and email it to pals using Adobe’s SendNow function. “Launchline” features, like hand-written gesture controls, let you scribble lines back and forth across the special dot pages, and write a command above them that will then be carried out by the pen as soon as it is synced. Setting up “Launchline” shortcuts therefore can see your files instantly shared to specific email contacts, or turned into a Google Docs page, or an Evernote note, or even shared among all your Facebook pals if you so desire, the next time you sync the pen.
It’s a great product, but not completely without fault. Firstly, as we previously mentioned, its size is a little unwieldy (158mm long, 19.7mm at its widest point and weighing 36 grams). You wouldn’t want to be writing out a lengthy novel with one of these things, but that’s not the point here anyway we suppose. The microphone also too often picked up the scratchy sound of our note jotting whilst in quieter recording situations.
Getting hold of the dotted pads could also potentially be a cause of frustration for those who don’t conserve page space when writing. While these pads are only marginally more expensive than everyday stationary (a four-pack of A5 notebooks will set you back no more than £15, and you’ve always got the alternative of printing off your own dot-paper if you have a 600dpi Postscript colour printer) , we still wish they’d figured out a way of getting the pens to work with regular paper, if only for the sake of convenience. You’re unlikely to find these special notepads on the highstreet if you misplace one at an inopportune time.
The Livescribe Echo is a niche product if ever we’ve seen one. If you’re just into making quick doodles in a pad while out and about or looking to keep a personal diary, this tech filled pen is almost certainly surplus to your requirements. However, for students, journalists or those who often have to take precise notes from situations like conferences or meetings, it’s an absolutely invaluable tool that will make your quotations and scribbles more accurate than you could possibly manage using traditional methods.