Review: LiveScribe Echo Digital Pen

I’m still here! Though posting will be a bit sporadic in the future, as I’m spending the majority of my time working on my thesis.  I’ll be back to blogging a bit more often once that’s been finished.  So, here’s a review I started writing back in November, but has sat in the draft box since then:

About six months ago I asked people for opinions about digital pens, and did my own research, so I decided to pick up a LiveScribe Echo based on what I’d heard, and the campus computer store has a 10 day return policy (so long as packaging is intact) so I decided to give it a try.  For those who are impatient, the short version of my review is: the digital pen is good, and I’m keeping mine, but there are a few improvements that would go a long way to mainstreaming, so I give it a 4/5.

I’ve used the pen for almost six months of my regular activity, including doodles, mathematical scratchwork, seminar notes, and writing based hobbies.  Here are the pros and cons:


  • The detection is actually much better than I had hoped.  The pen captures my writing very well, from fairly small handwriting to large strokes.
  • On the purchasable notebooks, the dot paper is only barely noticeable and not distracting at all.  The free ones that you can just print out aren’t as good, but you can print out 100 pages of the paper at a time that won’t cost you a thing (assuming access to an early modern laser printer)
  • The software is very easy to use.  I just plug my pen in, open the LiveScribe desktop, and it gives me a list of all the notebooks I have active with the pen, and loads all the pages I’ve written (each page of each kind of notebook has a unique dot pattern, which is aperiodic, so a small sample tells the pen in what notebook you’re working, on which page, and where on the page) and then moving them to custom notebooks, like one for each date or subject, is just click and drag.
  • PDF output
  • The audio recording is pretty good, and it’s nice that it will synch the audio to your penstrokes, letting you see how you took notes during a lecture.
  • The search feature is fairly good.  If you type in a word, it will use a sort of shotgun approach to finding instances of your having written the word, which is about as good as you can expect without going into high end handwriting recognition (and there is apparently an app you can purchase that improves the recognition a LOT, but I haven’t bought it)


  • The pen is a bit too large.  I’ve heard people complain that it’s like writing with a magic marker, which is a bit of an exaggeration, and there’s no problem for short bursts, but over the length of a seminar talk, I found that my hand was slightly sore from holding it differently from a regular pen.  Now, I admit that my hand is sometimes slightly sore from a regular pen if I’m writing a lot, which I certainly was, because I had started livetexing some time ago.  However, I think that this problem will be solved by using the pen more, and long term I expect the pens to slim.
  • You need to use their special dot paper.  This isn’t a MAJOR problem, except that there isn’t that much in the way of selection.  I personally do most of my work on unbound, unlined paper, or bound quad-ruled paper.  Most of the paper and notebooks they have are college ruled, which, and this may just be a personal idiosyncrasy, but I hate doing math on lined paper.  The free paper is all lined, and there are unlined journals that can be purchased, but there’s a definite lack of variety.  I would like to be able to print out my own unlined paper, or quad-ruled, which there seems to be no way to do.
  • The pen rolls.  It rolls a lot.  It’s a bit too symmetric.  They should add a clip or something to the top, just something that will allow it to rest, rather than roll, on slightly slanted surfaces

Overall, I like the pen a lot, and it’s caused me to livetex a lot less, partly because it has a much better battery life than my laptop does and it’s a bit quieter to use than a keyboard.  There’s definitely room for improvement, but the things that annoyed me I’m noticing less and less often the longer I use the pen.


About Charles Siegel

Charles Siegel is currently a postdoc at Kavli IPMU in Japan. He works on the geometry of the moduli space of curves.
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13 Responses to Review: LiveScribe Echo Digital Pen

  1. Pencil says:

    Great, still remember last time you mention this.

  2. “I would like to be able to print out my own unlined paper, or quad-ruled, which there seems to be no way to do.”

    Just so you know… Capturx Software for OneNote integrates data directly into OneNote and you can print unilimited and unlined paper

    check it out

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  4. Rosemary Michelle Simpson says:

    I loved the Livescribe time, context, and audio environment when I was using it last fall for taking notes in a linear algebra class. However, I had technical problems with the pen that caused archive losses and I found that customer support didn’t care enough to help recover even when I had sent them the dumps and information they requested. Thus, the combination of not being able to rely on having my notes combined with the customer “support” attitude resulted in my abandoning attempts to use it. Reliability trumps capability.

  5. Anonymous says:

    i use logipen digital pen it works on any type of paper and also give me the option to copy notes directly to OneNote
    check out for more info

  6. Trevor says:

    I’ve just got my Livescribe pen, for Christmas, so still getting used to it.
    I teach English as a foreign language, often on line, so I can see it will be useful for writing notes which I can save on my PC, but I am wondering about the audio facility. How do you actually use it in practice?
    Do you write your lecture notes and talk at the same time!
    Seems strange, I can see a good use for having my notes on the PC but haven’t worked out the best use for the audio – any ideas welcome

    • Tim says:

      You ask a very good question. It seems the pen and it’s architecture is deisgned for live capture of data. Then you can do “pencasts” to other
      Livescribe users.

      However, I have not seen any “authoring” tools to permit the editing of files in this proprietary format. I think Livescribe is missing the boat on fully leveraging this presentation platform.

      The care and handling of archive files is very important. As is keeping a good backup of your folders used by the desktop software. At one time, phone support was available from Livescribe. But that has stopped and only Help desk style support is the reality. I think this startup company has done reasonably well but without solid support for the educational communitee and it’s needs they may miss a major opportunity.I recommend registering your pen, then viewing all the blogs on their site.
      Other educators have your same concerns. I maybe miss informed as to new developments that could help you. Good luck in your quest for solutions.

      If you are not looking for the audio component, then other digital pen products are avail for writting capture. Logipen, Iris-notes, etc to name a few. Also the most recent product by wacom, ” Inkling”, another vector based sonic digitizer that uses any kind of paper.

      Besr regards, Geektk

  7. Steve L. says:

    I had purchased 3 Livescribe pens and had a defective mini USB port in the top of one of the pens. After contacting customer service they stated that my warranty was up and they would not replace it. They also stated that they do not have a repair facility. I think if they are going to create a product that expensive, it should hold up under normal use. It was definitely a manufacturing flaw. After spending 500.00 with this company I expected better treatment than that. Buyers beware!

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  10. Xun says:

    do you best too keep posting on your blog.

  11. Excellent post but I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this subject?
    I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further.

    Many thanks!

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