While being able to store your notes and scribbles in their original form online is great, being able to convert those notes into editable text would make the system all the better. This lack of bundled Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software has not been corrected since we pointed out the issue with the Pulse pen a couple of years ago. While third-party software is available, it seems like a ridiculous oversight from LiveScribe not adding this function considering you can 'search' your handwritten notes for a particular word with great accuracy. Considering the £30 price hike for the Echo Smartpen over the Pulse veriosn, we would have liked to have seen some OCR software included in this premium model.
Moving away from the more serious uses of the pen, as with most new technology these days, the Echo smartpens come with their own app store. That’s right people, a pen with an app store. While you won’t be playing Angry Birds with the smartpens, some of the apps that are available do take full advantage of the pens’ features. Among the pre-loaded apps which came on the pen is 'Piano' which makes you draw out eight piano keys before letting you ‘play’ the piano right from the page by tapping on each key. Another more useful app was a demo of an English-Spanish translator which worked quite well but with a very limited vocabulary.
There are currently over sixty apps in the store ranging from educational to games. We tried out a few of the apps with Infocom game Zork among our favourites. It‘s a good old-fashioned mystery game, which requires you to follow the story and write down what actions you want to take next. See the video below for a demonstration. There are a number of language apps, which could prove very useful if you’re on holiday – and you have a large supply of dot paper lying around. Prices for apps range from free up to $14.99 for applications such as Paper Tablet, which turns you dot paper notebook into a mouse and allows you to mark-up documents very easily.
The Echo Smartpen is certainly an intriguing piece of technology. On the one hand it seems like a throw back to the good old days of using pen and paper to communicate your message but has combined that with digital technology to make sharing what you have written – and said – to the whole world a lot easier. At £179.99, the 8GB Echo Smartpen is not cheap though LiveScribe has today also launched a 2GB model for £99.99 and a 4GB model for £149.99, which are certainly more affordable. It is hard to see what the extra £30 is for compared to the Pulse model besides the extra storage, which is not sufficient reason for such a price rise. While LiveScribe Connect does add more functionality, Connect is also available for the Pulse pens though it will cost you more to upgrade to Connect Premium (£9).
For us the system worked very well, but only after quite a bit of trial and error. The system is not initially as intuitive as we may have hoped for having seen a demonstration but once you have your connections set up and are used to how it works, then the smartpen ecosystem works very well indeed. We did have some trouble with the LiveScribe Desktop software crashing initially but once we updated the software to the latest version, it worked flawlessly. Some of the apps, particularly those which bring a lot of new functionality to the smartpens, do cost quite a lot of money, though hopefully as the app store grows and more people begin using it, these prices may come down.
While the Echo Smartpen is certainly one of the best on the market, its high price and lack of OCR software means we cannot recommend it. It will not be for everyone but for those who take a lot of notes be it in meetings, lectures or interviews and want a more reliable way of storing,searching, organising and sharing them then this system is perfect.