Hands On: Livescribe smartpen adds Wi-Fi, Evernote

Users can send notes, audio wirelessly to cloud with new Sky smartpen.

How do you improve upon a digital pen that records audio as you write? With its new Sky smartpen, Livescribe is betting wireless is the answer.

For those unfamiliar, Livescribe makes digital pens that use real ink and real notebooks. The cool factor comes from a camera built into the pen that digitises the notes and an audio recorder that automatically syncs the recordings to the written notes. The audio can be played back directly from the pen or transferred to a computer.

Livescribe’s new model Sky, announced today, adds a Wi-Fi chip allowing users to sync their notes to the cloud on the go. Previous models relied on a USB connection. The trade-off is reduced battery life. Livescribe estimates that the Sky gets 4.5 hours with Wi-Fi turned on, and up to 11 hours with wireless turned off.

Livescribe Sky connects wirelessly to the Cloud and other devices. Credit: Livescribe
Livescribe Sky connects wirelessly to the Cloud and other devices. Credit: Livescribe

In a business context, this means a worker can simultaneously take notes and record audio in a meeting without ever having to notate time stamps. After the meeting, one simply presses the pen against a particular note and the audio plays back from that precise moment in the meeting. The written notes and audio is automatically synced to the cloud after recording finishes.

As a journalist, I’ve found previous models of the Livescribe pen to be a great timesaver when conducting interviews or covering conferences on a deadline. The added wireless functionality and integration with Evernote—an app I’m already using—has great potential because it means more immediate digital copies of my notes on all of my devices.

To make this work, however, Livescribe and Evernote will have to work closely to ensure seamless compatibility between their products. In my time with an early version of the product, I’ve experienced mixed results in this regard but have been assured things will be in better order by the product’s release. I’ll talk about this more in a review later this week.

On the outside, the new pen looks nearly identical to the previous version, Echo, only with a dark silver grip. It’s still about the size of a cigar, but it’s hard to blame Livescribe given what’s inside.

The pen is comfortable to grip and won’t roll when you place it down on a desk. A small OLED screen is built into the pen and displays important information like audio time and a menu. It is bright and easy to read.

Significantly, Livescribe has replaced its previous propriety software for the Mac and PC with the popular note-taking software Evernote, meaning notes can be immediately accessed from any device running Evernote. The Sky can also directly share notes by email or to Google Drive, Facebook or Dropbox. However, the latter four services won’t be available until Q1 next year.

In addition, Livescribe has added a mobile SDK allowing users to pair the pen with Android and Apple iOS tablets and smartphones. The functionality will be available for Apple in Q4 and Android in Q1 next year, Livescribe said.

Device pairing with Apple and Android has some interesting applications. At the launch event in Sydney, a Livescribe offical demonstrated an app that allows users to take notes on a PDF document. He opened the PDF file on an iPad and took notes in the Livescribe notebook. The notes synced to the exact page of the PDF, acting as a kind of bookmark for the document.

It’s also possible to select a specific area in the PDF file on the iPad and scribble directly in that spot using the notebook as a drawing pad. Such a capability could be used for taking notes on a document or writing a signature on an electronic form.

Livescribe said it also plans to release a service that prints out any photo or document on its microdot paper, allowing users to take notes directly on the printout.

The Sky is available in three models with different amounts of storage: 2GB, 4GB and 8GB for AUS $229, $275 and $345, respectively. The 8GB version includes a folio cover with room to stick an iPad and a one-year subscription to Evernote Premium. Livescribe will continue to sell the older Echo model of the pen with 2GB for $166. The company said it’s trying to keep its prices as close as possible in Australia to other markets.

The pen continues to rely on special microdot notebooks made and sold by Livescribe. The notebooks have been updated to include wireless-specific functions, but the device still supports older editions. As before, the notebooks are to be sold at prices comparable to their traditional counterparts, Livescribe said.

Livescribe executive president, Sasha Pesic, said Livescribe has had talks with journal-maker Moleskine but wouldn’t say more.

Computerworld Australia will have a full review later in the week.

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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Tags mobilewirelessdropboxWi-FiaudioLivescribeSkyEvernoteinkNotessmartpenGoogle Driverecordingrecorderdigital pen

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