August 2nd, 2009 by alacy

I just spent my “walking” money to buy a lifescribe Pulse smartpen. (

Back when I was in college I took a lot of notes. Enough to really mess up my writings. But I noticed that the act of writing helped me to remember the lessons. In fact a lot of the time I didn’t have to review my notes much.

So at work I have been taking “notes” as I work. If I want to remember something I write it down in a note book. It helps but now that I am older I don’t remember as easy as I did when I was younger. So I often have to refer back to my notes. I got to thinking it would be nice to have digital copies so I could easily do searches. But it is more trouble than I liked to bring up a text editing window. Plus I do have to write things down in meeting. Thus I would have to key them in later or have two places for notes.

But I had been hearing about smart pens which digitally record what you write. I checked and there are two types. Ones that have a receiver you clip to the page and it picks up signals from the pen to figure out where the pen is and pens that use a special paper to figure out where the pen is writing. The Pulse is one that uses special paper. It also has a feature that as far as I know is currently unique to it. It can also record sound as you are writing. Then later you touch the pen to some writing and it plays the sounds that were recorded during the writing. This seems tailor made for students taking notes during a lecture and for journalist doing interviews. I don’t expect to use this feature much as most of my note taking happens at my desk. But I do plan to try it at my next staff meeting.

The pen for a student or journalist has a lot of benefits without ever connecting 14 to a computer. But it has a USB port to charge and send the info to the computer. Its desktop will show all the pages uploaded and if sound was recorded it can play it by mousing over then clicking.

But one drawback is that it doesn’t come with software to convert the writing to regular text. But there is a company that sells an add on to do that. I have a trial version. It seems to do a decent job. In fact I am writing this article in a book right now and plan to run it through to see how good it does.
So far after two days with it, I am pleased.

Note: The writing to text tests I done before this were short notes like I normally take and that worked pretty good, just few errors per page of notes. This multiple paragraph writing caused it more problems. In fact the error rate went up the further into the document. I would guess due to me getting sloppier the more I wrote. I may be pushed to slow down to give the OCR a chance.

2 Responses to “Smartpens”

  1. steve Says:

    Great post!

    My penmanship is so terrible that the device would probably freeze up with my first sentence. 🙂

  2. alacy Says:

    Well the pen itself doesn’t really care what you do. It just records the coordinates of when the pen is down. Once you transfer the data to your computer, it shows exactly what was on the paper. Then the optional software can try to convert it to text. You tell it if you are handprinting or writing in cursive.

    What is interesting is that to me my cursive writing is harder to read than my handprinting. So since college I handprint my notes. But the writing to text actually seems to work better when I use cursive. But old habits are hard to break. At least currently I still handprint my notes. It does a decent job, in fact as good as the first OCR software could process actual printed pages. But I am trying to be a little more careful so that the software has a better chance of getting it right. But so far I like it. Note if you aren’t concerned about writing to text because desktop software shows an exact image of each page. For someone like a student that probably would be good enough. Also they actually have a website where you can upload page images including any sound recorded as you write. Then this can be public or private. If private you can email the URL and another person can look at the notes exactly as you wrote them and listen to the sound recorded. If public anyone can see and hear it.