- 1 Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Overview
- 2 Basic Principles
- 3 Potential Users Of Livescribe Echo Smartpen
- 4 What’s In The Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Box?
- 5 Requirements
- 6 Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Details
- 7 Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Pros
- 8 Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Potential Issues
- 9 Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Review Conclusion
- 10 Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Price Guide
Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Overview
The Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen represents a fascinating input device that intersects the real with the virtual giving the user the feel of pen on paper with the productivity, flexibility and communicability of the digital world. Moreover, it aims to reduce stress and improve work efficiency through being able to record, store and upload to a computer audio and written work in an easy and straightforward manner. The main marketing points include:
- Amazing portability. In effect, all you need is the Echo Smartpen and notebook paper; meaning you don’t have to have the hassle of lugging around a laptop to take notes or record video or sound. Also, it does away with the trouble of having to locate a power socket or the problems associated with whether the cord will be long enough to reach the socket.
- All in one solution. It allows you to record everything you write, say or hear with the ability to save, store, catalog, search and organize the notes and recordings easily and quickly at a convenient time later from your computer.
- Focus. It enables you to focus on the important issues or concentrate on the speaker/lecturer/client whilst the details can be captured in audio and accessed at a later time. Leaving little reminder notes during a recording will enable you to go to the specific points and hear the comments being made at that time.
- Cross referencing and the ability to link audio recordings to the notes with a ‘point and play’ technology. Simply tap the notes and the appropriate audio will sync with the chosen word. Editing is easy and additional points of interest can be added later.
- Sharing. Because the data is available in digital form, it can be shared easily through various media such as e-mail, social networks like Facebook, mobile devices, transferred to CD/DVD or USB/Pen drives, uploaded to the cloud or can even be embedded in a blog or webpage.
- Backup. You not only have the physical notebook containing your written notes but you have a digital version that can be copied to ensure safe backup of your important work.
Once you have recorded or written your notes it’s a simple process to plug the Echo Smartpen into a USB port via the included Micro USB cord, and the software on the computer will pull the audio and notes; such that each page is an exact scan or ‘Pencast’ of your written notes. You can print your notes, email or manipulate them in various ways.
The files are in a special format that can be easily shared online with others who might be interested through LiveScribe’s community website. In addition, the written files can also be saved in the web standard PDF format, meaning that they can be shared with an even wider audience. For example, you can write and record a real-time narration in the notebook (this term refers to Livescribe’s specially formatted pads of paper as described below in ‘Functionality’) and then upload the Pencast to Livescribe Online and publish it. If you choose to make the Pencast public, you simply select that option from the website, then copy and paste the link for the Pencast into emails to friends or associates for viewing at their convenience.
Potential Users Of Livescribe Echo Smartpen
The potential uses and applications for this computer pen device are considerable. It certainly has appeal to numerous professions and businesses such as secretarial work, writers, teachers, journalists, coders, architects, lawyers, academics, to name but a few. The ability to record and never miss those important points in lectures, training sessions, tutorials, meetings, interviews or use it for any brainstorming or coaching session, or even use it as a fantastic revision tool to improve exam results are all highly attractive propositions.
If we take the teaching profession as an example, a teacher could record homework hints for their students, create tutorials for problem solving, and record solutions to post and share on the web. Alternatively, a lecturer could let an able student take notes using the Echo Smartpen and any students absent during that class can be e-mailed the notes after the lessons allowing them view the material and print out a hard copy if required.
The question we hope to answer in this Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Review is whether the reality lives up to the marketing hype?
What’s In The Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Box?
- Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen with rubberized grip and non-removable rechargeable lithium battery.
- 1 x Micro USB cable for charging and data transfer.
- 2 x Smartpen caps and 2 x fine black ink cartridges.
- Interactive getting started guide and Smartpen tips and tricks.
- Starter dot paper notebook containing 50 sheets of A5 paper (5.8 x 8.3 inch or 14.85 x 21 cm).
- The ‘Livescribe Desktop’ computer desktop software for either Windows or Mac needs to be downloaded. This has 5 main uses which include:
- Page Viewer to search, view and replay notes.
- Export your notes and audio files in many formats including PDF and Pencast.
- Smartpen application management.
- Gateway to your account, store, and online community.
- Ability to print your own notebooks on Adobe PostScript compatible, 600dpi, color laser printers.
- ‘Livescribe Connect Premium’ that enables you to easily send and share notes and audio to:
- Evernote, Facebook, Microsoft OneNote, MyLivescribe, your mobile device or your computer as well as Google™ Docs, Google Sites and Email.
- Access to the following web services:
- My Livescribe Account.
- 500MB Online Storage.
- Livescribe Community access for posting and sharing content.
- Compatible with Windows XP with SP3, Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Intel Mac with Mac OS X 10.5.5 or higher. No native linux support.
- A computer with 600MHz CPU or higher and at least 300 MB free disk space.
- An available USB 2.0 port.
- Livescribe Desktop 2.7 for Windows or Mac OS and Smartpen firmware version 2.7 or later.
- Internet connection in order to access Livescribe Desktop software and the 500MB of free personal Pencast online storage.
Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Details
The Livescribe Echo Smartpen brand comes in a variety of memory sizes and the 4GB of memory version is marketed as storing up to 64,000 pages of notes or 400 hours of audio. Please note that the 4GB version does not include the Smartpen Portfolio, 3-D Recording Premium Headset or MyScript for Livescribe Software (handwriting to digital text convertor) that comes with the 8GB Echo Propack version. However, it is possible to try a 30 day free trial of the text recognition app, but it will cost around $30 to use beyond this period.
Dimensions of Livescribe Echo Smartpen
- Length: 6.22 inch or 158 mm.
- Width: 0.78 inche or 19.7 mm at top; 0.45 inch or 11.5 mm at tip.
- Weight: 1.3 ounce or 36 grams without cap.
Real World Comparision:
- Physical size. The Smartpen is about the size of MontBlanc’s largest fountain pen.
- File sizes. The size of the files produced are relative to the size of the notebook paper you use i.e. writing on 8.5″ x 11″ notebook paper will produce bigger files than on 5.8″ x 8.3″ paper.
- If you were to record a 1 hour voice recorded meeting or take notes for that period of time you can expect to produce a file of around 10 – 12 MB.
- Alternatively, 100 pages of notes and 7 hours of audio will use around or slightly less than 1GB of memory on the pen.
- Battery Life.
- In writing mode only, the Echo Smartpen could be used for several hours a day for several days before the need for recharging.
- In audio recording mode, the Smartpen seemed to operate for about 5-7 hours. Recharging the Echo Smartpen appeared to take 1-2 hours.
- Ink cartridge. 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.
Functionality of Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen
The writing side of the Livescribe 4 GB Echo Smartpen works by using an built-in high speed infrared camera (70+ images/sec) in conjunction with an array of microdots on the paper that act as a dot positioning system. The paper in these notebooks looks just like any other regular paper to the naked eye, but upon closer examination you can observe a minuscule pattern on all the pages. This pattern is recognized by the infrared camera in the pen, and this forms a reference grid for the pen to recognize and record what is being written.
The audio side is activated by using a command on the dot paper and the Smartpen then records like any digital recorder. The embedded microphone records in mono; binaural or stereo recording requires the use of the 3-D Premium Recording Headset (also referred to as Echo 3D Recording Headset or Earbuds) that are sold separately in the 4GB version. The settings for recording quality are Low, Medium (default), High and the microphone sensitivity options are Lecture Hall vs Conference Room. The Smartpen comes with an embedded speaker and furthermore, the unit has a standard 3.5mm audio jack at the top of the pen that can be used with accessories such as headphones and earbuds.
There are numerous accessories available such as:
- Deluxe Carrying Case.
- Echo 3-D Recording headset.
- Handbound Journals, Large Notebooks, A4 Notebooks, A5 Notebooks, Paper Blanks Mini Journal, 3″ x 5″ Flip Pad.
- Replacement Echo Smartpen Caps and Ink Cartridges.
- Smartpen Portfolio Case.
- Universal Leather Case.
- Universal USB AC Wall Adapter.
Additional functionality comes in the form of:
- The ability to launch a favorite app by simply writing its name.
- Basic calculation with a readout on the Echo Smartpen screen.
- Data info, support for various languages and the ability password protect recorded sessions with a 4 digit number.
Upgrading to the latest version of ‘Livescribe Desktop’ is recommended in order to access a range of Apps($0 – $14.99), for example:
- Education e.g. Amino Acids, Lowest Terms, SpellingMe.
- Entertainment e.g. CodeBreaker.
- Games e.g. Blackjack,Hangman, Helicopter, Sudoku, Video Poker.
- Music e.g. Classical Music Snippets, Guitar.
- Productivity e.g. Measure.
- Reference e.g.U.S. Presidents, German Travel Phrases, French Travel Phrases.
- Utility e.g. Stopwatch.
Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Pros
The Livescribe Desktop software has to be downloaded. Setting up the software is reasonably straightforward and the Echo Smartpen links to the laptop’s spare USB port using the provided Micro USB cable. We understand that the latest drivers for the Mac OS have greatly improved the bug associated with the response rate noted in versions prior to 2.2.1
The slimmer, sleek ergonomic design means the Echo Smartpen is more aesthetic and attractive compared to earlier incarnations of the Livescribe and appears to turn-on faster than the previous Pulse version. The improved design comes with a soft textured rubberized grip and anti-roll body. The Echo Smartpen did not feel very heavy and the 96 x 18 OLED display screen is easy bright and easy to read.
There are many different apps available e.g. language translation, games. The range of apps increase functionality, for example, by allowing the Smartpen to even serve as a MP3 player using the ‘Music Player’ app.
Ease of Use
The learning curve for using the basic note-taking could be classed as minimal. Leaning the more advanced features will take longer but if you make sure to have the latest firmware, watch the practice videos and take the time to learn the app functions, they can be mastered in a few days.
A nice touch is if you owned a previous Livescribe Smartpen and use the same email account to register it, you can see notes from all your pens side by side.
What’s great is that you can write on half a page (sync with your computer to show half a page of digital text) then go back to the notebook at another time to write additional notes on the empty half of the page, and the computer will show the new text in the appropriate place when re-synched at anytime in the future. You can write on any page in any order and the Livescribe software will know exactly where you are when you re-synch.
The ability to add command symbols to the notes, tap that part of the notebook sometime later and immediately auto synch to retrieve and play the associated audio is an immense time saver for many professions. Add to this the search/skip function and this makes the Echo Smartpen an indispensable tool for many users e.g. journalists, writers, students. Alternatively, you can add notes after recording a meeting and whilst listening to the playback. Then by touching the pen to the notes, the playback will jump to the point in the meeting where the notes were added.
Writing with the Smartpen is natural and straightforward and the ink dries almost instantly. It is very easy to change the cartridges, especially compared to earlier Livescribe Smartpens, and these are available in fine and medium points and red, blue and black colors.
Livescribe produce a variety of pad and paper sizes to cater for all tastes. e.g. A5-sized Notebooks, Lined Journals, Sticky Notes. Although it is recommended to use the proprietary Livescribe dot paper for optimal results, it is possible to print out your own using an Adobe PostScript compatible, 600dpi color laser printer. Some people have reported having success even using a good quality inkjet printer. The paper in the notebooks is of very good quality, thick and durable. In addition, once you have downloaded your notes the micro tearing allows you to rip out the page and file the notes.
Audio sound quality is generally quite good but remember that recording times vary depending on the audio quality setting. Settings can be adjusted taking into account different audio environments and although some background noise will be present in the recording, in general, it does not unduly affect the listening experience. Using the 3-D Premium Recording Headset makes a significant difference to audio quality.
The ability to encrypt and password protect files is vital for those that use the pen in a professional capacity where confidentiality and privacy is essential.
Finally, the Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen may be a useful learning tool, for example, with someone who has learning or attention issues or even for those who write slowly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Review Conclusion
The Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen is one of the most able Smartpens currently available, however, one is left feeling that it represents a great concept whose shortcomings somewhat tarnish its luster. If you can accept the issues surrounding the documentation and pen cap design, but most importantly, the less than perfect accompanying software, the Livescribe 4GB Echo is still the ‘swiss army knife’ of Smartpens. We look forward to the day when a Smartpen such as this has no need for dot guided paper.
Build Quality 4/5
Design & Ergonomics 3.5/5
Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen Price Guide
Category: $135 -$225
Current Cheapest Deals:
If you want to buy the Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen safely and with peace of mind, you can get it cheapest currently on Amazon through the following links: