Livescribe’s ballpoint pen uses miniature camera technology and special ‘dot paper’ to help make a digital record of one’s handwritten notes while you scribble. Thanks to updated firmware and a fresh app, this model now works with Android as well as iOS phones and tablets. The Smartpen 3 appears and feels like a proper, rather stylish pen. Twisting a central metal ring expands the retractable tip and turns the pen on, so it’s willing to use. At the top, there’s a pocket clip and a large rubber stylus tip that you can use instead of a finger on your own touchscreen. For those who have your mobile device with you, everything you write is provided for it instantly; otherwise, the pen saves your notes to its internal storage for later. Since the pen writes in genuine ink, the supplied dot paper notebook, which is essential to your process, are certain to get utilized. Replacements, in a variety of styles, start at around £14. On each page you will find printed ‘buttons’ for record, pause and stop, which you can tap to control audio recording, and icons that add new digital pages to various categories: flagged, tagged and favorites.
The sound recorder function, which just works for those who have the app operating on your device, allows you make synchronised recordings, or ‘Pencasts’, that include both sound and handwritten records. When you are taking notes during a speech or lecture, they’re linked to the relevant moment within the audio. To make use of the Smartpen 3 with your iOS or Android device, you need to download the free Livescribe+ and Livescribe Link apps. The first time you open Livescribe+, it encourages you to enable Bluetooth and turn on your pen for pairing, then guides you through updating the pen’s firmware. This only needs doing once. The Livescribe+ app is split into Page and Feed views. Page shows each web page of your notebook in full, so you can flick through your notes. Feed shows your notes as individual ‘snippets’, in the purchase you made them. An obvious next step is to convert your notes into editable text. To accomplish this, you flip a snippet sideways, and the app runs handwriting recognition about it. As you might expect, the results are patchy: good on clear printed or cursive text, but poor on lists, diagrams and scrawled block capitals. It is possible to fix errors manually, and to help using this, if an email or a web page has an associated sound recording, the Pencasts tab appears, permitting you play straight back from the appropriate point.
Through the software, you can share snippets, whole pages or Pencasts via e-mail, social media marketing or other linked apps. Snippets are delivered as JPG images, pages as PDFs, and sound Pencasts in a special Livescribe PDF format: this can be read as a normal PDF in Adobe Reader, but if it’s opened utilizing the Livescribe PDF web or mobile apps, you can play the audio track too. Notes that have been through text recognition are delivered as plain text. Disappointingly, it does not automatically back up your notes towards the internet. You can export everything to Google Drive, Dropbox or other cloud-storage services, but you have actually to get this done manually. If you are using an iPhone or iPad, it is possible to back up your Livescribe+ content utilizing iCloud, but there’s no universal equivalent for Android. The more expensive Wifi Smartpen adds support for Evernote (see below), a cloud solution for both Android and iOS. The Livescribe Smartpen 3 isn’t cheap, and also you’ll need a recent Android or iOS device to use it with. It is a shame text recognition is not quite magical enough to convert all of your handwriting accurately. But writing on real paper is more practical than trying to write on a touchscreen, despite having a stylus, and making simultaneous paper, audio and electronic notes is a great way to work.