What do you get when you cross a pen with a computer? While this may sound like the introduction to a joke, the answer is actually a real product: a smart pen.
Using special paper ($10 for a 150-page notebook, or printable on a laser printer), smart pens digitise whatever you write down. The Livescribe Echo extends this functionality by adding a microphone to record audio as you write. Later, you can touch the pen on any word in your notebook to play back what was being said when you wrote it.
The included software automatically syncs your pen when it’s connected to your PC or Mac via MicroUSB, and lets you search, read and listen to all of your notes. You can upload to Evernote, or export the notes as PDF or JPG, with the audio as AAC, MP4 or WAV. You can also share your notes online via “Pencasts”, which are like hand-written Google Waves.
If you want to export your notes as text, you’ll have to fork out an extra US$29.99 for the MyScript for Livescribe software. You will need legible handwriting for this to work well, so give the 30-day trial a spin before purchase.
Livescribe have an API and app store, with apps ranging from Sudoku, to one that turns your pen into a graphics tablet for your PC.
I found the digitisation to work well, but the lightest strokes can be missed. My pen arrived with a jammed pressure sensor, and I had to remove and re-insert the pen nib before the digitising would work properly.
One complaint is that you can hear the pen rubbing against the paper in the recordings. If this annoys you, just record the audio without writing anything, and take notes the next time you listen to it – they will still appear in-sync with the audio.Available from Livescribe, retailing for $242 (4GB), $299 (8GB)
. APC rating: 8/10 (Highly Recommended)