Review: Livescribe Echo smartpen

Don’t let the development in technology in recent years fool you – even though things like books and magazines have started to make the transition to “all digital”, there is still a big market for people who like to keep things old school.

One good example is the continuing popularity of Moleskine notebooks. Another great example of sticking with the old, is the Livescribe Smartpen. This computer pen offers you the best of both worlds – you can take notes on paper, and transfer them “to the cloud” when you are done.

In the past, other companies have offered digital pens and other writing instruments that promised the ability to turn paper notes into digital documents, but as I’ll show in this review, the pens from Livescribe are the first to actually deliver a rock solid product.

The pen itself is relatively bulky, but not to the point where it is uncomfortable to use. In fact, holding the Echo is actually quite nice. And remember, this bulk isn’t for nothing – inside the pen is a battery, a digital camera, display and batteries. How they fit all that inside this small case is nothing short of amazing.

On top of the pen is a MicroUSB jack and a headphone plug. On the from is a microphone, OLED display and power button. On the bottom is of course the pen itself, next to a small window where the digital camera hides.

Using the pen is extremely simple – you turn it on, and start writing. A sensor at the rear of the ink cartridge knows when you are writing, and the camera picks up your scribbles. The trick to this lies in the special paper. Each page has a micro-dot pattern, which allows the pen to detect every single bit of writing, and the position of that writing on the page.

Once you have written something, you can transfer it to the Livescribe Desktop software package. Once inside the desktop software, you can file them, add notes, and even send the files to the Livescribe online storage.

Fans of Evernote can take things one step further, thanks to one-click Evernote uploads. End result is all your written notes available in Evernote, and its web client or desktop/mobile apps. The character recognition feature in Evernote means your notes can be searched. Alterntively, you can enhance the Livescribe Desktop with the MyScript software package, which is designed to convert all your writing into regular documents.

The fun doesn’t end there – the microphone inside the Livescribe pen is part of the Paper Replay feature, and can link audio recordings with your writing. Imagine making notes in a meeting, and recording the meeting at the same time. Once you upload your notes, the audio transfers with it. But best of all, once inside Livescribe Desktop, you can point to any portion of your writing, and the audio picks up exactly where you want it.

Untitled from Scott C on Vimeo.

Still not convinced how amazing this thing is? Because this is more than just a dumb pen, you can actually download apps to it – adding a variety of handy features to its arsenal of tools. Built in are a calculator, a translator demo and a fun piano. In fact, the piano is probably one of the coolest tricks inside Livescribe – and one I always use to convince people just how fun it is. In the video above, you’ll see a short video showing some apps in action.

Other (paid) apps include silly tools like soundboards, but also travel phrasebooks and chemical reference guides. Apps start at just $1, and can be loaded through the desktop software.

Because the pen only has a power button, you browse its menu using printed commands on paper. Inside most Livescribe notebooks are the arrow buttons required to access the menus, and the box includes a cheat sheet with more handy command buttons. Buttons printed on paper include Paper Replay commands, playback speed, volume, battery life, time and date and remaining storage.

Like making the switch back to a Moleskine notebook, once you get used to living your life on paper (like we all did just one decade ago), you’ll learn to appreciate how easy and efficient things can be. But the best part is that you make the switch to paper without any compromises.

Smartpens are available in a variety of sizes – from 1GB to 8GB. Prices start at just $69.95 for a refurbished pen from the previous generation, to $199.95 for the new 8GB Echo.

Because you need to use special paper, you will need to invest in notebooks or flip pads. Prices for these start at $7.95.

My Livescribe pen has become an integral part of how I do my job – I make lots of notes every week, and many of them end up in Evernote. I can access voice recordings, and pull up anything I completely forgot I had planned to follow up on.

To learn more about Livescribe, or to find out how to order your own, head on over to