For many people, my mum included, it is still easier to organise life through a pen and paper rather than a notebook, PDA or smart phone. It seems there is still something more immediate about being able to grab a pen and a scrap of paper and scribble. There is no boot up, no need to be able to touch type and for the great majority of us our drawing skills remain far superior with a pencil than with a mouse. Step forward Pegasus, a company that believes it has come up with a way to bridge the gap.
Pegasusâ€™ answer is the Mobile NoteTaker - a portable handwriting capture device designed to store handwritten data so it can be transferred to a computer at a later date. The concept consists of an electronic pen with real ink and a memory unit with a monochrome LCD display and 2MB/50 page memory capacity that, when positioned above the writing surface, records all strokes on its scrolling screen. The effect is two fold, while you are making real world written notes a virtual copy is being recorded of every mark you make. For good measure, the Mobile NoteTaker can also be plugged directly into a PC or notebook allowing handwritten notes to be made within Microsoft Office documents and emails. So far so good, but Iâ€™m going to jump straight to it rather than lead you on, because the theory is way better than the practice.
To begin with the equipment feels cheap. The pen is bulbous and not particularly comfortable to hold and it has a scratchy writing head. The memory unit likewise is chunky at 10.7cm x 6.5cm x 1.9cm (WxDxH) and its weight not insubstantial at 90g. Basically, itâ€™s like carrying a second mobile phone around. Continuing the theme, the keypad and on/off switch are wobbly and have too much travel on the buttons. At a glance, the whole package reminds me of those free gifts you see advertised on the front of stationary catalogues.
Next up, the pen takes three SR41 batteries and the memory unit two AAA which seems a little excessive. Also, there is no way to measure the penâ€™s remaining battery life, so you could run out of power at any given moment. On the plus side there is very little set up required beyond switching the memory unit on and writing with the pen but while the LCD scrolls around admirably to map the penâ€™s movements around the page its graphics are blocky and joined up writing is impossible to read. There are also very few options within the memory units itself. Capture, browse existing captures, set date, screen contrast, sound options, and memory status are the sole commands and it is impossible to get out of some menus from the keypad, meaning you must push the pen nib into the first of five command shortcut pin holes at the front of the unit to get back to the root menu.
Plug the Mobile NoteTaker into a computer and things do improve a little, though the boxy components at the head of the link cable could surely have been slimmed down. Software installation is straightforward requiring less than 30MB of space on your hard disk and the unit is detected by Windows without any problems. It is also here that, for the first time you can truly see the quality of the scans which are for the most part clear and crisp. But there is again a downside, because the captures are pressure sensitive and if you write very lightly or with uneven pressure you will see gaps. Another complaint is that the Note Manager software is too rudimentary, providing little more than cropping, saving, emailing and printing variants.