For a little over two weeks I’ve been using a Pulse Smart Pen for my personal and professional notes. (I haven’t been a student in a few years so my review is going to be geared for those in the business world. But, since meetings are similar to college classes, I think my review will hold true for students as well.) Thus far I’m more impressed than I expected to be. The microphone is phenomenal, the OCR engine works rather well and it didn’t take too long for the pen to feel normal in my hand.
By the way, I’m left-handed. So if anyone is concerned that the Pulse is yet another righthand-centric device, let me allay your fears - it works for us in our right minds just as well.
Admit it, when it comes to pens, size matters. In my case, I’ve always been a fan of the Pilot G2 which is a slim pen that fits comfortably in my hand. I’ve been using G2’s for about 10 years now and I never thought I could give them up. When I opened my Pulse’s package I was taken back by the size, at first glance the pen seems humongous, and, at first touch, it feels weighty. Humongous and weighty are two adjectives that I don’t like to hear when it comes to a writing instrument, but the I still had to give the Pulse a chance. I’m really glad I did. In no time at all I was used to the feel of the pen in my hand and even after a week of marathon meetings my hand wasn’t aching.
The OCR Engine
The OCR engine included with the Pulse caught me off guard. I’ve been following this technology since the mid 90’s and have been rather unimpressed as it has never lived up to its hype. LiveScribe has renewed my faith in OCR. The OCR engine included with the Pulse is not perfect, but it works really well. I feel comfortable saying this given that it can read almost everything that I write - whether I take my time to write neatly, or if I write quickly during a fast paced meeting.
The microphone is one feature that I haven’t had a chance to use fully. Due to the nature of my work, I’m not allowed to record all of my meetings. Thankfully I did have a chance to record one of them and the microphone performed very well.
The meeting where I had a chance to use the microphone involved an impromptu conference room and it included ten attendees. The microphone performed really well, clearly recording the people at the other side of the room with the same clarity it recorded the voices of the people that were seated next to me.
The Pulse Smartpen is not without it’s flaws. The paragraphs below go into detail about the things I found.
I mentioned the OCR problems earlier, but such problems are to be expected. Being a software engineer myself, I understand how difficult OCR software is write. But I do want to go into more detail about what I experienced.
When I take notes, I tend to “tag” them in the margin. These tags consist of an acronym surrounded by a circle. Unfortunately, LiveScribe Desktop seems to have difficulty with these tags. It does find some of them but their recognition isn’t reliable enough for my needs.
I’m also having trouble getting the OCR engine to recognize numbers the way I write them. My handwriting isn’t perfect, but LiveScribe Desktop seems to parse most of the text I write while it has a hard time with numbers.
The pen does not come with a software CD. This annoyed me since the installation file for Windows is ~50MB, and even with a fast cable connection the download still took ~10 minutes. Having to download the software does guarantee that I’m using the latest and greatest version, but it is also another step between unpacking the pen and being able to use it.
After I installed the software and setup my Pulse, I was required to update the software on the pen. This part was torturous. Not only was it yet another step I was required to perform before I could the Pulse, it was horrifically slow. (Yes I was using a USB 2.0 port.)
Things I Haven’t Tried
Due to my schedule there are some things I haven’t tried. For instance, I use a Mac for my side-business and for personal things and I use Windows for work. Unfortunately I did not have time install the Mac version of the LiveScribe Desktop.
Related to the fact that I have two computers is that Livescribe does not recommend using the Pulse with two different computers. I haven’t tried this, so I don’t know the exact issues. My theory is that it would cause the notebook pages to be out of sync - pages 1-5 on computer A and 5-10 on computer B. That’s even if you’re allowed to associate the pen with two different computers. My recommendation to Livescribe would be to allow for some kind of syncing.
The Pulse Smart Pen is a wonderful device. It does have its problems, but I wouldn’t give mine up. It saves me a lot of time (I used to scan and then run my notes through OCR software). If you’re thinking of getting one, do it now. I’m pretty sure you won’t be dissappointed.
Note - If anyone is interested in seeing samples of the notes I’ve taken, please post a comment and I’ll post the images.
Wednesday, February 11th, 2009