The Livescribe 3 smartpen is the best tool for combining the ease of handwriting with the benefit of searchable, digital notes. Welcome to the best of both worlds.
I never leave the house without pen and paper. I love my Montblanc StarWalker Doué ballpoint pen and my Moleskine notebook. I mostly take notes at work, but when traveling, I tend to be making short to-do lists for things to see or stuff to buy in my notebook.
It is something about the sophistication of a nice looking pen and notebook that really please me. For this reason, I still find myself missing my trusted Filofax from the nineties.
At work, after filling up notebooks for years, I finally went all-digital with my notes in January 2013. This was a huge revelation for me. Using Microsoft OneNote 2013, I was able to link notes with other notes and calendar events. The best thing: I could store emails, presentations, documents and pictures as a part of my notes.
In meetings, I could drill down to the details in a matter of seconds. The only downside at that time was that I could not figure out a good way to convert tasks from OneNote into my GTD system.
I was happy as a kid in a candy store. However, after a couple of years, I was getting this nagging feeling that I didn’t remember as well as I used to do. I was constantly checking my notes when I had to recall something. After some googling, I found that I was not the only one having this issue.
In a study, published in 2014, Pam A. Mueller, from Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer, from University of California, Los Angeles, found that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing.
In three studies, they found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand.
Due to my love of gadgets, I have been looking for a smartpen for a long time. I have tried scanning my handwriting and a couple of other options; all these fell short after the first try. A friend of mine uses a Livescribe Echo smartpen. After eyeing her pen for quite some time, I finally got around to ask her about it. When she told me that her smartpen actually recognized both English and Norwegian my interest was renewed.
After googling for some time, I took the chance and ordered the Livescribe 3 smartpen. It felt like Christmas when the pen finally arrived. The Livescribe smartpen concept consists of three parts: The Livescribe smartpen, the Livescribe app for Android or iOS, and a Livescribe compatible notebook.
Livescribe 3 smartpen
One thing that eased the transition from a Montblanc pen to a Livescribe smartpen was the fact that the Livescribe 3 smartpen looked almost like a normal pen. It has no display, no visible buttons or USB port.
The pen is a bit bulky compared to an ordinary pen. The weight is about the same. Due to the size, it takes some time to get used to it but all in all, it is a good pen. You turn it on by twisting the textured ring in the middle of the pen. The ink extracts from the pen when you turn it on. A discreet LED light indicates that the pen is on.
The top of the pen works as a stylus. The USB port, used for charging, is located under the stylus tip. Speaking of charging, the battery life is exceptional, with more than 14 hours of usage between charges. The memory capacity is more than 1.000 pages. If you can’t find your pen, there is a Find My Pen function in the app. Click on this, and the pen will emit a beeping sound.
With the Livescribe smartpen, you can write on any kind of paper, however, for the scanning function to work you have to use micro dotted paper. Livescribe sells all kinds of notebooks and memo pads. In addition, Moleskine has a Livescribe edition of the standard ruled notebook.
From pen to paper – to digital notes
Using the Livescribe+ app, you connect your phone or tab to the pen via Bluetooth. The pen will then synchronize with the app. You can use multiple notebooks. The notes are stored in the different notebooks in your app.
With the swipe of your finger, your handwriting converts to text. This text can be shared just like any other text on your phone. You can edit the text after conversion. However, I find it easier to edit in the application I’m sharing to, using my computer. I mostly share to OneNote, Evernote, Todoist, and email.
The Livescribe+ app can also record audio, something that is handy if you are taking notes during a lecture. The audio synchronizes with the notes. I have not yet tried this function.
Conclusion on the Livescribe smartpen
I think that the Livescribe 3 smartpen is probably the best option on the market right now. As a pen it is OK. It takes some time getting used to due to its size. However, the stylus is really good.
The notebooks work like any other notebooks; the only difference is the micro dotted paper.
The app is good. Despite my terrible handwriting, the text conversion is 95% accurate. Sharing could be a bit smoother, with shortcuts for your most used options.
I have had a few problems with the Bluetooth connectivity. It’s solvable, but a source of irritation.
What I find really annoying is the lack of a Livescribe application for PC. It would be perfect not have to go via the phone every time, and being able to do the edits with a regular keyboard before sending the text to other applications.
I started this post with a mention of my favorite pen. Just now, Montblanc has entered the smartpen market with a product called Augmented Paper. It looks really nice, but the app gets crappy reviews. I guess I have to stick to my Livescribe smartpen for a while.
Get your Moleskine for Livescribe books here