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Livescribe Symphony smartpen review

The Livescribe Symphony smartpen is a powerful pen which doesn't break the bank.

Livescribe Symphony smartpen
(Image: © Livescribe)

Our Verdict

The Livescribe Symphony smartpen will turn your writing and drawings into digital text and images with a simplicity and ease that its minimal design suggests.

For

  • Ergonomic comfort
  • Converts writing to text well
  • Dictate with a phone

Against

  • Special paper required
  • The odd pairing issue

The Livescribe Symphony smartpen is an ink pen, in a minimalist form factor, that also doubles as a smartpen. By that we mean this is able to record what you're writing and convert that into digital text via a connected app.

So you can scribble out notes as you might normally, only knowing that you'll also have a typed digital version waiting for you when you're done. Ideal if you like to write down notes with a pen but also time saving, if you would then type up those notes at another time.

All that means this smartpen is usually $110 up front, and then you will need to factor in buying the special dotted paper which allows it to work converting writing to digital text. You can also print out this special dotted paper, or go for a journal pack, but more on that below. It's one of the best smart pens available today.

Livescribe Symphony smartpen: Writing and drawing tests

The Livescribe Symphony smartpen offers an easy to use ballpoint pen which writes clearly in black ink. Above that nib is a camera which cleverly records what you are writing so that it can be repeated on the connected phone's app. It is then possible to have that converted into digital text.

Livescribe Symphony smartpen is great for drawing

(Image credit: Livescribe)

While this did pick up drawings it's not designed specifically for graphics. Words are what this is all about and that's clear from the very high level of accuracy in reproduction of what is being written. The writing to digital text conversion is also very accurate and if there is the odd mistake – which was justifiable with our handwriting – then it's easily fixed manually.

Charging is done via USB and once full you're good for a 90-day stretch on standby. However, in real world use that translates to 10 hours of writing, so about a day or two with plenty of use. This varies depending on how often you sync, or if you do that live. Since the pen can store up to 1,200 A4 pages, it can be possible to save battery by just syncing at intervals. 

Livescribe Symphony smartpen: Apps and connectivity

The Livescribe+ app works across lots of devices including iOS, Android, macOS, Windows and - more rarely - Amazon. The Bluetooth pairing is quick and simple but, of course, that depends what Android device you have as it varies. 

Livescribe Symphony allows you to see the writing update live on the app next to you. The pen and app will recognise when you use different notebooks making it easy to keep work and personal automatically separate, for example. 

When the app has your writing on screen you can use the OCR function to change that to digital text, making it easy to share and edit. Integration with services like Google Drive, OneNote, Evernote and Dropbox help make sharing super simple. 

Export formats vary with lots of options including PDF, PNG, SVG and TEXT. For notes with audio you can export as a Livescribe PDF or an MP4 video. You are also able to record audio notes into the app, but more on that below.

Livescribe Symphony smartpen: Comfort and ease of use

The Livescribe Symphony might not be the lightest smartpen out there, with that camera onboard and powerful battery. That results in quite a wide pen but it is well balanced. As such the nib stands over the camera for a reach which allows you to clearly see what you're writing.

Livescribe Symphony smartpen is stylish, but quite heavy

(Image credit: Livescribe)

The roundness of the pen and rubberized finish make for a comfortable writing tool which you soon forget is any different to a standard pen. It feels this way too with a ballpoint head which glides comfortably across the page easily. 

This fits comfortably into a pocket as would any other pen, disguising the special powers of this pricey pen which makes it very discreet to use.

Livescribe Symphony smartpen: Extras

The Livescribe Symphony works with that intelligent camera but it doesn't work alone – you need special dotted paper for it to work. This can be bought from Livescribe, Amazon and more in several forms including notebooks, journals and others. It's worth noting that you will need to factor in that expense. But it is worth it as these notebooks also feature audio recording activation.

At the bottom of the page are record, pause and play icons. Tap record and the microphone in the connected phone – yup, not in the pen for this model – will activate for you to take a voice note. It isn't as clear as the notes you'd get from a digital voice recorder, but it's a nice feature all the same. A really helpful way to add context to writing or drawings, which you can listen back to on the app as you go through the text. 

This pen has a one-year warranty which will protect against any manufacturer’s defects. Additionally, if you need help there are FAQs and tutorials on the Livescribe website that can help.

Should you buy the Livescribe Symphony smartpen?

The Livescribe Symphony is a superb example of a smartpen. It allows you to work as you would with any pen, recording as it goes, for you to digitize when convenient. Or work live, recording audio notes and watching as the text appears on the app screen as you work. Conversion to digital text is accurate and simple and you have lots of export options for sharing.

This is an affordable option, when you consider all it offers. But you will need to factor in the ongoing cost of notepads if you want the right paper for the best experience. But at $25 for a multi-pack of four pads, even this isn't much more than a normal journal.

Luke Edwards

Luke is a veteran tech journalist with decades of experience covering everything from TVs, power tools, science and health tech to VPNs, space, gaming and cars. You may recognize him from appearances on plenty of news channels or have read his words which have been published in most tech titles over the years. In his spare time (of which he has little as a father of two) Luke likes yoga, surfing, meditation, DIY and consuming all the books, comics and movies he can find.