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Hands on: Livescribe 3 smartpen, companion app for iOS

updated 09:55 pm EST, Fri November 22, 2013

New app serves as Evernote alternative

Livescribe recently introduced its third-generation smartpen and its first iOS app, Livescribe+, which aims to serve as an alternative to Evernote. We met the company this week in New York City, where we put the digital pen to task against our hastily scribbled notes. The concept is certainly promising, but does the new software and hardware really serve as an effective note-taking system for iPhones and iPads?

The Livescribe 3 looks vaguely similar to a large fountain pen, however the tip conceals both an infrared camera and a ballpoint cartridge. Twisting the barrel activates the circuitry and deploys a tungsten-caribe ballpoint, which provided us with a comfortable writing experience once we grew used to the tip's offset alignment near the edge of the extra-large grip.

Users must write on Livescribe's special paper-covered with nearly invisible dots-to unlock the pen's digital wizardry. Luckily the company offers a wide range of notebooks and other stationery, and the frugal can print the dot pattern onto their own paper.

We spent a while jotting down notes on one of the special notepads, then watching the writing appear a second later on an iPad display. The results were surprisingly well rendered on the device; we didn't notice any of the quality issues that sometimes surface during traditional scanning. We also liked the audio controls, which are simply printed on the paper to initiate or pause recording when the pen passes over the command.

The Livescribe+ iOS app features several display modes, enabling notes to be viewed as written, placed in chronological order or tagged for further organization. Users can also search their note archives or use the captured text to create reminders, calendar notes, tasks and contacts. All of these capabilities are great, but a few of the implementations are not as intuitive and seamless as we've come to expect from a polished iOS app.

Our software critique should be taken in context; the app appears to have been added to the App Store approximately three weeks ago, and we were trying v1.0.1. Developers could be toiling day and night on v2.0 with a long list of usability enhancements and bonus features, but in the meantime the current version is fully capable of working as advertised. It also supports PDF export so the notes can be opened in Evernote or other well-established alternatives.

The Livescribe 3 pen is available as a standard edition for $150 with a starter notebook, while the $200 "Pro" package adds an extra ballpoint cartridge, more paper, a leather portfolio and a one-year Evernote premium subscription.

by MacNN Staff



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