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Livescribe Echo Smartpen review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £96
inc VAT

The most useful smartpen we've seen, and a brilliant buy for anyone who attends meetings regularly

If you spend a lot of time in lectures or meetings or conduct interviews, you’ll probably have acquired a variety of tools to help you track the information, from traditional notebooks to voice recorders or even special apps for your mobile phone. However, the more tools you use, the more effort you’ll need to invest in keeping all your notes – recordings, writing and diagrams – together.

Livescribe’s Echo Smartpen is designed to help you record, organise and access all your notes using one device and one piece of software. It’s also built with sharing in mind – the Livescribe Desktop software lets you publish your saved notes via Facebook or store them online with Evernote or on a free 500MB online storage drive provided by Livescribe.

The Echo Smartpen is definitely the cleverest writing implement we’ve ever owned. It even guides you through its own setup process. As you follow the steps in the Interactive Getting Started Guide booklet, the pen talks you through each one via a built in speaker. There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack if you don’t want to share what you’re doing with the rest of the room. A tiny 96×18 OLED screen displays its status and a microUSB port lets you connect it to your PC. The integrated battery should last 5.5 hours for simultaneous audio and text capture and up to 13 hours for text capture alone.

Livescribe Echo Smartpen pen

The pen can’t function without Livescribe’s special dot paper. It’s exactly what it sounds like – paper with hundreds of tiny pale blue dots printed all over it, so small that they’re only visible close up and merely give the paper a pale blue tint from any normal distance. The tip of the smartpen houses a tiny infrared camera, which takes 72 photographs of the paper every second. The camera captures a 36-dot grid, which the software then decodes to provide precise coordinates for the pen’s current position. It’s this location information that is recorded and turned into the digital version of your document, perfectly tracking the movements of the smartpen as you write and draw with it.

Livescribe Echo Smartpen pad

The dot paper also has a number of pictures which function as icons. If you tap the pen on the picture of a record button, the pen’s microphone will start recording audio until you stop or pause it – there are buttons for that, too. You can also play back the last audio recording associated with the page and jump to specific positions in an audio track. Other buttons allow you to adjust playback speed and volume, while a navigation compass makes it easy to go through the pen’s options. Standard, financial and scientific calculators are also available in dot paper form.

Some notebooks also have extra numbered buttons that can be assigned to shortcuts defined in the Livescribe Desktop software. For instance, if you tap and hold a shortcut button and then write ‘facebook’, you’ll later be able to select pages for sharing on Facebook whenever you tap the button – they’ll be posted online the next time you connect the pen to your PC. Once defined, a shortcut button applies to every page of the dot paper book you assigned it to. The pen can tell which book and page you’re working on, so if you come back to a page you created earlier, you can add new notes and voice recordings to it.

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