REVIEWED: Livescribe 3 smart pen

Evernote with knobs on? Digitise, share and archive hand written notes and ‘pencasts’, but only via proprietary paper

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The concept is simple; digitise everything. While travellers are increasingly turning to tablets and phones to take notes, record thoughts and scribble sketches, there are times when only a pen will do. So why not make that pen smart? By writing on special paper, handwritten notes go straight into the Livescribe app on a phone or tablet, and audio notes (recorded on your phone) are synced perfectly with handwritten notes, too.

Proprietary paper

Using a combination of proprietary dotted paper and a pen that’s actually an infrared camera, this third incarnation of the Livescribe’s smart pen sends everything via Bluetooth to a nearby iOS and – new this month – Android device hosting the Livescribe+ app. It’s a nifty and quick process, with a green LED to show that it’s paired, and a blue LED to confirm that it’s connected. Ink written on paper is then mirrored on the phone perfectly, and within seconds. However, in Feed mode it doesn’t just digitise marks made with the pen, but turns them into typed text (it does it best but it will always make some mistakes), while photos (taken with the phone or device the pen is connected to) can be inserted into the document you create. Audio notes, too. It’s all a bit like Evernote with knobs on.

Analogue answers

The way it gets around tiny problems is flawless; turn a page of the book and the Livescribe+ app will create fresh page. If the Bluetooth connection fails, the pen will store-up what it’s written and, when the connection is re-made, the text is digitised. Each page of the notebook has a menu at the bottom; scrawl on the star icon and your page will be automatically put in the favourites pile. Documents can be emailed to colleagues as PDF files, or exported to Evernote.

Pencast perfection

However, our favourite feature is Pencast, which records a lecture/interview on your phone while syncing any notes you make with the pen; if at 03 mins 37 secs you write something like ‘useful for essay’, you can easily find the audio that was being recorded at the time. As a journalist, I found that feature invaluable; it actually changes the way you think and work because you can write down reaction, analysis and questions relating to what’s being said instead of merely acting as a note-taker.

Trust issues

It’s clever stuff and useful, perhaps so much so that it takes a little while to realise, and to test its trustworthiness; getting to love this smart pen takes time and requires a commitment that not all buyers of it will get round to making. Plus, the heavily analogue characteristics to the Livescribe 3 smart pen means this is only ever going to appeal to those of us who remember a time before mass-digitisation; we seriously doubt anyone under 35 would see the attraction of the Livescribe 3.

Ins and outs

The battery lasted about 10 hours in our test, which is fairly impressive. Its recharges via a microUSB slot in the top of the pen, though that’s hidden under a tiny cap that could easily be lost. Perhaps just as important as the smart pen functionality is the regular ballpoint pen option, since no-one wants to take two pens on a trip.

Evernote option

The version we tested came with a 50-page notebook, though a slightly pricer version doubles the size of that notebook (which is rather limiting for long trips) and 12 months of Evernote Premium. If you’re already a devotee of Evernote, that’s a no-brainer.

Heavyweight option

The Livescribe 3 smart pen is a tad bulky, though the 34g weight seems fair when you consider the electronics inside of it. However, it’s that need for special paper that makes this a concept that’s more useful for specific events, such as conferences or seminars, than as true travel tech. We’re also convinced that the cap that covers the microUSB slot isn’t going to make it home. However, if you do a lot of interviewing or just prefer taking handwritten notes, the Livescribe 3 smart pen makes a great travel companion.

Price as reviewed: £129.99

Buy the Livescribe 3 smart pen