The Echo is the second model of smartpen to emerge from Livescribe. The Pulse, its previous model, we gave an excellent review when it launched last year. Powered by the same ARM9 processor core that drives modern smartphones, both pens combine ink with an Infra-red sensor, special paper and sound recording to create a computing platform like no other.
When you write on the paper (sold as notebooks or printable on a 600dpi colour laser printer) the sensor records your pen strokes. If you choose to record sound at the same time, these pen strokes are synched with the audio, so when you go back over your notes you can touch a word written on the LiveScribe paper and hear exactly what sound was captured at that point. This data combination can be saved for later; creating what Livescribe calls a pencast, and played back by anyone with the viewer software (Livescribe is working on the ability to output pencasts to flash-laden pdfs in a future software update).
Livescribe encourages the development of applications for its smartpens. An example of this is translation software, in which you write down a word, touch it with the pen and have it spoken in another language. There are dictionaries, musical notation programs and games such as Hangman that you can purchase and download to the pen.
This is possible with both the Echo and the Pulse smartpens. Where the Echo differs is an increased memory capacity (both 4GB and 8GB versions are available), better ergonomics and the ability to connect and charge via micro-USB rather than through a separate dock. The switch to micro-USB is important because it will allow the echo to work as a paper-based digitising tablet when software is available later this year.
We tested the Echo in several environments, including a large meeting of 14 people. Voice recording was surprisingly good and clear regardless of recording environment. Jumping back through conversations by selecting our notes worked perfectly, and the ability to combine hastily jotted down ideas with the flow of conversation at the time enhanced note-taking immensely. An hour and a half of audio took up only 20MB of data, and battery life was more than ample for a full day’s note-taking and recording.
If your day-to-day routine involves meetings and note taking then the Livescribe Echo can easily become an invaluable tool. It is surprisingly easy to adapt to and the benefits are almost immediately noticeable. Our only real worry is that some of the more exciting features of the Echo, the ability to use it as a digitiser and the ability to create pencasts as pdfs, are slated to appear down the track.