Moving on to the base station, it acts as a charging cradle, data connection and control centre, connecting to either a PC or charger through USB. It’s solidly constructed and the pen slots into it effortlessly and securely thanks to a strong magnet, so you can carry the base around without the pen falling out.
Last, though not quite least on the hardware side, we have what initially looks like a pair of cheap earphones. Though the audio they produce is expectedly mediocre, they are light and comfortable. However, their main feature is not to produce audio, but to record it. A microphone in each bud allows for binaural recording, or ‘3D’ as Livescribe terms it. They work very well too, picking up a conversation clearly from the other side of a noisy office with the correct stereo positioning.
There’s also a mono microphone in the pen, but although – like the inbuilt mono speaker – it’s impressive for its size, it obviously can’t match the dual ones in the headset. A major disadvantage is that though the pen sports a 2.5mm jack, this won’t recognise any devices except the proprietary set supplied with it, so you can’t hook the pen directly up to some speakers to let a whole room listen in on your recording. Likewise, you won’t be using the 3D recording headset with anything but Livescribe’s pen due to its proprietary plug.
Also integrated into the pen is 2GB of non-upgradeable memory that’s good for around 200 hours of recorded audio, though this goes down depending on the selected recording quality. If that sounds like more than you need, there’s a cheaper 1GB version available as well.
However, the single biggest issue with the Pulse Smartpen’s audio capabilities is that the pen itself lacks any physical controls. Instead, to navigate tracks or change the volume you have to use the bottom of one of the specially-dotted pages from the included notebook, or you can take a slightly more circuitous route and use the menu controls on the base station. This is fine when using recordings in conjunction with notes, but is less convenient if just making a recording with no notes to reference.