LiveScribe – Review
One of my recurring fantasies has been having the ability to transfer handwritten notes to applications without having to go through slow shennanigans. Other than taking pictures of my notes, dictating them, transcribing them, or wondering if I could build something with Arduino, that’s been, well, a fantasy.
Then I stumbled across the LiveScribe pen. http://www.livescribe.com/en-us/
Yes, of course I bought it immediately. It’s eerily (but not perfectly) close to my fantasy.
Here’s a picture of the pen with a bonus cat for scale:
It’s a pen. It’s fully functional for writing. (A bit more about that later. I have a complaint.) It comes with a USB charging cable. You should get 14 days on a charge. No worries, even if your pen ran out of battery it would still write.
There is an Android version. Cost is from $149 to $200 depending on which pen, pen package, or other accessories you decide to get.
Does it Do More Than Write?
Yes. Yes it does. The pen contains an infrared camera. It is a Bluetooth device and it can connect to up to five devices. You download the LiveScribe app to your devices, do a little set up, connect the pen to your devices and then to your LiveScribe notebook (more about that in a bit) and you’re good to go.
If you are writing on paper designed or printed to work with the pen, what you write or draw is instantly transferred to your phone or tablet. If you don’t happen to have your phone or tablet nearby, what you write will synch up when you are. This is true between devices as well. Suppose you have your phone with you and you are busily writing notes that are synching to your phone. Later, when you open up your tablet, those phone pages synch to your tablet. In other words, you are not required to be connected to your phone or tablet when you are writing in your notebook.
Regarding the paper, notebooks and Post-it type notes are available from LiveScribe. (http://store.livescribe.com/catalogsearch/result/?q=notebooks ) . You can print your own paper if you have a color Laser printer that can print at 600 dpi. That’s a bit pricy, but hey. The notebooks are not any more expensive than most other notebooks and they come in varying sizes and number of pages.
Here’s a close up of a blank page. You have to look very closely to see the dots that allow the camera to orient itself in the plane and record what was drawn where. The pages, by the way, are numbered in the notebook, so you could write on the last page first, skip around in the notebook, or if you wanted to, write from page 1 to page the last, and LiveScribe would know which pages numbers you wrote on.
From a normal view, you cannot see the dots. Here’s a picture of a “blank” page. You’ll see that I press too hard on the pages. That’s me. Sorry. But see below in re my discovery.
Discovery – No Ink Actually Required
As it happens, I discovered that ink is not necessary for the pen to transfer text. I was writing along taking notes and then the ink stopped flowing. Annoying. I happened to have the app open and I noticed that despite their being no actual ink on the pages, my notes were still appearing on my phone. This was true for two pages of invisible notes.
Folks, that’s magic!
Not really. It just means that ink is not required unless you’d actually like to read your notes in the notebook. <<snort>> However, if you use other ballpoint cartridges than the LiveScribe ones, you need to get refills that are carbonless inks. I imagine that is because the camera cannot see through carbon ink to the dots.
My second discovery was that if you are using the invisible ink method of writing, you need to be sure you’re not writing over a section. Because your notes will look like this:
I’m mostly joking about invisible writing. As I said, see the complaints section.
In the app, you can convert your text to notes. Links are clickable. Email addresses are usable. You can add images. You can record audio while you’re writing. Your notes are synched with the audio, and if you tap on a portion of your notes in the app, the relevant audio plays.
NOTE: Please check the laws in your State since some have laws against recording people without obtaining their consent.
If you draw images, they can be uploaded into programs such as Adobe Illustrator as vector images. You can email yourself pages or sections of pages, upload or connect in certain apps, such as Evernote or your reminder list.
If you’re an artist or designer, you can upload images. I think that might be imperfect as my devil’s legs were not fully connected to his body, and that was see as a different section elsewhere in the app.
Here, you can see that I have clicked from “Page” to “Feed” in the app (see top of screen). In the feed, you see your page rendered and divided into sections. From there, you can convert to text, as I have done with the list in the middle. At the bottom, you can see that links have been converted. I clicked on the Dear Author link and ended up at DearAuthor.com.
You can see, however, that my rotten penmanship meant I had to extra careful with URLS. The app had some trouble with Dear Author. A couple of times it separated the words. Aside from learning how to reduce URL translation mistakes (simple enough) there are some very useful things that result from this, as in getting down URLS, getting them transferred to your phone or etc, either immediately, or later on.
I added a little bit of text afterward, but you can see how you can convert sections of a page, or an entire page, and then email sections, send it to an app, etc.
As you can see, you can work with just portions of a page. Above, I’ve converted the top two sections but not the bottom one. Once you’ve clicked on the Feed tab, you swipe left to convert to text. It’s instantaneous, by the way. Swipe right to delete.
Also in Feed mode, you can add images and annotate.
From here, you can do other things, such as add to reminders, etc.
And Then The Killer Feature
When you email a page, or section of a page, or other send data out of the app to elsewhere, it creates a pdf. At first I was disappointed because what I wanted was the ability to move text into say, Word, and pdfs are a PITA. But this turned out to be trivial to achieve, at least in iOS or MacOS.
All you do is open the pdf in the Preveiwer app and copy and paste. Like this:
In this image, I have copied those two email addresses out of the previewer app on my iMac and pasted them into an email. As text.
Done. This is awesome.
A Few Complaints
Nothing is perfect, and I do have a few complaints. Setting up the pen went smoothly until it wanted to do a firmware update to the pen. Yes.
Oh, excuse me, boss. I have to update my pen firmware. I’ll be right with you.
The firmware would not install completely. Restarting my phone etc did not work and I was getting thoroughly annoyed. There is a desktop app that is supposed to solve such issues, but it turned out that right after I installed that, I noticed a support section about hard restarting the pen. I did that instead and then the firmware update completed in about 10 seconds.
For the first couple of days everything was awesome. Then, when I was taking notes with the pen, using the cartridge that came with the pen, ink stopped flowing. I scribbled on regular paper and ink started flowing again and things were fine until I was at a meeting and about four pages of notes in … invisible ink. And I couldn’t get the pen writing again.
AND I was trying to take notes at a meeting.
I thought that was just a cheap starter cartridge so I swapped in a new one (the pen I ordered came with several) and that was good for about two paragraphs and then the cartridge kept skipping out and I’d have to scribble on regular paper until it started again. I’m going to email about that issue because it’s annoying as hell.
The worse your handwriting, the less accurate the conversion to text, by the way. I guess that’s more an observation than a complaint.
This pen is great. I love it since there are times when I take or write out lots of notes and this will let me get them into a word processor without retyping. Being able to write URLS and emails and get them into your device without retyping them is also wonderful. I’ve been at presentations where people rattle off URLS and email address and the like and now I have a convenient way to get that presentation URL to a web browser without typing anything but my email address.
So far, it’s love at first write.*