Livescribe 3 smartpen review

When it’s charged, connected via Bluetooth and working properly, this pen (and the accompanying app for IOS) does pretty much all the advertising claims it will.

When you write on the special paper, it will recognise your hand writing and capture it as a picture and also convert it to text. The pen has an onboard camera which looks at the paper and your hand writing, making the text recognition fairly accurate. I have atrocious hand writing and the pen still does a brilliant job of recognising it. But the biggest feature is that it also allows you to use your IOS device to capture audio at the same time. The finished “pencast” document can then be viewed and you can play back the audio from any point in the document. The upshot is you can point to a particular bullet in your written notes and hear the conversation from that point. Best of both worlds when it comes to meeting notes.

I had high hopes of this product for my wife, a newly appointed CEO. She takes a lot of meeting notes.

The down side is that this pen doesn’t always work when you want it to. Several times in the months since I bought it, the pen was flat when I turned it on. And more than once, I had charged it the night before so it was ready for the big meeting. Then there is the Bluetooth connectivity. I had read lots of people online complaining that they had to pair it to their device more than once. I have not had that problem, it paired properly first go, but when I turn it on and the iPad is sitting next to it, often it just doesn’t connect. Turn it off and back on and usually second or third go it will connect. If I had been hasty and assumed it was ready to go, I would have been upset at the lack of results later.

There’s a bug with the date and time of recordings. All my pencast documents and pdf’s sent from Livescribe+ on the iPad have a date in 2019, a little ahead of time perhaps?

And I think the biggest disappointment with this pen is that you can’t rely on it. It just doesn’t work first time, every time. It’s dodgy. But once it starts working, it runs nicely, until it runs out of battery charge.

The use of special paper doesn’t worry me at all. I bought notebooks from Moleskine and they look as good as the other Moleskine notebooks that I have. The paper is slightly thinner, but I got over that. The extra printed icons on the pages of the notebook allow for recording start and stop and a few other tricks. You can also buy notebooks of the special paper from Livescribe, although theirs are thinner paper than the Moleskine product and the covers are not as well presented, in my opinion. I’m a bit of a stationery nerd.

The IOS app isn’t too bad. The basic setup and get going process is pretty good. The app has 3 tabs or views; Page, Feed and Pencast.

In Page, you see the page as you write and your hand writing appears on it as an almost perfect copy of the paper page. On my iPad Air, the writing is slightly delayed, but not too slow.

In Feed, you can see paragraphs of writing (almost the same as the previous page) but you can swipe them left to delete or right to reveal the recognised plain text. That’s pretty cool the first few times you do it, but gets boring when you have to swipe every paragraph on the page to convert it to text, although there is a Select mode where you can select multiple paragraphs and then swipe them all together.

In Pencast, you get access to the audio. You can point to any part of the handwriting (you don’t see recognised text in Pencast view) and play the audio from that point. This is very cool. Remember the audio is recorded with your IOS device, not the pen, so make sure the iPad is in a good spot to hear everyone who is speaking. I’m occasionally blonde and put the iPad with the microphone facing away from my teleconference phone!

The App features the obvious Share, Send, Tags, Open in, Delete, Copy, Edit and Create Reminder functions. There’s a menu with nearly all the options on it or dedicated icons for Share and Tag. A bit of a duplication. The user interface isn’t awful, but I wouldn’t say it was beautiful or incredibly well thought out. It could use more work. The send to Evernote is what attracted me to this product. You seem to have the option of sending a PDF to Evernote or a PDF with attached audio.  There is a desktop App available and that plays the audio in sync with the text. You can select a place in the written notes and the audio jumps to that point in the recording. Cool. Or you can just play the audio from your PDF viewer, but that won't sync up with the text.

And I note that it claims to work with Android and Windows too. I didn’t try that.

Update March 2016;

I ended up contacting Livescribe and they decided my pen was defective. They replaced it, I didn't need to send the old one back, a new one just turned up quickly from an Australian warehouse, by overnight freight.

The new pen holds a charge well. And it connects first time every time. So those technical glitches that I had are solved. If you have a Livescribe pen that doesn't connect reliably, I would suggest you contact them. The Support email works well in my experience.

I now use the Livescribe as it was intended. I take meeting notes with it. I record the audio at the same time as I am writing in the Livescribe journal and when I fill the sample notebook that came with it, I have a Moleskine branded notebook that works with the pen. You need special paper so the camera in the pen can track your writing. Plain paper won't cut it.

I find the Livescribe is pretty good. I think the only thing that stops it recognising my handwriting 100% of the time is - my handwriting. It's pretty messy. That said, it gets what I wrote probably 95% of the time. It's usually just the odd word that I wrote badly that trips it up. If I take the recognised text into Word and run the spelling and grammar check, it catches the other 5% for me.

After lots of use, I've kinda changed my mind on the Livescribe. I like it. I'm not sure if its ready for prime time, non-technical people. I still have the slightest reservation there. But probably that's the technician in me not wanting you all to bother me with your issues if I recommend it and you can't get it to go. I should let go of that fear as their technical support staff were pretty good.

Cautiously recommended