Livescribe Echo smartpen

The Livescribe Echo smartpen allows users to capture audio as they write on paper thanks to a built-in recorder

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Livescribe Echo smartpen
  • Livescribe Echo smartpen
  • Livescribe Echo smartpen
  • Livescribe Echo smartpen

Pros

  • Simultaneously records audio while writing, excellent recording quality and volume, easy to use, third-party app store, pencasts

Cons

  • Thicker and larger than a regular pen, cap is easily lost, software isn't the most intuitive

Bottom Line

If you regularly take notes, the Livescribe Echo smartpen is almost a must-buy. Excellent recording capabilities, ease of use and an app store that will only grow make it a wise investment.

Would you buy this?

A pen with a built in voice recorder, Livescribe's Echo smartpen is the second version of this digital note taking product. A successor to the still available Pulse smartpen, the Echo is a slight refresh rather than a completely new product, but an improved ergonomic design, standard headphone and USB ports and more memory make it a worthwhile addition to the smartpen family.

The Echo allows users to capture audio as they write on paper thanks to a built-in recorder. However, the real beauty of the smartpen comes when it is paired with Livescribe's proprietary dot paper — paper covered in thousands of tiny dots. These dots act as reference points so once you've finished writing and recording, you can tap the pen on any word to hear exactly what was recorded at that point in time.

The Livescribe Echo smartpen is larger than most regular pens but isn't uncomfortable to hold or write with. Improvements over its predecessor include a cap that covers the ballpoint tip (you get two in the box as you'll easily lose it if you aren't careful), a standard headphone jack, a micro-USB port rather than a proprietary USB connection and increased internal storage — up to 8GB. The Echo smartpen also has a small OLED display on its front, along with a tiny built-in microphone and external speaker. Both the microphone and speaker work surprisingly well — the Echo has no problems recording a meeting or presentation in a large room, and playing back the audio using the speaker is loud and clear.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the Echo is just how easy it is to set up and use. Livescribe includes a small getting started guide in the sales package — simply turn the Echo smartpen on, adjust a few settings (including whether you're left or right handed and the time and date), and you are ready to start writing. Livescribe includes a starter dot paper notebook in the sales package and each page includes "paper relay controls" at the bottom, allowing you to tap an icon to record, pause, stop, jump to a particular position on the page/recording and bookmark any pages while writing. You can also adjust the playback speed and volume, while the front cover of the starter pad includes a calculator, and the ability to quickly adjust a range of other settings including brightness, display scroll speed and battery status.

The Livescribe Echo is ideal for any person who regularly takes notes, whether it is in meetings, classrooms or an everyday business environment. Its strength lies in that fact that you don't need to write everything down — simply write a keyword, or even draw a shape or picture and then just tap that part of the page to hear the rest of the audio recorded.

Once you've recorded audio with notes, you can then transfer the notes to your PC using the included USB dock and Livescribe software. The software isn't especially intuitive, but does a reasonable job of making your notes fully searchable, and when played back on your PC, the handwriting appears on screen as you wrote it with recorded audio playing back simultaneously. The updated software also adds password protection, and the ability to name your smartpen.

You can also create what Livescribe calls a "pencast" — basically an interactive PDF. Echo users can upload pencasts onto Livescribe's Web site and anyone using Adobe Acrobat Reader 9.3 or higher can view them. Finally, Livescribe offers a third-party application store, where developers can build apps for the smartpen platform. The store is still in its infancy but already includes a number of handy apps like currency converters and language translators.

The Livescribe Echo smartpen is available in 4GB and 8GB sizes and includes a starter dot paper notebook, microUSB cable, two ink cartridges and two smartpen caps. Extra dot paper and other accessories can be purchased from the Livescribe store. You can also print more dot paper yourself using a laser printer.

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