Livescribe Smartpen. Wow.

As you probably know I’m part of Amazon Vine. They send me some stuff every month. I review it. That’s the deal. Everyone wins. Sometimes it’s almonds and dressing mix. Sometimes it’s good or mediocre books. Sometimes it’s useful software. This month was a pretty good one on the Vine. I got a Rosetta Stone French software package, an amazing treat since I have to learn French anyhow at some point in the next few years. I also got something even more amazing. Blew me away, because it’s the sort of thing that doesn’t even sound quite believable. The Livescribe Smartpen

We all pretty used to technology promising something then having to deal with the fact the promise was more hype than reality. The manufacturers want to get us into a frenzy, thinking their product will revolutionize transportation, or entertainment, or phone calling. But, when the frenzy dies down it seems there are a lot of problems, and unfulfilled expectations that even eager fans will quietly admit are weaknesses.

This is especially true with a product that seems so entirely revolutionary and different. It’s certainly too good to be true, right?

So, let me start off by addressing that. The Livescribe is the real deal. It actually does what it says it can do. And it does it simply.

The Smartpen works. And I’m not being hyperbolic when I say this might revolutionize note taking.

I’m not in class now, so didn’t have a real world opportunity to test this out. Instead, I wanted to make sure I got the hang of it before I began to depend on it. I had a 48 minute lecture on mp3 on my desktop that I played over my speakers. I turned on the record feature of the smartpen and started taking notes. Two pages of notes are now completly linked to the audio. Tap any word on those pages and the pen will replay, either through the headset or through the speaker, the words being said when I was writing those particular words. Complex explanations can be saved with only a few words reference or a chart.

This records the text and the audio, and allows it to be saved for future reference. Text, however, is too limited a word. Drawings, markings, formulas, whatever, can be also used.

It really works. Amazing. I was suspect and then utterly surprised. It lives up to the hype. You can see examples of it on their website in the community section. Indeed, I posted my test on there, so you can follow along with Jerry Root’s lecture on CS Lewis while I take notes. Be sure to click different parts of the notes in order to jump to different parts of the lecture.

Livescribe SmartpenMore than this it is expandable. New applications give it a wide potential. This potential is what is pushing me to give the Livescribe a hearty 5 stars. Because while it absolutely does what it says it does, some of the features are previews rather than full-blown capabilities, such as translation. Also, and this is key to me, as of right now the audio and text is limited to the livescribe software. While this software has an amazing ability to search for words that are written, allowing for searchable notes, it does not presently convert the writing to editable text. Meaning you can’t cut and paste. This is a feature being developed, however, so should be available before too long. I heard they are working on getting this out before Fall. There is also no integration with other programs such as OneNote. That too might come with third party applications that are being developed.

The audio is better than one might expect. I have an Olympus digital recorder and the smartpen is far above that in audio quality, especially with the included headphones, though the speaker is surprisingly clear as well.

The battery seems to be very long lasting. I spent most of the afternoon the other day playing around with this, listening to a full hour long lecture, and the battery meter went down about an eighth.

The battery is not removable, which might lead to some issues later as these pens get older and the charge doesn’t hold as long.

Overall, I’m amazed by this pen. It simply works and it works simply. The present features are going to revolutionize note taking by integrating full sound. The expanding potential of the smartpen as the manufacturer encourages 3rd party applications, means there is even more potential on the horizon. The cost is quite reasonable. Even the cost of the supporting products shows Livescribe is interested in getting these into the hands of as many people as possible rather than making an obscene profit off of accessories. For what you get, this is an amazing deal. It comes in a 1GB version, which records 100 hours of audio, and a 2GB version, which records 200 hours of audio, on top of all the digital text.

This might become the most important tool for students since the notebook came out. Better than a laptop, for students and teachers, and much better than a regular pen. I’m extremely pleased and can’t wait to get back into the classroom.

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