Pulse Smartpen- OneNote Without the Computer


smartpenOne of the best parts of meeting with folks is how I often learn something new that has the potential to shake up my world. Last week when I met up with folks at a coffee shop I met someone who showed me something I’d never seen in person and it was awesome technology. Leon Grekin dropped by and I noticed he had a Pulse Smartpen and he was kind enough to show it to me.

The Pulse Smartpen is a fat pen, although comfortable to hold, that you use to take notes. That’s nothing special except the Smartpen doesn’t work like normal pens. It uses an infrared camera near the tip to digitally record everything you write in the special Smartpen notebooks constructed to determine where you write on the page. You take notes in the book like normal but what happens next is where the magic happens.

The Smartpen records everything you write and it’s the actions you can take on those ink notes that blows you away. I have been a long supporter of using the Tablet PC with Microsoft (s msft) OneNote for note-taking for the ability to search your ink notes. This makes finding any nugget of information drop-dead simple and is much more useful than simply taking notes on paper. Needless to say I was amazed to see that notes taken with the Smartpen are also searchable by using the Livescribe Desktop software that works with the pen. Watching a search highlight the term in ink was just like watching the same thing happen in OneNote but no Tablet PC required.

The Smartpen also has an integrated recorder that lets you capture whole meetings. Leon said the audio quality was excellent and he often records meetings. This fits into the OneNote replacement meme, too, as Smartpen synchronizes the audio recording with the ink note-taking. After a meeting you can tap anything you’ve written on the page and the Smartpen will play the audio recorded at the exact moment the item was written. This is accomplished with just the pen and the notebook, nothing else.

The Livescribe Desktop software extends the usefulness of the Smartpen with too many features to detail here. The key thing is it runs on both Windows PCs and Macs, something OneNote does not do. The Smartpen can thus bring serious digital note-taking to the Mac crowd.

The Smartpen is not cheap, with two models that run $150 and $200 for 1 GB and 2 GB of RAM, respectively. You also need the special notebooks, which add to the continued cost of using the system. What I saw worked flawlessly, though, and I can see this reaching a lot of people who’ve never experienced digital ink note-taking before. I can see this being used by netbook owners, too, kind of like having a Tablet PC on a netbook. Thanks to Leon for opening my eyes to this cool mobile technology.



Does the smartpen translate into text? Not just the recording playback?


Livescribe just got better.

Deskto ver 1.6 allows you to export notes to PDF and also export the soundbites.

Chad Sellers

If you prefer taking notes on a laptop to with a pen and paper and use a Mac, you should check out Pear Note – http://www.usefulfruit.com/pearnote/ . It allows recording audio as well as video and linking that to the timeline of the notes you type. It also links slides with notes, so you can record slide changes as well.


Thats pretty much what I did….sold my 2710, and bought a unibody Macbook. There are certainly things I initially missed about the tablet. Although, I think it just took a little while to get used to my new flow – because i dont look back at all now. To fill the digital ink void, I use a Livescribe pen, and have gotten my wife one as well. Works great, as it is not so obvious that you are recording a meeting if you need to. I simply do this because I have a terrible memory, and its great to go back and get the bit of information effortlessly. The only thing left on my wishlist here, as someone mentioned, is Evernote integration. I live by Evernote as a central repository of all of my data. I can copy & paste written pages from the Livescribe app to Evernote…but its a static image, and doesnt bring over the audio.


I agree that you need to do a review on one. I have seen several reviews but not by a die-hard tablet user. I have used tablets for 5 years and I think my next purchase is going to be a 13″ unibody MacBook. This pen might make skipping out on a tablet tolerable.


I would get one too but I always end up losing or breaking pens and this would be too expensive.

I would enjoy a cheaper bluetooth version that could sync with my phone.


I love my Pulse Pen. It works in places my tablet won’t and I have a number of different sized notebooks and pads that I use with it. I really have only a couple of complaints with it, and honestly they’re not really so much complaints as wishes for improvements.

There is handwriting recognition built into Livescribe Desktop and it does work well, but for translation into text, you need to purchase the MyScript software also. But what I’d really like to see is a way to bring the writing off of the phone as Microsoft Ink; that is the same ink as OneNote uses. That would let me bring my notes into OneNote and treat them as handwritten notes written directly on the tablet.

I’d also like to see integration with email, particularly Outlook. What I’d like is the ability to write an email (literally!) and when I dock my pen, have the text read and interpreted (recognizing the subject line and recipients of the email) and have it sent automatically from Outlook. Wouldn’t that be cool! Need to send an email, but don’t have a phone or computer handy? Just jot it down and it’ll be sent for you.

Lastly, I think adding Bluetooth would be especially cool if we have those other capabilities, so the pen would “dock” itself whenever I’m even near my computer.

The good news is, those first two items could be accomplished with software and my existing pen could be made to do it. The Bluetooth, of course, would require a new pen, but I could always “hand down” this one to my wife or kids…


The writing pad orders are not that expensive. I just ordered a pack of four flip notepads for $12.95, and which come with a nice cover. They also sell exotic leather-bound journals.

Stephen Feger

I was checking it out recently and was pretty interested in it. But the software environment is too closed for me. If this could import the ink into OneNote or Evernote, it would be so much better. But to stick it into yet another application ruins much of the appeal. Hopefully the next version will accommodate this.


i would like you to review one of these for us. please!

John in Norway

The problem with this is having to use special paper. If, like me, you live somewhere where this sort of thing doesn’t sell you’ll soon become frustrated when you run out of special paper and have to import more with all the hassle, expense and customs ripoffs that entails. I’m waiting for the pen that you can use on anything. Even though I have various gadgets for inputing notes to I still find myself grabbing a piece of spare paper or envelope to jot things down on – it’s just so convenient.


You can print your own “dot paper”, but you need to use Livescribe’s (IR transmissive) ink. Being less heavy than paper, it seems more practical to order larger quantities, but still..


It sure does support recognition based searching, and works even with pretty mediocre handwriting!
Wish I could be wrong like that more often, thanks!


It is searchable once you upload the pen’s content to the desktop, and very accurate. I has never failed to read my handwriting.
There is also a handwriting to text converter called MyScript that is supplied by a 3rd party that links into the Livescribe desktop interface, but that has been less than stellar in my testing.

I love my pen… a few shortfalls, like not being able to delete individual pages once they are uploaded to the computer. But all in all a very well thought out and executed product.


If you visit the Livescribe website and go into the Community, there are samples. I’ve been able to learn a bit of Japanese from some of the postings! Too cool…..


I also bought one of these and like it very much. As a student, it allows me to review my notes after the fact in a way that is SO useful! In short I’m a very happy (and amazed) customer. I in fact had been eyeballing the $202 2go PC’s when this came on to the radar for me, so I spent money that was to go to my first netbook on the pen instead.
As amazing as it is, the pen’s in computer software does not seem currently to recognize text in the notes, and so is not searchable in the way described in the article- unless I’m mistaken, and need to be pleasantly corrected!

Joel Walker

I’ve been using one for a while now. Take notes at a meeting, print to pdf and then email it out. It’s not perfect but it is easy and reliable. Sometimes a laptop feels overkill for a meeting. The pen and paper is not intrusive and is “natural”. I was surprised by how well the pen worked. The writing is smooth and very readable.

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