No matter how far we move into the digital age, we just can't seem to get rid of the good old pen. From graphics tablets to stylus interfaces to handwriting recognition, the tool that's mightier than the sword sticks with us tenaciously. Today we're taking a look at a peripheral that combines the best of both worlds: e-Pens' Mobile Notes, a digital pen with ink that can write on normal paper too.
You might think Logitech got there first in 2003 with its now-discontinued io Digital Pen, which also wrote to real paper at the same time as interpreting a digital copy, but the two technologies are fundamentally different. For the end user, the difference that matters is that Logitech's pen required special 'digital paper' (real paper, but with an invisible dot pattern imprinted on it), while e-Pens' device works with any old scrap - or indeed, any writable surface at all. In addition, it can also function as a wireless mouse.
E-Pens' secret lies in the small sensor you must put on the top of any page or area you intend to write, doodle or draw on. The company offers two different digital pens. The e-Pens Create is, as the name suggests, aimed at designer and artist types, and comes with a wired sensor and a bundled copy of Serif Draw Plus. The more expensive and work-oriented e-Pens Mobile Notes under review today, on the other hand, comes with a wireless sensor with its own built-in rechargeable battery and bundles Vision Objects' MyScript Notes for handwriting recognition and conversion.
Before you can get started, you first need to pop in two V392 cell batteries at the top of the pen, insert either the plastic stylus or metal biro pen nib at the tip, and charge the sensor for around three hours using the supplied USB cable - all of which is covered not only in the colour quick-start guide, but also in a handy if rather hand-leading tutorial-video e-Pens provides online.
Then it's time to install the software, which requires Internet Explorer to be your default browser for an automatic install. Naturally, users of other browsers can just do it manually, so it's not a big issue. Minimum specifications for e-Pens Mobile Notes include Windows 2000, XP or Vista, so as is frequently the case Linux and Mac users need not apply.
Aesthetically the pen itself looks decent enough and it's comfortable to use, though a rubberised grip wouldn't have gone amiss. There's a metal clip for fastening and the cap fits snugly on the pen's top, so there is no fear of losing it while the pen is in use.
Like the pen, the sensor-housing is quite sturdy. It has a monochrome 1.3in wide LCD screen and a single multi-function control button. When in use the display shows pen activity, how many 'notes' you have stored in the device's internal memory (more on this later) and a three-bar presentation of battery life, while the single button stores notes and turns the device on or off with a three-second press.