PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE DICTAPHONE
THERE USED TO BE three gadgets I relied on for my job as a journalist: my 13” Macbook laptop, Nikon D90 camera and iPhone. However, a flood of new gadgets has recently entered the market and my backpack, with a couple of them making themselves indispensable. Perhaps the most intriguing of those is the Pulse Smartpen.
To call the Smartpen a “pen” would be like describing Jacob Zuma as someone who lightly dabbles in politics. The Smartpen is quite simply the most advanced electronic pen ever devised and it’s ridiculously useful. And fun. It has a camera mounted next to its point that reads micro dots printed on special paper. That allows it to store and interact with everything that happens on the paper.
So it can be used to record audio while taking notes. Using controls at the bottom of the page you can then touch a part of the page and the pen will play back the audio it recorded while that part of the page was being written or drawn on. And for people like me who write quite slowly you can adjust the latency of the playback so the audio matches the notes in thought process.
There’s also a calculator printed at the front of the Smartpen’s notepad that can be touched to make calculations, with the results being displayed on its tiny screen. Touch the date icon and the pen tells you the date. Draw a piano on your notepad and use the pen to play it. The possibilities are endless – especially considering its platform has now been opened to developers so anyone can write applications for it. I suspect tic-tac-toe will be one of the first to appear.
The Smartpen also includes headphones with built-in microphones used to record “3D sound”. It works remarkably well and creates a surround-sound-like recording so you can hear where people were in the room when playing back a conversation.
Though the Smartpen is pricey it’s ultimately worth it. The 2GB version retails at around R2 800 in SA, including headphones, spare pen refills (it uses standard Parker refills), four large notepads, a carry case, blacklead (so that it can be used as a pencil) plus some other bits and pieces. There’s also software available that automatically uploads your notes, along with their accompanying audio, to your computer when you place the pen in its included magnetic cradle.
An online service is also available, allowing you to store your notes on the Internet and share them with other users, including movie versions that allow you to watch the creation of notes with accompanying audio.
Software for the Smartpen is available for PC and Mac. However, if you want your handwriting converted to text then an additional program is required, which costs around US$30.
The notebooks required for use with the Smartpen are also available on their own and in a variety of sizes, including tiny pocket notepads, medium sized moleskin-like books and larger pads perfect for students. As a journalist I find the moleskin-style notebook the most useful, but the variety would cater for anyone – including engineers, lawyers or doctors for whom the Smartpen has immediately obvious benefits.
The notepads are already available at a number of stationers in SA and at Incredible Connection stores, so owners of the pen are unlikely to ever be stuck without them.
The Smartpen’s included software also lets you print your own notepaper.
The pen was developed by US company Livescribe and is distributed in SA by Circuit City Electronics, although the latter isn’t a sole distributor, which means there’s some competition in the market and notebooks will be kept in stock for people like me now hooked on the Smartpen.