PEN IS MIGHT­IER THAN THE DIC­TA­PHONE

Finweek English Edition - - Techtrends -

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.

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