Livescribe Pulse October 2009
Livescribe Pulse smartpen
Electronic pens that record your handwriting digitally have been around for a while – but the Livescribe Pulse smartpen takes this a step further by effectively incorporating a small computer, as well as a voice recorder, into a pen-sized device. We got hold of one to test it out.
This article, Livescribe Pulse, was last updated on 01 October 2009 and is now out of date and held in our online archive for reference. Explore our latest Technology articles.
Livescribe Pulse is thicker than a normal pen, but comfortably solid to hold. We found that the display set into the side of the pen is small, but it’s clear and bright, and suited to displaying small nuggets of information. There’s a small docking station for charging the pen and data synchronising, and this connects via USB to a PC or Mac.
Getting started with Livescribe Pulse
However, you can't simply start writing anywhere and expect the Livescribe Pulse to record your words. It only works when you’re using the special Livescribe paper. This carries a subtle marking that allows sensors in the pen to determine not only where on the page the pen is touching, but also which page of your notebook you’re on, and which notebook you are writing in.
An A4 starter pad is included in the box, and there’s a range of other styles of notebook available, such as A5 journals and pocket-sized diaries. If you don't want the expense of buying special notebooks, it’s possible to print your own sheets using a laser printer.
Once you’ve downloaded and installed the Livescribe desktop software, it’s a simple matter to upload your notes from the pen to the computer. We found electronic versions of the notes to be clear, and an accurate representation of what was originally written. You can even use a text search feature to look for specific words within your notes – this worked well, even when dealing with quite messy handwriting.
Pulse's built-in sound recorder
The built-in sound recorder adds a further string to the Pulse's bow. Once you’ve set it recording, the pen also remembers what you were writing at the time each section of the recording was being made.
This means you can take notes as you’re recording a meeting, for example, and afterwards you can replay specific parts of the meeting simply by tapping the pen on the notes you were taking at the time.
This works extremely well, allowing you to hop around a recording to refresh your memory of exactly what your notes were referring to. Starting and stopping recording is done by tapping the pen on the start and stop buttons printed at the bottom of each page.
The sound quality using the built-in microphone isn’t perfect, but it’s surprisingly good considering the pen is a tiny handheld device – and the same is also true of the built-in speaker. However, the supplied headphones boost the quality significantly, as they include a pair of directional microphones.
The sound recording is associated with the notes even when accessing your files on the computer, with mouse clicks taking the place of pen taps. These interactive recordings can then be uploaded to the internet and shared with others – registering the Livescribe software gives you access to 250MB of online storage space.
Livescribe Pulse digital pen
The interaction of the pen and the paper can extend further, too. As well as tapping on hand-drawn symbols to navigate the pen’s built-in menus, there are other applications: a calculator works out a sum after you write the numbers, and a piano application allows you to draw a keyboard in your notebook, and play it by touching the pen to the paper. The capabilities of the pen would lend themselves to a wide range of applications.
When you eventually fill the built-in 2GB of storage with audio and notes, you can archive your data on to your PC to reclaim the space. The battery will keep you going for weeks without recharging, but the pen will charge itself up whenever it’s docked to your PC.
It’s easy to see the appeal of the Livescribe Pulse: students could record lectures to accompany their notes, journalists could annotate interviews, and business meetings could become better documented, all without changing your working habits or even learning new skills – everyone’s comfortable with using pen and paper.
It does come at a cost though: the pen itself costs £150 (available from Amazon), though the blank notebooks aren’t significantly more expensive than normal stationery.
There’s no denying that the Livescribe Pulse is a clever and useful tool that would prove useful in a wide range of situations – however, whether many people will brave the price tag remains to be seen.
Pros: Easy to use, wide range of applications
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Cons: Expensive, requires special stationery