Gear Review: Livescribe Echo Smartpen

By Beatty Jamieson

What is the Livescribe Echo Smartpen? Imagine, if you will, that you just attended a lecture or meeting and you need to reference information covered forty minutes into your notes. With a Livescribe Echo Smartpen, you simply tap your notes where you want the audio to begin playing, and the playback will start with what was being recorded when you wrote that specific part of your notes.

The Livescribe Echo Smartpen is both a recorder and a pen. It tracks what you write and when you write it, allowing you to access the recorded segment that corresponds to a given segment.

Where Did The Livescribe Smartpen Come From?

Livescribe was founded by Jim Marggraff, the inventor of the Leapfrog FLY Pentop computer, after he left Leapfrog in 2005. Livescribe produces over 40 products for their 2 lines of smartpens, the Pulse and the newer edition the Echo.

Livescribe smartpen commercial

I’ve been a Livescribe smartpen user since 2008 when I first saw a Livescribe commercial. I can still remember it: a student is frantically taking notes in class while her classmate simply smiles and records the lecture with their spanking-new smartpen. A gadget junky, I immediately sprang from my seat yelling “that’s amazing!” I wasted no time – snatching my laptop from across the room and with lightning quick reflexes I quickly Googled ‘smartpen.’

I spent the next half-hour watching videos on Livescribe.com while going on and on to my significant other about the possibilities of a computer that can interface directly with paper. “Imagine if they combine college textbooks with this smartpen technology! You could tap a footnote and have the pen play the interactive content for you!” I rapturously cried.

Livescribe Echo Smartpen: Step By Step

It all starts with a small infrared camera mounted just under the ink cartridge. It reads tiny dots on special paper printed especially for the Livescribe Smartpen. These dots tell the pen everything it needs to know, such as what page you’re on, and what notebook you’re writing in. Users can tap these dot codes to issue commands to the pen, such as stop, play, and adjust volume.

live scribe echo pulse smartpen

The first reaction most people have when they find out about the special paper is usually something like: “Oh that’s the catch, you have to buy expensive paper from them or you can’t use the pen!” Really though, the price for the paper is reasonable. It comes bound in durable high-quality notebooks that cost around twenty simoleons for a pack of four.

Those hell-bent on not paying for dot paper can print their own using the freely provided Livescribe Desktop software and a color printer with at least 600 dpi resolution. You can download Livescribe Desktop software here: Livescribe Desktop

As you would expect for any recorder, the Livescribe Echo Smartpen features a speaker, microphone, and display screen. The speaker won’t win any awards, but it gets the job done, allowing you to play back your recordings. Secretive types can plug any standard headphones into the standard 3.5mm jack.

live scribe echo pulse smartpen

The microphone does a great job of recording clear audio of even the most soft-spoken professors, while keeping unwanted noises to a minimum. Livescribe offers a “3D: recording headset” for both the Echo and Pulse models for those users craving higher quality recordings.

The OLED display screen is small, but perfectly sized for displaying information such as: the time, date, battery level, volume, and time information during recording or playback.

Be sure to download Livescribe’s Desktop software for free so you can download your recorded sessions to your computer. You don’t have to sync your recordings with a computer, but it’s a good way to backup your notes.

From the Livescribe Desktop you can email notes, backup your pen, playback recordings, print Dot paper, manage all your notebooks, sync notes with Google Docs, and even search your notes. That’s right! When syncing your pen with Livescribe Desktop, your hand writing is indexed so you can search your handwritten notes. It’s a phenomenal feature and works with even the messiest hand writing. This feature, and the ability to play back audio synced with your notes, can be huge time savers for those nights you’re frantically studying for a test or recapping your last meeting with a client.

Having used a Livescribe Pulse smartpen in both a college and business environment I can tell you for the most part it blends right in as a (slightly oversized) ink pen – most people won’t even notice you have one. These pens are useful in a creative environment where you are brainstorming with coworkers, gathering ideas for a contract, or jotting notes during a regular staff meeting.

The only real downside to the pen is the battery life. While it’s a perfectly serviceable 10 hours, certain users may blow through that in only two or three long sessions.

Gear Review: 4.5 out of 5

Checkout Livescribe.com for more information about the Livescribe Pulse and Echo Smartpen.

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