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Computerized Investing > October 1, 2011

Livescribe Echo Smartpen

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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

Even in this computer age, I still do a lot of writing by hand. The biggest drawback, though, is keeping track of the notebooks I use to jot all of it down. One way to digitally capture your handwritten notes is with a Smartpen—a connected pen input device. Recently, I was given one from Livescribe, a leader in this market segment. With the Livescribe Echo Smartpen I was able to record my handwritten notes, sync them with live audio and then manage them electronically. Also, with the Livescribe Connect software I was able to upload and share my notes via Evernote, Google Docs and other online services.

Setup

Getting started with the Echo was relatively easy, with documentation to walk you through the process. After downloading and installing the Livescribe Desktop software (which you use to save, manage and share your notes and audio), updating the smartpen software, and registering my smartpen, I was ready to start recording.

The Echo is compatible with both Windows (XP or higher, 23- and 64-bit) and Mac OS X 10.5.5 or higher.

Design

My first impression of the Echo was that it wasn’t going to win any style awards. At 0.5" by 6.2" by 0.8", the Echo has the feel of a magic marker. So those who prefer holding a thin pen or pencil probably will not like the Echo. The 2GB model I was given is made entirely of plastic, so the grip got a little slippery after a while. From what I have read, the 4GB and 8GB models have a rubberized tip for easier gripping.

I am somewhat particular about my pens as well, and I was a little disappointed by the quality of the ballpoint. However, the pen is replaceable.

At the top of the pen is a single-line LED that displays the time and the pen’s menu options. Above the display is the power button and on the very top of the smartpen you will find a micro-USB port and audio jack.

What allows the Echo to record your handwriting is the camera embedded in the tip of the pen. However, in order for the camera to function properly, you must write on special, off-white paper that you can purchase from Livescribe or print at home using the Livescribe Desktop software.

The Echo also has a built-in microphone that records audio as you write. This function makes me hearken back to my collegiate days, as this is a perfect instrument for students. I also see the Echo accompanying me to any future conferences I attend.

Performance

Digitally capturing handwritten notes is a novel idea, but what I found most useful was the Echo’s ability to “index” audio streams. Whether you are attending a lecture or meeting or conducting an interview, as you record audio and take notes, you can make a notation when something important or interesting is said. Later, when you are reviewing your notes, all you have to do it tap the pen on the notation and the audio jumps to that point. It saves you from having to sift through lengthy audio clips to find what you are looking for.

I found that the microphone did a good job of recording, even in large rooms and from a distance. The reorder is so good that is captures the scratching of pen on paper (although the sound is not loud enough to ruin the recording).

The 2GB model I reviewed can store over 200 hours of audio and 32,000 pages of handwritten notes.

Sharing

Once you have recorded your notes and audio—the combination of the two is called a pencast—you can send them or share them via a number of outlets, including Facebook and Evernote (with a Livescribe Connect Basic account) and email and Google Docs (with a Livescribe Connect Premium account). You can also set up a Livescribe account, which gives you 500MB of online storage.

Overall

The Livescribe Echo caters to the inner geek in all of us. It also serves a very unique niche, as not many people need or want to record notes. However, if you are a student or professional who is looking for a means of capturing handwritten notes digitally and integrating audio recordings, I strongly suggest you give the Echo a look. At $100, the features and functionality are well worth the cost.

Pros

  • Electronically capture handwritten notes and audio
  • Share your notes and audio via several Web services

Cons

  • Pen is bulky
  • Requires special paper to capture notes
  • Ballpoint pen quality isn’t the best

Livescribe Echo Smartpen

http://www.livescribe.com/en-us/smartpen/echo/

Starting at $99.95 for 2GB model (currently $96.87 from Amazon.com)

 

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of “Gadget Corner.” All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA is a vice president and senior financial analyst at AAII and editor of Computerized Investing. Follow him on Twitter at @WayneTAAII.


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