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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.”

Want “Terrier Tech” to review a gadget? Post it in the comments section below or DM us @BUToday.

Alan Wong

Alan Wong can be reached at alanwong@bu.edu.

11 Comments on Terrier Tech: Livescribe Echo Smartpen

  • CMK on 02.27.2012 at 8:10 am

    There are important issues about the legality and ethics of recording lectures. Additionally posting lectures on the web may also be a dicey issue. Does BU have an official policy? If not, we should.

    • BU does indeed have policy and procedures regarding audio recordings of lectures which can be found on the Office of Disability Services website. Any student using a device such as this (and I agree they are great)needs to disclose to his or her professor that they wish to record the lecture and that this recording is for their personal use only. Certain types of classes, schools, programs and even faculty are not subject to recording absent a disability acccommodation and students must be mindful of this. Please contact me directly with any questions, and thanks for calling attention to this great tool.

  • LO on 02.27.2012 at 10:10 am

    These systems are in use by disabled veterans in colleges all over the Boston area. For those that need Livescribe, it is an essential tool that allows them to keep up with the class and succeed.

    In my opinion, Livescribe should and must be allowed to be used, but with the understanding that lectures and notes are for personal use only, and cannot be ‘published’ in any way.

  • Really? on 02.27.2012 at 11:13 am

    Realy CMK? This is the subject of such dramatic concern? Why don’t you head over to the Rape Culture article…

    • Really, really? on 02.29.2012 at 12:19 pm

      What, you can’t care about two issues at once? It’s ridiculous to say that we should give up one topic for another. I mean, while we’re at it, those in rape culture article should head over to the Syria thread.

      Anyways, why all the concern about privacy of lectures? As far as I’m concerned, lectures are a public forum and should be widely distributed. http://ocw.mit.edu

  • Anonymous on 02.29.2012 at 9:34 am

    As a person with learning disabilities, this pen/system has been invaluable to me. My recordings have been for personal use only the grand majority of the time. The only exception was when I’ve taken notes in a group meeting, and then shared them with that group only – not publicly. (It can be a pain to share with individuals, and few group members took advantage of it, anyway.)
    If I’m interviewing someone, I always ask their permission to audio record them; if anyone is uncomfortable with it, I don’t use the audio function.
    In the end, the Livescribe pen has been so very helpful to me, I err on the side of caution and consideration in its use – my recordings are for me only, now.

  • CMK on 03.01.2012 at 11:01 am

    As a prof, I like to know when I am being recorded. My class is often discussion based, and it is only fair for students to know when they might be recorded by others. To the OCW issue, those are carefully curated lecture notes that have been vetted by the instructor. Taping a random lecture is not.

    • arb on 03.07.2012 at 8:11 am

      I agree that a discussion group may not be appropriate for taping – but only because the content of the class is so highly specific and personal to those present. Otherwise, I hope that any course materials my professors present are well vetted for the immediate class-goers, as well as for the public forum.

    • Jimmy on 03.21.2012 at 4:14 pm

      Wow! What are you, old? Note the world around you. You are being recorded all the time, including your lectures.

  • Hardin Coleman on 07.20.2012 at 2:07 pm

    A change of focus: I got a livescribe for meetings etc because I draw diagrams and make additional comments as I listen. Where it breaks down for me is the difficulty integrating across programs (e.g., OneNote) and platforms (Thinkpad and Ipad)

  • CB on 02.26.2013 at 10:36 am

    This pen has been great for me, as a student with disabilities. My professors have all been very open to me recording their lectures, although I’ve always spoken with them and mentioned that it’s helpful for me to have recordings and assured them that I would not be posting the lectures online for the public. It would be nice if BU IT would have a version of the software that does handwriting to text recognition for the disabled students who use equipment such as these.

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