Home _ Miscellaneous Tools and Topics What the heck is a Smartpen?

What the heck is a Smartpen?


I've seen this technology mentioned a few times in recent months, but didn't really know what it's about. I did a little clicking around the Web to learn more about it.

This is pretty cool technology and it's going to be really interesting to see how it's leveraged in the coming years, and how it evolves.

Livescribe is the only maker of this type of product that I came across. Livescribe Smartpens use a little camera and special paper to record what you write, and also have a built in microphone for recording audio. The recorded audio is synchronized to the writing – the system knows what you were writing as you recorded the audio and can play them back together. Audio can be played back using the pen and paper, and the recorded drawing and audio can be played back on a computer, online, or on an iPhone or iPad.

Here's a video in which Dylan Tweney from Wired.com explains and demonstrates the Livescribe pen:

How cool is that? In addition to the Pulse Smartpen, there is now a new enhanced model from Livescribe called the Echo Smartpen (click here to learn more about this new model).

If any readers have ever used one of these, please drop a comment and tell us about your experience! If you have questions about this technology, feel free to submit those in a comment and I'll see if can learn more and provide some feedback.

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  1. Livescribe is really a great smartpen, I really want to use this pen in the future to write my novels. Thanks for sharing the lovely information.

  2. I first saw one of these pens sitting below the laptops in Costco nearly 2 years ago. Tried endlessly to acquire through work all to no avail. In some ways, I guess it was a good thing.

    Why? You can pretty much accomplish the same thing with tablets and iPads for one, but there are two others specifically related to this pen. The first, and I learned this in a conversation with a user, is that you need tilt and direct it correctly for it to work. Secondly, a pen’s feel is important. In holding the Livescribe, I found it not suitable for my grip.

    With any niche gadget, I ask myself, is what being delivered by by this product significantly different or new enough to want to carry and be responsible for it? In this instance, my response was no!

  3. This doesn’t look like something I’d use, but then I have a TabletPC to write on. I can see it being helpful for some of my students though — especially those who record my lectures. Although, as Tegrity (live lecture capturing software) catches hold, students may not need to make their own recordings.

  4. I got one of these late last May, and used it for three weeks straight at the West Point Summer Seminar in Military History. I LOVE it. It can be a bit of a challenge, because if you don’t hold the pen the right way, then when you upload it to your computer not all the writing comes through – but that’s a small learning curve. The recording device on there is pretty solid, but if you have a room that echoes, it won’t work well. I recorded the audio from almost every lecture I attended – but I confess I’ve not listened to it aside from brief playbacks.

    I also had a student last spring who had one, which was what made me decide I wanted it. He sat near the front of a large lecture and used it, and then used it in our meetings. I’m not teaching at the moment, but having the audio for student meetings would be GREAT if only to keep track of what *I* am telling students (so I don’t forget).

    Of course, then I got an iPad in August, and I’m not sure how to balance the use of both. Because the iPad is still such an oddity in many ways, I foresee instances in which I’ll not want to pull the device out – like job interviews at a conference – and then might use the smartpen instead (but without recording…).


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