Trying to describe what it is a LiveScribe Echo Smartpen does is quite tough. To say it's a normal pen that simply records what you write does not really do it justice. It also indexes what you hear at the time of writing, converts what you have written into an interactive PDF file, allows you to jump to any point in the page and hear what was being said at that time and now allows you to share it with anyone directly from the page you are writing on.
While the system will not appeal to everyone, anyone who takes notes while listening to someone else or wants to get across a visual idea to someone on the other side of the world could find this tool invaluable. But what about a fax I hear you say, or indeed that costly flatbed scanner sitting on your desk? Well who wants to listen to the annoying screech of a fax which will inevitably fail the first five times you try it, before you realize that most people stopped using faxes sometime in the mid-90s. Scanning is not much better. By the time you have powered up you scanner, connected it to your PC, repositioned the document four times to the correct orientation, uploaded the file, attached it to an email and sent it, your working day will be pretty much over.
On the other hand, by just writing one word, the LiveScribe pen gets rid of all these steps and automatically emails your document to who ever you want. But more of this later, first of all lets look at the pen itself and see just what makes it work.
We are looking at the 8GB Echo Smartpen which also comes in 2GB and 4GB versions, with the larger pen offering up to 800 hours of recording time depending on audio quality. Two years ago we looked at the Pulse Smartpen and besides cosmetic differences, the pens offer practically identical functions. Doing away with the grey anodised aluminum we saw on the Pulse, the Echo replaces it with a black rubberised grip below a black plastic top. It all looks very nice and is easy to hold. Powering everything is an ARM 9 processor but what makes this pen tick is the high-speed infrared camera situated above the nib, which takes up to 70 images per second to record exactly what you are writing. The pen measures 158mm in length and is 19mm wide at the top, tapering to 11mm at the tip. While this is certainly chunky in pen terms the soft rubber grip makes it very comfortable to hold and at just 36g feels nice in the hand. At the top there is a micro-USB port to allow you charge the lithium battery as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack - replacing the proprietary 2.5mm jack on the Pulse pen.
Audio is recorded via an integrated microphone, which only makes mono recordings, which is fine for one-on-one meetings/interviews or if you are just outlining your ideas as you draw and you can listen back to your recording via an in-built speaker. If however you want to record something in a larger space such as a lecture theatre, you will need to purchase the Echo 3-D Premium Recording Headset which gives you stereo recording via a pair of microphones located on the exterior of the earbuds. This headset is included with the Pulse pen but will cost an extra $30 if you're buying this pen, as it has been omitted from the Echo packages - a rather miserly move if ever there was one.
A 96 x 18 OLED display is your windows into what is going on with your pen. When nothing is happening it displays the time and the amount of battery charge left. The first time you turn on your pen you set the language, date, time and display orientation depending on if you are right- or left-handed. All the set up can be done on your own or with the handy little interactive leaflet that comes with the pens.