Pen or Spy? The Livescribe Pulse Smartpen

Despite the numerous warnings of Hollywood, technology continues to advance at a dangerous rate. It’s a slippery slope that will lead to the day when all of humanity is bowing down at the feet of its robotic overlords, a la Terminator and The Matrix. Cell phones, mp3 players, and even cars are wired and nearly ripe for a takeover by Skynet. Adding to the eventual downfall of man is the Livescribe Pulse Smartpen.

The Livescribe Pulse Smartpen is an electronic pen that captures what you write as you write it for later upload to a computer. While this is nothing new, the Pulse Smartpen takes this to a whole new level by including an audio recorder into the design. The pen, roughly 6 inches long and a half inch thick, has a speaker beneath its OLED display that allows you to record while you write.

While this is useful in itself, what you write is synced with the audio. Tapping a word on your notebook will automatically begin playing the audio from the moment that word was written. The audio can be played back through the pen’s speaker or through the included 3-D recording headset. All of this information can then be synced to a computer for easy access and even distribution over the internet.

Being able to record while taking notes takes some of the pressure out of trying to write down everything during a class or a meeting, and the ability to upload data makes organization a cakewalk.  Your notes are also searchable, making critical notes that much easier to find. Just remember not to use the pulse in your meeting on how to shut down Skynet. You may kickoff a global apocalypse.

The only drawback to the Pulse Smartpen is that the pen only records your writing strokes, but doesn’t convert them to editable text. That’s right, the machines may not be able to destroy the world if they can’t read your handwriting. That is, of course, if you didn’t buy MyScript for Livescribe. It’s a third party software available for transcribing the Smartpen’s notes, charts, drawings, and anything else you can write. Myscript can save your transcribed notes into a variety number of file formats, including Microsoft Word documents.

The Pulse Smartpen is only one part of the equation, though. The other part is the paper. The pen can only record what you write if it is written down on special dot paper. The dots on the paper help the infrared camera built into the pen to track what you put down on the page. In addition to this, the paper sports the controls for the pens interface on the bottom of each page. Tapping the pen on these “buttons” will guide you through the various menus.

A notebook with dot paper is included with each pen and additional notebooks can be purchased from the Livescribe Pulse Smartpen website. They come in a variety of colors and some are leather bound and look similar to Moleskine binders. The binders and notebooks are numbered so the pen can tell which one you’re writing in. Notes from up to four can be saved on the pen at a time. Two separate notebooks with the same number will be seen by the pen as one notebook, however.

The paper can get a little expensive (about $8 for a 150 page notebook), but they come with useful items like calculators that you can’t get by printing your own dot paper. You can print your own dot paper for free from the Livescribe website, by the way. It works just as well as the stuff you can buy provided you printed it using an Adobe Postscript compatible color LaserJet printer.

In addition to just being a useful work device, the Pulse Smartpen also has apps that can do a wide variety of things. There are several apps for playing hangman, for example. The “classic” version of the game has 500 words and is played by writing your guesses down. If you’re wrong, portions of the hangman are drawn onto a picture on the pen’s display. Other useful apps are language dictionaries. Write down words or phrases in English or  in your chosen language and it will be translated on the display. The translators are available in French, German, Japanese, and Spanish. There are other apps that allow you to do everything from play black jack to learn about the presidents. Livescribe’s Smartpen app store is a little light on applications at the moment, however. Hopefully this will change in the future, though.

The Livescribe Pulse Smartpen is currently available in 2GB and 4GB versions on the Livescribe website. The two versions are completely identical except for hard drive space and price; the 2GB version is $149.99 and the 4GB version is $199.99. Both come with all the bells and whistles, including a recording headset, charging/sync cradle, dot paper notebook, and 500mb of storage space on the Livescribe website.

The 4GB pen does come in a premium “pro” version, however. For $249.95, you get a black pen instead of the standard titanium, the Pro charging cradle, a leather case for your pen, and a copy of the Myscript transcription software. The pro charging cradle is an upright and more stylish version of the standard cradle that can charge via USB or AC adapter. Accept for the black pen, these accessories are available separately, though it is cheaper as a package.

The Livescribe Pulse Smartpen is undoubtedly a cool device, but at what cost to humanity!?!  When the robot apocalypse begins and humans are batteries while T-800s march up and down the streets, the resistance will still be using Smartpens. Every time a soldier writes, the villains of a new mechanical society will be there to rip him in half and destroy all that he loves and holds dear. Don’t be fooled, the Smartpen is a spy cloaked in the guise of a useful and fun gadget. How much is that really worth to you?  (answer:  It’s so cool I fear we’ll be taking our chances)

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