Sunday, March 28, 2010

Livescribe Pulse Pen: Pure Awesome

Livescribe 4 GB Pulse SmartpenLast summer, a former co-worker at Google joined Livescribe and sent me one of their Pulse smartpens. I was instantly in love with the pen, but then two minor issues sidelined it: 1) the notepad that came with the pen was a bit big for my taste making it a tad bulky to tote to meetings, and 2) the pre-release Mac desktop software had become corrupted. I kept meaning to get back to the pen, but other things kept getting in the way.

Fast forward a few months. We got to know a couple through my kids' elementary school, and it turns out he's one of the Livescribe founders. He was out of town for this weekend's auction to raise money for the school ed fund, so I was on the hook for the demo of the pen at last night's gala event. Friday night I sat down to fix the corrupt desktop issue (took less than ten minutes, thanks to a quick response from Ross Belmont on Twitter!); once back up and running, I fell in love with the pen all over again.

A quick summary, for those that don't know what the Livescribe Pulse pen is: part audio recorder, part transcription device, the Pulse pen captures your handwriting as you write it and optionally records audio (lectures, meetings, etc.) as you're writing. At any point, you can tap the notepad and hear the recorded audio played back.

When you sync the pen to your computer, the handwriting and audio is transferred, Livescribe even OCRs your handwriting so that you can do full-text searches over your notes. (And listen to the recording of whatever you were taking notes from, if you want to refresh your memory.)

There's no doubt that this is a killer app for students - lectures, study groups, etc. - but I'm going to experiment with using it exclusively for meetings unless I'm presenting off of my laptop. Not only will it help me avoid IM chats and responding to e-mails during meetings (!), it'll also capture more complete records of the meetings themselves.

Don't know how recently they came out with this feature, but now when you transfer your notebooks/recordings to, they even convert the whole deal into an embeddable Flash file, making your notes and audio shareable with whomever you want. Here's the demo I did for last night's auction, the first few minutes of Steve Jobs's iPad announcement:

Now imagine these notes shared inside the firewall - how much more informed would people be after getting a chance to listen to the actual meeting? Or in a school setting, how amazing would it be for students to listen to a teacher's lecture again, with the aid of notes? (This is exactly how one teacher is helping her students, using what Livescribe has dubbed "pencasts" - see here.) Only downside I see to their current approach is that for files to be shared via Flash, they need to be set to public. Obviously I won't be sharing confidential Google notes with a third party service, making them public, and then embedding back. This is a long-time corporate feature request, I'll see if I can find out an update on how/if they encourage my use case. In the mean-time, I can share static files (PDFs) of the notes.

Included with the Pro version of the pen is "MyScript for Livescribe", which takes the OCR capability one step further and converts your handwriting to text, for inclusion in a Word doc or an e-mail. (If you don't get the Pro version, you can buy MyScript for $30.)

I'll experiment with using the Livescribe exclusively for the next several weeks and see how it goes. The pen looks a bit bulky at first glance, but is surprisingly comfortable (and quite light, considering the tech packed inside). Battery charges last forever (or so it seems), and the two versions of the pen - 2GB and 4GB - have plenty of memory to store audio and notes from 200-400 hours of meetings.

For more thoughts on the Livescribe setup, see my friend Ernie's great write-up from September here. One quote from that review:
This is an amazing tool for lawyers. Or students, or anyone one who needs to capture spoken information accurately. I have one and have used it in a variety of setting and it’s performed flawlessly. I bought one for my new paralegal as a welcome gift, and I know she’ll be very happy. But, the truth is, it’s a no-brainer. She’ll be doing client interviews and I want to make sure that she’s able to capture information accurately and easily.
Disclosure: I received my Pulse pen for free, as mentioned, from a friend who works at Livescribe. They didn't ask, and I didn't offer, that I'd write about it. But as you might be able to tell from this post, I'm kind of head-over-heels for it. So they'll just have to put up with me raving about it. :)


  1. Shininess, though how useful is the audio recording in practice? It seems to me that taking notes during a lecture is so that you don’t have to listen to the whole thing again.

    Though, I could imagine use cases of looking at your notes and wanting to play the audio that corresponded to a particular section.

    Feature request for those Flash files: tape-delay the audio to match your handwriting speed.

  2. @Pete, I'll know more after a few weeks of my self-imposed laptop hiatus in meetings (!) but my sense is that it's exactly for the use case you're describing: re-reading your notes and wanting to listen to what was said, in case you forgot the context, or want to flesh out the notes a bit.

    You saw in the flash file that you can click on the hand-written notes to jump to the audio that was being spoken at the time I was writing, right? Same as it works on the notepad.

  3. Ah, cool.

    Is this the pen technology that needs the fancy dotted paper to work or can you write anywhere?

  4. Fancy paper, but notebooks range from $8 (cardstock cover) to $25 (leather cover), which isn't too bad. I've also seen people mention that with a 600 dpi printer you can print your own, but I haven't looked at that...

  5. Amazon has offered 1 day deal for Livescribe 1GB 38% off. I think it is a good chance for Livescribe fan. Check it out at this web.

  6. I've used one for meetings and such, and it is excellent. The ability to tap on text from my meeting and hear what was taking place makes life a lot easier. I just use the paper for the bullet points, summary, short-hand note taking, and then let the audio fill in the details. When you are working with detailed oriented people, it is nice to have their actual words so that there is not memory interpretation.

  7. Im a college student with horrible note-taking/organization skills. I love this dang pen. Im definitely a last minute cruncher and the ability to easily conjure up ANY lecture at any time certainly comes in handy. Way more efficient than a standard audio recorder because you dont have to sift through your recording for the information you seek. You can sync your recordings with your notes which makes it SUPER easy to find what you are looking for. And my 5 year old daughter gives it two little thumbs up for the "piano" application.

  8. I had some Amazon gift certificates lying around (Amazon credit card FTW) so I thought I'd give this a shot. We'll see how it goes.