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Sony/Ericsson Chatpen CHA-30

Out of the three pens on test the CHA-30 Chatpen has been available for the longest; about a year now. It is rounder than the Nokia SU-1B but narrower than the Logitech io and only weighs 35g, about half as much as a small mobile phone.

A notable difference between the Chatpen and its two rivals is that the Chatpen has no USB connection. The charger fits in the end away from the nib and all data transfers are via Bluetooth.

Once paired with your Bluetooth phone, when sending your first handwritten email you notice the phone handset rapidly relaying messages as tasks are being performed.

In the space of about ten seconds the phone checks that the email address matches an email address on your phone and allows you to correct mistakes. Once satisfied you click ‘yes’ and watch a flurry of activity as the phone logs in and sends data.

The next thing that happens is an Anoto server in Sweden authenticates the process and in a few seconds you get a confirmation the email has been sent. The whole process is very fast and from completing the note to it arriving in an email inbox can be less than a minute.

Brace yourselves for some unpleasantness: This outstanding ability to instantly email pages of your notes without a PC comes at a price. ‘Unlimited email’ capability from the Chatpen means signing up for the Anoto subscription service, which includes help desk support, currently at £8 a month.

However, if your company uses custom forms that just need forwarding to a designated IP address, this can be done for free.

Subscription costs on top of the £176.26 hardware price are bound to deter some people but the Chatpen is popular among enterprise users with custom designed forms.

The files created are in SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) format and if the recipient downloads an SVG viewer they can see an animated replay of the page being filled.

An Anoto program called ‘PLS for PC’ lets you pair with a Bluetooth dongle when at your PC to avoiding using your mobile. You can switch backwards and forwards from mobile to PC connections as often as you like.

An enterprise example is a Scottish drain inspection company that has a squad of operatives armed with Chatpens, able in a single tick to not only email those that need to know about the status of the drains in question, but they can update databases remotely merely by ticking a box on a page of digital paper.

A stealthier scenario is during meetings you can discreetly email colleagues about developments or silently ask for information while appearing to just innocently make notes. The pen LEDs change colour during emailing but that is unlikely to give the game away until more people figure out the impressive capabilities of the Chatpen.

Verdict

No USB connection means all data transfers are by Bluetooth. The outstanding feature is being able to send emails directly from the pad via your phone and a server in Sweden. The downside is the monthly subscription. Ultimately though, if you or your company can afford it, this is the digital Pen to have.

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