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Pulse Smartpen Review

PROS / Record audio at meetings and digitize hand-written notes all with one device.

CONS / Pen requires special paper; not as ergonomic as the Echo Smartpen.

 VERDICT / Powerful technology for a reasonable price.

Editor’s Note: This product has been removed from viewing as part of this site because it has been discontinued and replaced by another product. You can still read our original review below, but TopTenREVIEWS is no longer updating this product’s information.

Pulse Smartpen

The Pulse Smartpen was the first generation of Livescribe's digital pens, and the 2GB model is available to consumers for $129.95 online and at retail stores.

Performance

If you would rather write than type notes or messages, you will find that a digital pen will enhance your life. You will save time by easily converting your notes into digital form. And Livescribe's interactive tutorials make their products easy to learn how to use. The pen's companion desktop software is free and downloadable from Livescribe's website, where you can also download a free user manual.

Feature Set

This Pulse Smartpen's microphone and recording device sets this product apart from others we reviewed; however, the digital pen ranks second to Echo's sleek design and additional features.

The Livescribe product is a compilation of powerful technologies. It contains special ink, a camera located at the tip of the pen, and a small OLED screen at the base of the pen that shows a menu of features. For example, when you are recording a session, the screen will tell you how long you have been recording. The cradle will sync up your digital pen to the companion desktop software.

The writing tablet that comes with this pen is also magical in itself. It uses a technology provided by Swedish company Anoto. If you look closely at the pages in the tablet, you will notice they contain lots of tiny dots. These dots are actually code, similar to an internet mark-up language, which keeps track of where content is located spatially on the page. Anoto is used by Capturx for OneNote, as well as some of LeapFrog's products for children. Jim Marggraff, founder of Livescribe, actually helped design the LeapPad and Leapfrog's FLY Pentop Computer before starting his present business venture.

Inside the cover of the tablet and at the base of each page are tools—icons that by clicking on them with the pen, you can carry out different functions. Play back recordings in the pen by clicking on paper icons in the tablet. Record, stop, pause, jump forwards or backwards, and adjust the volume of audio recordings. Additional icons are located on the inside of the tablet's cover for such things as checking your battery level, your memory storage level, and changing to left- or right-handed writing—all by a simple tap on paper. The tablet also includes a calculator. Brilliant!

Any journalist will tell you that transcribing a recording of a meeting or interview from an MP3 or minitape recorder usually takes twice as long as the length of the actual meeting. But using the Smartpen, you can quickly jump from main point to main point within the audio recording just by tapping on different words or images you wrote or drew in your Anoto-enabled tablet at the time the main points were being said.

One word of caution: Be sure to let people know at the beginning of a staff meeting that your digital pen is recording what is being said. If in doubt as to the confidentiality of the meeting, you can mute the mike.

Accessories to the pen are available from the Livescribe website as well as at retail stores that sell the technology. Accessories include apps that you can upload to the pen itself, such as reference materials including a dictionary and a Spanish tutorial, as well as games such as Hangman.

Ease of Use

This digital pen works remarkably and efficiently. If anything, we found the pen had to train us so that we could use it more efficiently. Just wrapping our minds around the potential of this technology was something that took a little time adjusting to, but once we got oriented, we kept finding new things to use the pen for.

The Pulse is great for almost any office task that involves using a pen. Particularly secretaries who take notes in board meetings or journalists who conduct lots of interviews will appreciate this pen. Optical character recognition (OCR) software, which converts handwriting into text, is not available with this product's initial package, but it can be purchased separately from Livescribe's website for $29.95.

At school, college students can take notes in a lecture knowing they won't miss a word. Students can focus on what is being written on the chalkboard or overhead without worrying about recording what is being said.

For tasks around the house, this pen would enhance notes to family members, such as messages about phone calls a family member received when he was not at home. Not only could a hand-written note include a phone number, but the note taker could conveniently include an accompanying audio message. Recipes can be enhanced with verbal instructions.

Uploading "pencasts," or finished sessions, to the companion software was automatic just by placing the pen in the USB charging cradle. Sessions, which are recorded in Flash format, can be converted to a PDF or a graphics file for easy transmittal by email, posting on a website, or placement on a computer's desktop. Livescribe also provides 400MB of storage space on their website for each of their customers, where they can post pencasts either privately or publicly.

This pen is more bulky than using its cousin the Echo. The Pulse is cylindrical and can easily roll, so be careful to keep an eye on it. Dropping it may be catastrophic.

Help & Support

Livescribe's interactive literature made this pen easy to set up. The pen's package included everything we needed to get started, including batteries, an ink cartridge, headphones, and a tablet that contains the special paper.

Summary

Although we were initially overwhelmed by the Pulse Smartpen's technology, Livescribe's literature and tutorials quickly put us at ease. The pen is similar to a smart phone: it presents complicated technology in a user-friendly way—and makes it very useful.

Pulse Smartpen