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Echo Smartpen Review

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  • Design & Ergonomics
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Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Potential Issues

One can find a spectrum of views on various forums and blogs referring to Livescribes Echo Smartpens and the feedback ranges from being very poor to absolutely excellent. As is the norm, it is often only the extremes of the spectrum who bother to speak out and the satisfied majority of customers who remain silent. Also, remember that in many instances, negative feedback can be from those who actually received a defective product, so their views will not be a fair reflection of a fully functional piece of equipment.

However, ComputerPens.info believe that a review should help the reader make an informed decision regarding whether to purchase a product. Therefore, in the interests of openness, we have included a range of issues raised by customers on the net.

User Experience

Negative feedback towards Livescribe’s customer services can be largely broken down into 3 areas, namely:

  • That the support side of Livescribe website is cluttered and not intuitive to use.
  • Their customer service is slow and,
  • If a problem is not able to be resolved quickly, then some customers feel that they are left to sort out the problem by themselves.

The documentation provided appears rather sparse, inadequate and would be confusing for some users. Improving this aspect would make the user experience for the non-techno users far more pleasant and result in less negative feedback being left. However, the videos on the vendors website are helpful and should be used.

Smartpen

Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Review | Layout

Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Review | Layout

Some people might feel that the Echo Smartpen is still on the large side, especially the lower barrel, and this may be an issue for anyone with small hands or those prone to hand cramps. Additionally, the user needs to be aware of not blocking the infrared camera when writing otherwise notes may be incomplete.

You have to remember to switch the Smartpen on, otherwise it will not record any data. It would be nice if the Smartpen had an autoprompt feature that alerted you if it detected motion but no recording taking place. This would be particularly helpful for those who forget to resume recording after pausing it at some stage. At least there should be an on-off button to activate the voice recorder without the use of a dot paper command. (A possible fix for recording without paper is by turning the pen on, holding down the power button, waiting until the screen turns off and keep holding it until it starts recording.)

Some people might like to be able to turn off the illuminated display altogether so as to save battery life and for those times when you do not want the pen to glow.

The design of the cap should be improved. There is no clip, or tethering mechanism e.g. cord to attach cap to the pen, meaning that the cap can be easily lost. Also, because the design relies on there being an infrared camera near the pen tip, the cap is more akin to a plug which makes fitting and removal rather awkward. If lost, do not place the Echo Smartpen in a pocket, otherwise the ink will most likely stain your clothing. In addition, a number of forum users report that you cannot buy replacement caps outside the US.

Writing with the supplied fine black ink cartridges may appear rather faint and feel ‘scratchy’ in action. The inclusion of a medium tip would have been preferable. The feel of the writing compares to using a inexpensive ballpoint pen. It is reasonably smooth and accurate to write and draw with but it doesn’t have that  ‘quality feel’ of a professional pen or the smoothness of using a gel ink. Replacement ink cartridges cost about $6 for 5 on Amazon.The recorded image quality of pen strokes though generally good, did appear to have some inconsistency on closer inspection.

Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Review | Replacement Ink Cartridges

Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Review | Replacement Ink Cartridges

Improving the storage capacity of the ink cartridges would be recommended. As was noted previously in ‘Real world comparison’, we found that an ink cartridge lasted around 50 – 60 pages for condensed notes and up to 90-100 pages for notes mixed with annotations on A5 sized paper.  If you run out without having any spare, you can always write and the information will still show up in the digital PDF even though you cannot see it on the actual physical paper. It would have been nice if the Echo Smartpen had space to hold a small emergency refill cartridge. Some people report that the ink cartridges do not always fit snugly which gives rise to possible excessive pen-on-paper scratching noise.

It should be remembered that if you do not use the 3-D Recording Premium Headset (not supplied as standard with the 4GB version), you will hear the scribbling sound of the pen on paper during audio recordings. Using less pressure on the pen nib reduces the noise but one would expect that a better microphone placement or built-in noise cancellation technology could help minimize this issue. Customer feedback on various forums and blogs indicate that the majority of users get use to it quickly but a sizable minority are irritated by it and add notes after the recording has been made.

Some additional points related to the Smartpen itself include:

  • Although 4GB of memory is a considerable amount of memory for written notes, anyone who records a lot of higher quality audio might be wise to invest in the 8GB version.
  • Some people have reported an occasional issue associated with the pen recognizing all movements of the pen rather than only the movement when the pen is writing. The fix appears to be removing and reinserting the ink cartridge.
  • The battery level indicator only comes on when you are charging the pen and not when in use.
  • The inclusion of a spare grip would have been a nice touch.
  • There is no eraser on the pen.

Paper

The success rate of printing out your own custom paper varies considerable depending on the printer used. The print size is a hefty 200MB per page so be prepared for a long print sessions. Also, it would appear that you cannot print individual custom pages and have to print a full notebook of 25 pages every time.

It should be borne in mind that the Livescribe notebooks cost more than your average pad of paper and cost about $5 each for around 80-100 pages on Amazon.

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