FutureFive NZ - Review: Livescribe Pulse Smartpen

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Review: Livescribe Pulse Smartpen

In a nutshell, this device allows you to synch recorded audio to your written notes. As such, the Pulse smartpen is a great solution for journalists, secretaries, students or anyone else who might have a use for transcribed audio notes. Using specially made paper consisting of thousands of tiny dots, the pen is able to recognise notations on a page thanks to an on-board camera. It can then record and assign audio to those notations and to a specific time of day. You can then replay that audio by simply tapping the pen on the corresponding notation. There are ‘buttons’ at the bottom of each physical page that allow you to activate many of the pen’s features: record, pause, stop, jump (forwards and backwards) and volume among others. There’s even a ‘calculator’ on the inside front cover of the notebook.

Here’s an example: if a lecturer starts talking about an important topic, a student could tap the record ‘button’ at the bottom of the page, write a heading, and then hit the stop ‘button’ once the lecturer moves on. The lecturer’s recorded comments are then forever linked to that written heading and can be accessed by simply tapping it, saving considerable transcription time. The accompanying software, Livescribe Desktop, allows you to upload and archive both your written notes and the recorded audio by simply docking your Pulse smartpen to its USB connector. You can save your written notes to your computer as searchable documents too, and all associated audio will remain intact. It doesn’t, however, transcribe your recorded audio to text; understandable, but if the device could do that, it’d be nigh on perfect. There’s another program that will convert your handwritten notes into text usable in Word documents, but you’ll need to pay extra for that.

You’ll need to keep stocking up on the required proprietary notebooks, and they’re not cheap – starting from $39.95 for a four-pack of A5 spiral notebooks. However, anyone whose job requires them to wade through hours of recorded audio to transcribe the important parts will probably tell you it’s well worth it.

PROS: Records up to 400 hours of audio on-device (4GB version), which can then be transferred to your PC. Menu navigation is simple, intuitive and fun. An absolute godsend for note takers.

CONS: With its requirement for proprietary paper and ink cartridges, you’ll need to keep forking out for them to keep using the Pulse smartpen. The reasonably steep learning curve towards getting the most out of the device can be a little daunting. No mic input jack for phone interviews.

VERDICT: A useful, powerful and comprehensive device that will save a lot of time and effort for many people. There’s a lot to learn before you really get the hang of it and you’ll have to keep purchasing paper and ink cartridges, but if you really need something like this, then the benefits are more than likely worth it.

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