Terrier Tech: Livescribe Echo Smartpen
A pen that lets you replay your lectures
This week, “Terrier Tech” examines Livescribe’s Echo Smartpen. Featuring various memory storage capacities, a microphone and built-in speaker, and an OLED display, this pen guarantees “you’ll never miss a word.” With a promise like that, we couldn’t wait to find out how classroom-friendly this gadget really was.
Priced between $100 and $180, the Echo Smartpen comes with 2GB, 4GB, or 8GB of memory, as well as accessory packages that include a portfolio and a 3-D recording headset. Depending on the model, recording time ranges from 200 to 800 hours. An internal battery provides nearly six hours of operation, and the pen’s ink cartridges are replaceable and affordable.
There are definite advantages to taking an Echo Smartpen to class. Hit the record button, and the Smartpen not only records your lecture—it also records your pen strokes with an infrared camera. After class, just tap the pen to your notes, and you can listen to the corresponding audio of the lecture you just attended. Using the pen’s USB connector, you can download your data to the Livescribe Desktop software and export your notes as PDF files.
There is one catch. Not just any pad of paper will suffice. You have to purchase Livescribe’s Dot Paper ($8 for a notebook, $25 for a journal). The good news is the paper is available at most office supply stores. You can also print your own Dot Paper—provided that you have a printer capable of at least 600 DPI, which is unlikely.
Used in conjunction with the pen’s infrared camera, each page of Livescribe Dot Paper comes preprinted with a system of tiny dots that track the position of pen to paper. Tapping controls on the Dot Paper allows users to scroll through apps, and to start, stop, and play recordings. The apps range in variety, usefulness, and price, offering from translation assistance, dictionary, and Wikipedia apps to games.
In some instances, we found that the pen is actually mightier than a laptop. Drawing diagrams and writing mathematical equations on the Smartpen was a breeze compared to entering the data in less than real-time via laptop. Users can also jot down sparse bullet points throughout a lecture and relive the audio experience later. But buyer beware: audio quality varies dramatically based on your proximity to the lecturer. Sit too far back in the classroom, and the only sound you may hear is your own writing. Fortunately, Livescribe offers a headset for $30 that includes binaural microphones said to be capable of capturing distant voices.
“With the Echo Smartpen, as long as your head is in class, your mind doesn’t have to be,” says “Terrier Tech” host Warren Towers. “Of course, I kid.”
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