Pros / This smart pen syncs audio from meetings or lectures to your handwritten, digitized notes.
Cons / You must use paper printed with a special microdot pattern.
Verdict / While it's noticeably larger than a standard ink pen, the Echo Smartpen is an excellent pen for taking comprehensive notes with audio.
Editor's Note: This review has been removed from our side-by-side comparison because it no longer ranks as a top 10 product. The original review is below, but check out our current top 10 about Digital Pens here.
The Livescribe Echo Smartpen uses a camera in the pen tip that works with the microdots printed on the paper to track your pen strokes. This is a very effective way of recording your handwriting to a digital page. The accuracy of the digital page is less than a millimeter of spatial difference when compared to the physical copy. This makes it great for digitizing your sketches.
This electronic pen also records audio. You can hit record at the bottom of the paper and a microphone built into the digital pen records the audio of your surroundings. You only need to write key words to highlight parts of the presentation; the audio syncs to the notes. Then, in your own time, you can return to any point in the audio presentation by simply touching a word or sketch in your notes. Adding audio to your notes allows you have a more comprehensive record of the important points you want to remember from a class, meeting, lecture or conversation.
The battery allows you to write continuously for up to 10 hours between charging. This is plenty of life to make sure the pen doesn't die mid-note. Also, every time you sync with your computer, the pen charges.
The few downsides to the Echo's performance are the pen's size and the specialty paper you have to use. All the technology packed into the pen's body makes it bigger than most pens. The size is comparable to a marker. Livescribe does a good job shaping the grip so that it fits snuggly in your hand, but the size will lead to hand fatigue if you're writing for an extended period.
In addition, because the pen will only work with paper printed with the Anoto microdot pattern, you must either purchase additional notebooks from Livescribe or print your own paper. Printing your own paper requires a 600dpi or higher color laser printer that's compatible with Adobe PostScript.
The Echo comes preloaded with apps that allow you to use the pen as a calculator, translator and stock ticker. You can also use the pen to compose music with the paper piano app. There are additional apps available, too, with categories that range from entertainment to education.
You have the choice between three different storage capacities: 2GB, 4GB and 8GB. The 8GB model can hold 800 hours of pencasts. However, this much storage is necessary if you download dozens of apps.
Additional accessories are available for the pen, such as earphones with binaural microphones that provide better depth in your recorded audio. This is great for recording in large lecture halls. It also moves the microphone away from the pen, which eliminates unwanted noise that the pen's microphone picks up, like when you reposition your hand or if you write aggressively on the paper.
If you need extra help, Livescribe provides excellent online support that includes frequently asked questions and tutorials. Also, you can create an account on the Livescribe website where you can communicate with a Livescribe helpdesk technician or an individual in customer support.
The Livescribe Echo Smartpen allows you to take comprehensive notes by synchronizing recorded audio to your written notes. In addition, the ability to download a wide-range of apps allows you to use this pen for much more than taking notes. You can play games, compose music, translate words, learn historical trivia and more. However, the special paper means that you'll have to purchase notebooks at a higher cost or print your own paper.