Published on December 10th, 2013 | by Greg0
Livescribe 3: The Best Smartpen Yet
The trick with any new technology is convincing people that they need it. Tablets languished as a workable but tiny part of the computer market for a long while before the pieces came together in Apple’s hands. Today’s gear, and excellent gift idea, is a modern take on one of the oldest gadgets- the pen.
Smartpens aren’t new, really- we’ve previously looked at a couple of examples, including our review more than five years ago of this one’s direct ancestor. But the Livescribe 3 is the most advanced yet, and really does make good on the promises of the idea, making the process simple, easy, effective, and even fun. The only flipside is that touchscreens have also improved along the way, and a touchscreen-compatible stylus can be and inexpensive solution that is even more portable and less cumbersome. But for anyone looking for a way to keep written notes and also have a copy kept electronically, today’s gadget is the perfect option.
The latest model looks and feels pretty much like a real, regular pen, and writes that way as well. Your average user might not even notice, as the weight and balance are great, and the motion and movement quite good. Filled with a decent cartridge, their Swiss-made tungsten-carbide ballpoint ink flows smoothly. As with all similar smartpens, the only slight annoyance is that you have to use special paper with the system. Fifty sheets are included and you can print or buy additional quite easily. The paper features nearly invisible dots that allow the pen to track exactly where it is on the page.
Unlike prior models, this one transmits them nearly instantly to a nearby device using Bluetooth wireless. Simply pair your iPhone or iPad with the pen, and you know have an instant way to capture and store your handwriting. Pen emails and immediately send them, or have your grocery lists saved for posterity. If you want, you can also convert your scrawls to useful text, using pretty accurate OCR (optical character recognition). We found it to be about 90% accurate, either while using cursive or otherwise- better than we expected! Any iOS 7 device will work, and though Android is not currently supported, the company claims that this model will be have compatibility forthcoming in 2014.
The coolest part of using the Livescribe 3- the actions that are built-in, and can be triggered simply by writing specific shapes, saved as reminders, etc. We did miss the audio functionality- previously, you could record snippets using a microphone in the pen, but it was a little cumbersome so we can understand why they dropped the feature. Expanded memory- 2GB- can now hold up to 20000 pages of notes. And the battery life is excellent, up to 14 hours on a charge, and we found it lasted a very long time when writing only occasionally. There isn’t a screen on the pen itself anymore, but a new LED lighting indicator that works for the most part (you’ll just need to check the manual at first). Remember that pairing requires using a written control rather than a button or something, and the pen is on once you have it ready to write, no more powering it up. It isn’t perfect- you’ll find yourself adjusting the way you write a bit to compensate for some of it’s quirks in recognition, and there is a couple of second delay for writing to appear on your mobile device. But the Livescribe 3 can feel pretty magical, and is a definite improvement over any other smartpen that we’ve tested. Available now for $150 (as tested) or $200 for a Pro model (which comes with an extra ink cartridge, an Evernote yearly subscription, and a leather portfoilo notebook).