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Echo Smartpen Review

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Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Potential Issues (Cont)


Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Review | Software

Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Review | Software

The Livescribe Desktop software felt rather dated with a poorly designed interface and certainly not as intuitive as one would have expected from a product costing this amount. The result is the potential to leave users feeling frustrated from both a functional and aesthetic perspective. For example, some people might find the menu layout of the desktop software daunting to navigate. In addition, there are comments on various forums/blogs concerning a variety of related glitches and reliability issues, especially with the MAC OS. Although the latest updates should have addressed many of these issues, for the sake of completeness the following should be noted. For example:

  • There have been some reports of people having issues transferring audio recordings with text to their computer. The solution sometimes requires resetting the Smartpen resulting in all the data on the pen being erased.
  • Some users feel the Livesribe desktop software ( particularly on a Mac OS) takes a long time to process the thumbnail versions of notes and that they should be cached so as not to have to reload them every time you start up the software.
  • Pages in the PDF’s are not always re-ordered from a Pencast using the custom notebook feature.
  • A number of people have commented that the Smartpen doesn’t seem to launch the desktop program on connection via USB, even though it is set too do this.
  • Users have reported that the Livescribe Desktop application hangs if accessed from a Remote Desktop Connection which might be problematic for those wishing to access notes on the move.
  • It can sometimes take a while to load and switch between pages/notebooks.
  • It would be nice if there was control over where data is saved in the Livescribe Desktop.

The MyScript handwriting recognition software (not supplied as standard with the 4GB version) appears limited in functionality and accuracy when compared to high quality OCR software, so although usable, don’t expect miracles when using it. An accuracy rate around  80% is sometimes quoted which, admittedly, is still better than having to completely re-type handwritten notes from scratch as you can review and amend errors relatively quickly. When using MyScript for Livescribe be aware of the following:

  •  Indents in the notebook will appear as spaces once converted.
  •  The only thing you can do when you make an error is put a line in the middle of the word or words which will appear as an underline when converted; there appeared no way to delete something.

If you always use a specific type of notebook e.g. A5 (notebooks are numbered 1-4) be aware that the pen cannot hold two notebooks of the same number. This may be an issue for those on the move as you will need to archive previous notebooks on the computer as the pen can effectively carry only 4 notebooks worth of data at any given time. Each paper sheet is coded to specific Livescribe paper products/notebooks meaning you cannot use two identical notebooks/products at the same time otherwise the recorded data will merge the written notes into one page. This may be a problem for the way some people prefer to work, however, others may prefer this approach. Because multiple notebooks are identified by the Smartpen, every time you write in each one, the file continues where you left off. This results in no loss of continuity, such that you have in effect one long file arranged by date rather than having to construct your own each time you file a report.

Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Review | A5 Single Subject Notebooks

Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Review | A5 Single Subject Notebooks

We understand that the independent developer program for new apps was stopped in the fall of 2011, meaning that non-mainstream apps that were in progress e.g. using the pen to write musical notation, will no longer be developed. The potential for customization that comes from having a healthy community driven apps program will instead now be vendor determined.

The backup process could be improved upon. The apparent inability to assign custom folders was odd, and some people have reported having issues when restoring backup data. Uploading to Evernote and backing up as PDF might be an advisable precaution. Also,  remember that transferring large files to a computer can take quite some time.

Other points to note concerning the software:

  • It seemed that one cannot share just part of a page, you have to share the entire page.
  • You can’t delete individual pages easily from the desktop software.
  • You cannot separate the audio from a sequence of notes with the software provided.
  • The ability for the user to write in conveniently accessible commands for stop, start, pause (recording/playback) and mute/volume level (speaker) would be welcome.
  • There doesn’t seem to be an option for choosing or converting recording media type i.e. .acc files to MP3, without using a 3rd party application.
  • There appears to be no native landscape mode.
  • With the possible exception of Evernote, Livescribe’s interoperability could be better. For example, if you wish to use OneNote some users comment that they have to email PDF’s copies of their notes and paste them in page by page.


  • Plugging the USB cable into a USB hub can causes issue related to sync problems.
  • It would have been nice to have a wireless transmission of notes rather than having to keep using the USB cable.
  • E-mails do not send until connected to PC.

Other points to consider

For heavy users who upload and wish to share a lot of Pencasts, there does not seem to be an option to increase the 500MB of space provided by Livescribe. Also, you have to use their site to post the Pencasts because, while it’s a flash application, they don’t provide the flash wrapper so you can post it elsewhere.

In order to record or playback recordings you need the special paper/notebook that comes with the pen, so it is not a true standalone audio recording or playback device. Also, you require the notebook to change volume, fast forward or rewind. The only thing you can do without paper is start and end a recording session. Note: As indicated in ‘Smartpen’, 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.

The Smartpen should not really be considered a dedicated intuitive artist tool capable of producing highly detailed sketches. Those who require such a feature would be advised to invest in a tablet, such as the Wacom Bamboo Pen.

Given the cost of the Livescribe Echo Smartpen, the inclusion of a thin wrist strap might help prevent cases of people inadvertently dropping it on the floor. Also, anyone who does purchase a Livescribe Smartpen would be advised to pay the extra and obtain a dedicated carrying case so as to help keep things together and protected.

Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen | Livescribe Deluxe Carrying Case

Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen | Livescribe Deluxe Carrying Case

With the advancement and decrease in the cost of Tablet technology in recent times, you can find similar functionality (minus pen on paper) to the Livescribe Echo using an inexpensive app and without the negative issues noted concerning the Livescribe software. Of course, a Tablet will set you back considerably more to start with but the gap has narrowed recently.

Finally, be aware that there may be issues concerning use of the Smartpen related to copyright and privacy laws in some countries. One must consider the legal ramifications of recording interviews, meetings etc. without gaining consent from all those present first, especially when dealing with under age children or when used in a school environment. Also, knowing that someone is recording everything being said can alter the dynamics of a meeting significantly, as it makes some people nervous or cautious about what they say.

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