iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Pulse Smartpen

A device for notetakers.

February 3, 2009

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To move notes off of the Pulse smartpen and onto a PC, you'll need to have Livescribe Desktop installed. This software can be downloaded from the Livescribe website. When I first attached my Pulse smartpen to the PC, I was presented with a slew of updates to the pen. The update process was slow because many previous files were first uninstalled from the pen, and then completely reinstalled with updated versions.

We've tested the Livescribe desktop on three different versions of Windows: Windows XP, Vista, and the new Windows 7 Beta. It works well on all three.

The user interface of Livescribe Desktop is sleek and clean, but it unfortunately feels buggy and is slow to navigate. In addition, there are times when the software doesn't properly sync with the pen.

Once you do get the Pulse smartpen to sync with the PC, all note sessions are copied to the PC. You can then delete sessions from the pen if you want to free up space.

Organization in Livescribe Desktop is rather simplistic. The main page of Livescribe desktop lists all of the current notebooks. All notes are organized in Livescribe Desktop according to notebook. Notebooks can be named, renamed, and once used, archived.

I understand the iTunes approach that Livescribe is going for, but I'd really like the company to add some more organizational features. Namely, I want to be able to create my own "notebooks" and be able to drag and drop pages across these notebooks. Basically, with the current setup of Livescribe Desktop, you can only have a notebook if you physically have a notebook. With the PC freeing users from many of these limitations, why not add these extra features.

By double clicking on a notebook, you can view all pages of the notebook in thumbnail form. If you have a slower computer, the software will most likely slow down here to load the thumbs.

Double clicking on a page begins playback of the notes. As the audio playback progresses, the text turns from pale green to dark green. Clicking on a specific part of the notes jumps the audio to what was being said at that part of the notes.

The most useful feature of Livescribe Desktop is the ability to search written notes. Simply typing the word you're looking for in the search bar and pressing enter will pull up the results from all of your notes sessions.

The handwriting recognition works very well and can "read" a variety of writing styles, including slanted and cursive writing. This is all the more amazing since my handwriting isn't the neatest in the world. The software, though, does have difficulty picking up chicken scratch, but who doesn't?

Notes taken with the Pulse smartpen can be uploaded online and shared with friends. Presentation of the notes is exactly the same as the presentation in the software, except this time it's in a browser window. Here is an example of a recorded session posted online.

Clicking on the Pulse Smartpen in the upper right of the software takes you to the Smartpen Manager screen. This page breaks down how much space you have left on the Pulse and also allows you to check for updates.

Clicking on the Sessions button takes you to a screen with all of the audio sessions listed out. It tells the date the session was recorded, and the amount of room it is taking on the pen.

Third party applications are also available for the Pulse. This feature alone makes the pen very exciting, since it opens up a whole world of possibilities. According to Livescribe, 1,700 developers are working on applications for the device. Availability of applications starts in 2009. An application that converts Livescribe written notes to text is already available for $29.99. I'd prefer having a free option from Livescribe available built directly into the desktop software, but it's better than nothing.

Final Words

The Livescribe Pulse smartpen is an excellent device for notetakers. If you take notes often, the Livescribe Pulse is a must-have.

The largest drawback of the Pulse smartpen has to be the desktop software. I hope to see Livescribe further optimize its performance and stability. The thickness of the pen is another issue, and if you have small hands it might be awkward writing with the pen. The best comparison to writing with the Pulse smartpen is writing with a Sharpie. Other than its width, our largest dislike is the Pulse smartpen's limited memory. I would have liked Livescribe to have incorporated a MicroSD card slot so that users could expand the pen's memory.

The most important step in making a purchasing decision regarding the Pulse smartpen is defining whether you actually need it. Beyond taking notes, the Pulse smartpen's uses are quite limited, so it all depends on the frequency at which you take notes and refer back to them. If you are a heavy notetaker or are a student, I highly recommend the Pulse smartpen to you.

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