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.