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The Pulse pen is nicely weighted and fun to write with, but the real magic is in the Livescribe Desktop app.
When you think of the future, what comes to mind? Hovercraft, jetpacks, and everyone wearing androgynous zippered bodysuits with communicators built into the shoulders? Possibly. But we doubt you’d think of a pen. Neither did we—until we started testing Livescribe’s Pulse smartpen, which is an ink pen that records ambient audio while linking it to what you’re writing, so you can easily find key sections of the audio by just tapping on your notes.
Sound too complicated? Think of it this way: You’re sitting in a meeting, lecture, or interview, but instead of frantically trying to scribble down ideas or quotations as they’re being spoken, you can actually listen to what’s going on and easily find key audio snippets later. Everything you write in the special dot-paper notebooks, even just a Q for “quotation,” acts as a bookmark to that part of the audio recording.
The Pulse features dual noise-canceling microphones, a speaker, a small OLED display, and an audio jack for the included 3D earbuds (which have built-in mics to capture directional audio from all around you). The infrared camera behind the pen tip captures 72 pictures per second, using Dot Positioning System technology to remember everything you write or draw on the special paper, which is covered by tiny blue dots arranged in complex patterns. Extra notepads start at $7.95 each, and you can even print out your own dot paper if your printer supports 600 dpi resolution.
The dot paper has a row of “buttons” printed along the bottom that you tap with the pen tip to start and stop recording, play back audio, and change applications (other packed-in apps include a toy piano, a calculator, a translator demo, and a couple of demo movies that play on the OLED). It’s all totally intuitive, but Livescribe’s demos and manual provide extra help too.
To use the main app, called Paper Replay, you start a recording and jot your notes. The Pulse automatically links your writing to the recording, and if you tap the pen on your notes (right in the notebook!) during playback, the audio jumps to that location instantly. Dock the pen in the USB charging cradle to upload your time-stamped audio and notes to the Livescribe Desktop software, where you can search the text, play your recordings and export them as AAC files, click your notes to jump around in the recording, and even watch your notes and doodles being dynamically redrawn on your Mac as the audio plays. (We had fun making up a story aloud, illustrating it live, and then watching our pictures be redrawn in Livescribe Desktop.)
You can even record a lecture with the Pulse without taking notes, then jot notes later as you’re playing back the audio, and the notes will still link up to the audio. Printing notes is easy, and you can save them as PDFs from the Print dialog. The Livescribe Online service lets you upload 250MB of recordings to keep private, share, or even post content to Facebook. We had some trouble getting our smartpen linked to our Livescribe Online account so we could upload items (the Windows version of Livescribe Desktop provides better direct links to Livescribe Online than the Mac version does), but the friendly Live Chat person helped us out.We loved writing with this well-balanced, classy pen, and the powerful Paper Replay functions worked incredibly well. Businesspeople, journalists, students, secretaries, and anyone who takes a lot of notes during talks will find this an invaluable tool.