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First Look: Livescribe Desktop brings smartpen to Mac

updated 10:00 am EDT, Fri March 13, 2009

First Look: Livescribe Mac

Taking notes can be a real chore. While writing down an important point or copying a diagram, it can be easy to miss a speaker's next topic. Livescribe's Pulse Smartpen is designed to solve these problems, by recording both a user's notes and the corresponding audio. Previously available only for Windows users, Livescribe has just released its Desktop software for the Mac, giving users the ability to view, share and search their handwritten notes, drawings and audio recordings.

The Pulse Smartpen uses special microdot paper, which allows the device to keep track of its stylus on a particular sheet. Audio is recorded by the pen itself, or by using the "3D" microphone embedded in the included headset. Control panels printed on the paper allow the user to record and playback audio or access special applications directly from the pen.

Data is transferred from the Smartpen using a supplied USB cable; Livescribe Desktop then makes it available for viewing, sharing and printing purposes. The software has a simple interface, which displays each note in list or icon format. Users can pan or zoom through close-up views, or hunt for individual words within documents using a Spotlight-style search box. Users can also change the ink color within notes, and archive notes for long-term storage.

Recorded audio is linked to each document automatically -- clicking on a particular portion of a document plays back the audio recorded at the same time the note was taken. AAC audio files can be exported to share with others, or to play in iTunes.

One of the most interesting features is the ability to pass along notes and drawings via Livescribe's online community. Users can upload notes in PDF format to share with colleagues or classmates, or browse through thousands of uploads from other users. Shared items can also be posted on Facebook.

There is a growing library content available from Livescribe Online, including cartoons, artistic sketches and how-to demonstrations to classroom notes. Some Livescribe users create their own "pencasts," a kind of analog PowerPoint presentation with narration accompanied by handwritten notes.

Livescribe Desktop for Mac 1.0 is available as a free download for Pulse Smartpen owners, and requires an Intel Mac with OS X 10.5.5 or higher. The Pulse Smartpen is available in two versions: a 1GB model for $150, and a 2GB version for $200. Windows users have the option of purchasing character recognition software to convert handwritten notes into digital text, but a Mac version of that is not yet available.

by MacNN Staff



  1. pmalos

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Not Quite There

    I tried one and returned it. The software is OK (tried the Mac beta and Windows versions) but the pen itself is flawed. A primary function is to record audio as you write, yet it mostly records the sound of itself scratching on the paper. An included mic/headphone combo improves the sound, but it's so awkward to have a cord slung between your head and your pen as you write.

  1. uucp

    Joined: Dec 1969


    I've been using one

    I'm pleased with it, though it isn't perfect. The lack of OCR on the Mac is a particular weakness, as is the impossibility of annotating pages on-screen once the pen has been synced.

    I use the ink-digitizing features all the time. I use the recording feature only on conference calls, but they work, so long as the call isn't too long. After a while (an hour?), the ink and audio go out of sync.

  1. zahadum

    Joined: Dec 1969


    drivers for iPhone/itouch

    1) apple should buy this company to bundle with the netbook! -- which should be called "ipad"

    2) why didn't the reviewer ask the company about the ETA for drives for the iphone & itouch?!

    3) why is there not a Bluetooth version?!

    4) why did the reviewer not ask about the ETA for the OCR software? - including the status of Asian languages!

    .... very superficial review :-(

  1. zahadum

    Joined: Dec 1969


    No QuickTime support

    5) also, the file format for their e-ink isn't based on QuickTime ...

    so the e-ink files can't really be properly controlled or integrated or synxhronized with other rich media - eg annotations for PDF and SMIL/XML-based forms and pencasts etc.

    generating yet more data islands!

  1. zahadum

    Joined: Dec 1969


    grrr - typos

    obviously I meant no 'drivers' for iPhone ...
    not no 'drives'

    hate the spell-checker on the iPhone! ... it needs a smarter over-ride algorithm based on grammar & context.

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