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 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.

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