Using a microphone and camera built into the pen, the original Livescribe Pulse smartpen digitised handwritten notes and automatically matched each pen stroke to the precise moment in the audio that the note was taken. The combined text and audio could be accessed through the pen or transferred to a Mac or PC for storage by USB.
An updated model, the Livescribe Echo, streamlined and enhanced the design of the pen, making it slightly slimmer and adding a grip and universal headphone jack.
The latest model in the range, Sky, delivers more dramatic changes: the addition of Wi-Fi wireless transfers, direct integration with Evernote and device pairing capability for Android and Apple smartphones and tablets.
The additions have potential to be quite exciting. Notes and recordings taken during a business meeting, for example, can be automatically sent to the Cloud and accessible immediately on any device that runs an Evernote app. Notes can also be directly shared from the pen through email or to Dropbox, Google Drive or Facebook.
I spent a couple of weeks testing the new model Livescribe pen. The core functionality of the pen continues to work as advertised: click record in the notepad, take notes and the pen seamlessly syncs your scrawls with the audio. When you’re finished, it all goes straight to the cloud.
However, I did encounter some integration issues with Evernote in the pre-release version of the Sky.
Design and price
The new pen looks nearly identical to the Livescribe Echo, with the exception of the Sky's dark silver grip. It’s still about the size of a cigar, but it’s hard to blame Livescribe given what’s inside.
The pen is comfortable to hold and won’t roll when you place it down on a desk. A small but bright and easy to read OLED screen is built into the pen and displays important information like audio time and a menu. On the end of the pen are a mini-USB port and a microphone jack.
The Sky is available in three models with different amounts of storage: 2GB, 4GB and 8GB, priced at $229, $275 and $345, respectively. The 8GB version includes a folio cover with room to stick an iPad and a one-year subscription to Evernote Premium.
Considering some tablets and smartphones can be had for the same price, the cost of the Sky could be prohibitive for some. However, if you find yourself more comfortable taking notes with a pen in lectures or business meetings, it may be enticing despite the price tag.
The pen continues to rely on special microdot notepads made and sold by Livescribe. The pages have a series of pictograms that you can use to control various functions, and the new versions now include access to wireless-specific functions. The device still supports older editions. As before, the notepads are sold at prices comparable to their more mundane counterparts.
Be warned that Evernote limits the amount of data that can be transferred in a given month. Free accounts normally provide 60MB per month, but through an agreement between the two companies, Livescribe users get an extra 500MB. Users who purchase the 8GB version of the Sky get a free year of Evernote Premium (normally $5 per month), which ups that to 1GB per month.