Monday, June 23, 2008

Gadget Review - Pulse Smartpen

A few weeks ago (5 to be exact) I've mentioned the Pulse Smartpen by Livescribe in a Gadget digest. I got so in love with the concept that I immediately ordered one. The wait period was 3-6 weeks, so I finally got mine last Friday (came back home and the box was thrown at my doorstep - insert big "no thanks FedEx" here mad).

I've been playing with the pen throughout the weekend - and I'm still in love. The concept of seeing and hearing what took place at a meeting/lecture/phone call (if it's on speaker) and in the order it occurred adds a new dimension to note taking.

Let's start with what the Smartpen does for you: it has a built in camera and 2 microphones (that can be enhanced by a 3D microphone/headset to capture spatial sound - provided with the pen). You write your notes on a special Dot Paper (a notebook with a 100 sheets provided) and talk, or listen while writing (think about a lecture, or a meeting with a client).

The pen captures all the sound AND synchronizes it with what you've written at the same time. The result is a "session", spanning one or more pages. This session can be played back, shared and even uploaded to an online space, using a desktop application. It is also stored in the pen (1/2GB, $149/199 available). The replay from the pen is ingenious - just touch a word you've written on the page, and the pen will play the sound you've heard while writing it.

Uploading the "pencast" to Livescribe's community site is easy and allows storing, sharing and even publishing your pencast. I recommend watching some of those pencasts (the "Star Wars" one is quite funny, a mom teaching her son to count in Chinese is also nice - and check out the college lectures).

While watching a pencast (and I recommend maximizing the screen for full effect) you can touch a word or a drawing with the little red dot and the sound would roll backwards or forwards to that location.

Here's a flash of me explaining how I write a post for the blog. If you want to see the actual pencast (and maybe rate it), go here. Excpect some more pencasts from me in the future - this seems like a great way to pass my thoughts to a page without going through a keyboard filter.

The pen comes pre-packaged with some applications: draw a piano keyboard, touch the keys and you're playing music (I considered uploading my music session, but decided I don't want to lose the last of my audience smile). Draw a calculator, touch the keys and you'll get the results. Write a word in English, touch it and get it pronounced and written in Spanish, German or Chinese (currently limited to 20 words - but this is just a demo).

The pen has high production values: it feels comfortable in my hand, the sound is clear, recording is easy (just touch a "record" icon at the bottom of the page, or draw one and touch it) and it lives up to my expectations. The support staff (had some issues registering the pen) is attentive, quick to reply and very nice to deal with.

Sadly the site and desktop software are less than stellar, with some errors and issues (the site, which looks like it's based on a Mac server platform, is not very stable and funny enough, looks better in IE). The desktop software is pretty simplistic, allowing for management of your sessions and nothing more (some editing tools would be appreciated).

To tell you the truth, after browsing through the (quite full) forums, I ended up at the jobs section, and nearly sent my resume for the Product Manager's position, just so I can add some cool features to the product smile. Maybe someday - if they'll have me wink.

But the biggest feature that attracted me is the SDK, allowing development of pen applications. I'm awaiting it's official release and already have some cool ideas of what I can do with this platform. Also eagerly awaited is a promised template, allowing you to print Dot Paper pages on your own, rather than having to buy them from Livescribe.

Bottom line: this is just the beginning for this platform, with many new applications down the road. Even so, I feel I'll get great value from the pen in the near future. Recommended.

Update 6/24/08: Just fixed a typo: the Smartpen product name is Pulse not Pulsar. While I could easily fix the post, I can't fix my pencast (Livescribe: those editing tools I was asking for?). And thanks to Karen from Livescribe for correcting me smile.


Anonymous said...

I thought that might interest you:

aadi said...

Hey this pen is pretty sweet, I'm a college freshman, and I would use it to take notes in my classes next semester. I already have Circus Ponies' Notebook note taking software, but its not really efficient for drawing diagrams and charts, so this would be great for me!
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