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Of course the Pulse Smartpen’s core functionality remains recording audio and written notes simultaneously and linking them. At this it excels. Tapping any written word, symbol or scribble made while recording triggers playback of the audio representing what was going on at the time.
We can definitely see the appeal for the target student and business markets, since instead of furiously scribbling down a whole lecture or meeting you can just jot down the main points and then tap on them while revising to hear what the lecturer/presenter said on that specific topic. We found the 300mAh lithium battery lasted throughout our three-day testing, too, so you won’t need to charge your pen too often.
To archive your notes and recordings you’ll need the Livescribe Desktop software (for Windows XP, Vista or Mac), which must be downloaded as no software disc is provided. You should install it before connecting the pen to your PC and once recognised you can give your pen a name just like any other drive.
You can then choose to upload and delete ‘sessions’ using Livescribe Desktop, or even turn them into online videos. However, since the software doesn’t do Optical Character Recognition (OCR) conversion, you can’t transcribe your handwritten notes into word processor-editable ‘machine text’ – though you can get third-party OCR software to do this.
This deficiency is made stranger considering you can type any word into a search box and the software will unfailingly find it (it matched words with 100 per cent accuracy in our testing) in your handwritten notes, so there must be some form of OCR functionality. It’s a great pity Livescribe didn’t choose to include conversion by default, as this is offered by almost every other digital pen package on the market.
Essentially then, while its practical functionality is more limited than it should have been, thanks to its superb recording abilities and intelligent linking (not to mention future application potential) Livescribe’s Pulse Smartpen still manages to offer a unique and genuinely useful proposition in a crowded and relatively niche market.
However, it doesn’t come cheap – it’ll cost you nearly £150 for the 2GB model we reviewed here, with the 1GB model a slightly cheaper £120. At their very cheapest, flip notepads cost £10 in quantities of four, meaning you pay about 2.5 pence per page (1.25 pence per side). You also have the option to print your own dotted pages, though laser printers are recommended for this. Just keep in mind that you can’t use two identically-numbered pads, as the Smartpen isn’t smart enough to distinguish between them and will just ‘overwrite’ the older text and recording.
If Livescribe could lower the price a little or at least include fully-functioning OCR software, we would have no hesitation recommending this product. Even without these two things, though, this is still a potentially invaluable tool if you can afford it.
As digital pens go, the Livescribe Pulse Smartpen is an unusual proposition. Its focus on linking written notes and recorded audio is genuinely useful, even if the lack of OCR software and the high-price may put off some.