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Livescribe Echo review and SALE! (Nov. 28/29)

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Posted by Pavi
Nov 28, 2011 at 10:27 AM



I was planning to write a review on the Livescribe Echo smartpen and Livescribe Desktop software, but got delayed. However, now I see via email that Livescribe has a sale on their 8 GB Echo pen ($99, normally $179). This is an unbeatable price and my short review will explain why.

First, the pen is reviewed all over the internet. So I will just stick to the relevant points…

The Livescribe series of smartpens use an infrared camera to record what you write using special paper with micro-dots that are visible but not distracting. The pen itself has a pressure sensor, that records the position during contact with the paper, and stores all this information. Additionally, it has a microphone to record audio, and optional stereo earbuds which enhance the sound considerably. Purchasing this setup has the following costs: the pen, notebooks, and ink. Writing works as follows: turn on the pen, write. That’s it. Everything is recorded, even the notebook you are using (up to 8 can be used at once) and page. Recording audio works as follows: Turn on the pen, tap the “record” button, and write if you want to. Tap “Stop” if you want audio recording to stop. So it’s rather simple and foolproof. The main uses will be lectures, seminars, meetings, and even brainstorming sessions. An additional software Myscript ($30) will OCR and export the text. The pen also comes with 1 year of Evernote premium.

So why would you want a smartpen, when you can use a netbook or tablet? For many people (myself included), trying to enter data on a computer creates a disconnect from the lecture/seminar. Also, uses a computer is often difficult, and draws attention to yourself. Writing is a much more natural process, and you can write diagrams, etc. Using a capacitive tablet and pen is very unnatural compared with paper. This system allows you to keep all those notes that you take, without an extra step of transcribing them. This is very valuable, and personally I have misplaced a lot of handwritten notes and have notebooks that need to be proceeded. So the pen is an extreme timesaver.

The Livescribe Desktop software works flawlessly. Upon plugging in the pen (standard micro-USB), the software is launched, and new pages are loaded from the pen. The pages are then searchable within this software, and organized by notebooks. You right click on the pages of interest and export them either to computer, Onenote, Myscript, Facebook, Online storage, Evernote, etc. These create PDF “Pencasts” which show your penstrokes as the audio (if there is any) was recorded. It is extremely cool. I use UltraRecall, so I export to computer (PDF), and then link that note into UR, where the pencast remains intact. If I want OCR text, I export to Myscript, and then copy that text (usually in the notes section of the UR node).

So what are the drawbacks? One is that if your pen doesn’t work, you will be extremely disappointed. Looking at Amazon reviews, some people got bad pens and assume this technology is flawed. I assure you it is not. However, my pen originally would give connected text (ie. pen was stuck “on”), which was solved by googling their forums to find the answer (simply pull out the ink cartridge and put it back again). Also, after a few days I couldn’t get the USB cable to work. This was simply that I used a different cable which charged the pen, but didn’t detect it (ie. bad cable) - so it seemed like an error at the time. For this reason, I strongly suggest you put the pen through its paces the first 30 days or whatever the policy is where you buy it.

The other MAJOR shortcoming is that searchable PDFs cannot be created, possibly due to agreement with Myscript, the maker of the OCR software. Thus, you need to export twice if you want searchable text within UR, for example. You can also export to Onenote and use MS OCR, but you still need to copy this again into UR. If you use Onenote or Evernote, the text will be searchable.

If you take handwritten notes, you need this pen… period. It has improved my data capture significantly since I purchased it, and now all my notebooks are permanently stored. I bought the 2 GB pen, but strongly recommend at least the 4 GB, which adds a rubberized grip. The pen is large, and the grip would presumably help it to not get slippery as mine can after a time. I bought a 4 pack of A5 notebooks for $15 and 5 ink refills for $5 from Amazon. Using approximately 4 ink cartridges per A5 notebook, this means about $8 per 160 A5 sheets in consumable costs. However, you can print out the paper (A4 only), and I did this successfully on a rather old laser printer. So this cost can easily be removed, but since I like the A5 notebooks, I will stick with them.

It is on sale today at $99 for the 8 GB version, a fantastic price: http://www.livescribe.com/store/20070723002/8gb-echo-smartpen/p-408.htm?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Cyber+Monday+Offer+v1+-+Installed+Base+Group+2&utm_content=Cyber+Monday+Offer+v1+-+Installed+Base+Group+2+CID_b0790614d7c9490600233e707c9c00f3&utm_source=Campaign+Monitor+Email+Blasts&utm_term=CYBER+MONDAY+SALE+NOV+28-29

So finally:
- A strong recommendation to buy
- Test within the return period for potential problems
- Lack of searchable PDF is the only weakness (NA to Onenote or Evernote users)
- Notebooks and replacement ink is needed as well (but you can print the paper for free)

Best, /Pavi


Posted by Hugh
Nov 28, 2011 at 12:10 PM


Thanks - the review is helpful. It’s a pity the current offer doesn’t extend to the UK.


Posted by Franz Grieser
Nov 28, 2011 at 01:45 PM


Thanks for the review, Pavi.

Last year, I gave one to my son for use in highschool. But he did not get along with it. Now, I’ll give it a try.



Posted by Alexander Deliyannis
Nov 29, 2011 at 03:59 PM


Thanks for the heads up; I own and use the previous model (the Pulse). Overall I’m very pleased with it. Unfortunately, there are many situations when confidentiality does not allow me to use it. In such and other situations, e.g. when I am simply writing notes to myself, I would have liked Pulse to have an option to only record the pen trajectory, but not the sound. As it happens, this is not possible, so I have to use other pens for input.

I was just wondering whether the Echo does have this (common sense IMHO) option to switch sound recording off.


Posted by Pavi
Nov 29, 2011 at 07:36 PM



Apologies to those outside the US (including me) to whom the sale is not applicable.

Alexander, the Echo does not record audio by default. You have to tap the record button, and therefore this model corrects what seems to be a bad implementation on the Pulse. I should also mention that you can hear the “scratching” of the pen when recording using the built-in mic, but the audio is still usually useful. Situations such as small meetings and large, amplified lectures work best - the option stereo headset/mic ($30) appears to refine the recording capabilities significantly. I won’t be purchasing them only because I also use the pen mainly for recording writing without audio. For those who want excellent recording quality, the headset should be considered.

Best, /Pavi

Alexander Deliyannis wrote:
>Thanks for the heads up; I own and use the previous model (the Pulse). Overall I’m very
>pleased with it. Unfortunately, there are many situations when confidentiality
>does not allow me to use it. In such and other situations, e.g. when I am simply writing
>notes to myself, I would have liked Pulse to have an option to only record the pen
>trajectory, but not the sound. As it happens, this is not possible, so I have to use
>other pens for input.
> >I was just wondering whether the Echo does have this (common
>sense IMHO) option to switch sound recording off.


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