Macworld/iWorld Livescribe 3 Smart Pen

Since its introduction I’ve been intrigued by the LiveScribe Pen. For my day job I spend a lot of time meeting with people, taking notes, sometimes drawing diagrams and then referring back to those notes. Most of the time this is done with a legal pad and a pen. There’s still nothing that compares to the versatility, portability, ease of use and speed associated with pen and paper. I’ve tried several different stylus designed for iPad, and they just aren’t there yet.

Being someone who adopts a paperless practice at home, and strives to do so at the office, the idea of creating digital copies of my notes is appealing. I had an opportunity to play with the new Livescribe 3 at Macworld/iWorld this year and I was very tempted to bring one home and try it again.

The Livescribe pen has an embedded camera and uses traditional in. When combined with special paper that is covered with a micro-dots and the accompanying App, Livescribe can convert your analog handwriting to digital form. The companion App syncs with an iPad or iPhone allowing you to view and search notes and even convert handwriting to text. You can optionally record audio while taking notes and replay the audio by tapping on a portion of your notes. Notably, audio recording is actually done from your iOS device now, there is no microphone in the pen unlike pervious versions.

At David Sparks’ suggestion, I ordered the original Livescribe a couple years ago. I used it for about a month and ultimately sent it back. My biggest complaint then is the Livescribe just wasn’t a particularly good pen. I’m accustomed to writing with small pens with fine points using gel inks and the Livescribe has an ultra thick ballpoint. Version 3 of the pen is a noticeable improvement in terms of ergonomics and pen quality, but still uses fairly tick ballpoint. I’m told this is required for the technology to work.

In addition to a slick new appearance, the new pen also comes with other improvements. The pen turns on and off with a twist, pairing is easier, the “eraser” at the top of a pen is a capitative touch stylus (though it’s too thick for me to do much writing, it’s more for highlighting or selection) and the hardware has been simplified, no more screen.

Another pain point with my original Livescribe experience was the app. iOS support was limited and the Mac App was clunky, awkwardly designed and importing and exporting pages was a bit of a pain. Now, most everything is done through iOS and Livescribe will integrate with other services such as my beloved Evernote. The App still looks like there’s room for significant improvement, but the pen appears to sync up quickly and respond well with the App and you have the ability to easily export to PDF or another App like Evernote.

I’m not sure if the new Livescribe 3 would fit any better in my life than the original pen did, but I’m still intrigued and I think they’re heading in the right direction. I didn’t bring the Livescribe 3 home with me from San Francisco, but I’ll admit, I’m still thinking about it. Currently I use a variety of methods including taking notes in Day One, writing on a legal pad and transcribing notes into the computer, scanning handwritten notes with a document, or using an iPad. I’m still looking for that one perfect solution to solve my note-taking problem.