Livescribe for Taking Notes

For the past five weeks I’ve been taking notes with a Livescribe Pulse 2GB smartpen, a system that records audio as you write notes. The Livescribe pen plays back audio as you move the tip to a point in the notepad you want to hear. I’m using the Mac version of the software.

It’s an ingenious, helpful system. Battery life for the pen has lasted for a full day  before recharging. It’s recharged by connecting to a laptop with a standard USB port with the Livescribe cradle, or by using a wall plug charger. Both are supplied with the basic kit.

The pen is about triple the size of a normal ink pen. It’s not unmanageable. It contains an led screen that gives time, date, battery status, and, most important, a menu that  progressively leads you to various tasks. It’s activated by pressing on icons on the Livescribe paper.

Livescribe requires dot-imprinted paper. It won’t work on plain copy paper. However, it’s possible to print your own paper on a 600dpi (or higher) color printer using a utility provided with the desktop software. And Livescribe notebooks and paper in varying sizes can be purchased online or at many Best Buy and Target stores.

I’ve read that some users find the pen runs out of ink sooner than other pens. The cartridge is smaller than most standard ball point refills. Refills can be ordered online or in the stores above. I use the pen to note key points, not to write a detailed narrative as I do when taking notes without the smartpen. Using it in this way, I haven’t experienced a shortage of ink.

The main menu allows you to replay a recorded session, draw a musical keyboard for a piano, demo the translator function in the software (write a word and a definition scrolls the pen’s led screen), delete a session or all sessions and create a security password.

Icons on the paper allow you to start recording, pause or stop. You can playback, jump ahead, go back, adjust volume and adjust playback speed.

With the smarten attached to a desktop, you can view notes on-screen and playback audio. Using the mouse pointer, audio playback can be started at various points. This is the ingenious part of Livescribe. It will accurately take you to audio where you have written key points you want to review.

You can also upload notes to your private account on the Livescribe website where you can work with the notes and audio and share them with co-workers if you choose.

Co-workers can see the notes and listen to the audio as well. I’ve used this collaborative capability with two workgroups and we’ve found it very useful.

I nearly panicked when I uploaded the first time, however. Livescribe calls uploading “Share with community.” When I thought I had mistakenly uploaded internal notes to a wider community, I nearly had a panic attack. But after a call to Livescribe support and a more careful reading of the user manual, I learned that despite this misleading label, uploaded notes are locked and private until the user adds the email addresses and names of those who will be given access to them.

I’m impressed with the quality of the recorded playback on a laptop system. I’ve used the pen only in conference room settings, I haven’t tried larger halls, but I’ve seen photos of people using the pen, holding it as if it were a microphone. A set of earbuds plug into the pen for private listening, a handy tool that could prevent you an embarrassment I experienced.

In order to review a recorded comment, I held the pen to my ear during a break at a recent staff retreat. I took a good deal of razzing about having a large pen sticking out of my ear.

The variable audio quality and adjustable volume offer surprising fidelity. One of my co-workers called me after logging onto shared meeting notes and described the playback as “awesome.” I don’t normally receive that kind of response to new media from our technologically jaded crew, so I take that as a great compliment to Livescribe.

Files can be organized into project notebooks and are searchable by keyword. A third party utility can turn handwritten notes into text. Alas, no transcription for audio to text. Wouldn’t that be something? But, hey, this little smartpen can do a lot and do it very well. I’m enjoying using it.

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