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Livescribe Announces the Echo Pen

One of my favorite technology tools, the Livescribe Pen, is getting an upgrade. Livescribe announced the release of the Echo pen. This seems to address almost every criticism I have had for this most useful tool. It comes in a 4 and 8 GB version.

I have liked the Livescribe pen from day one. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have issues with it. Here were my issues:

  • Proprietary headphone jack. Since the headphones included additional mics, the connector was not compatible with any other microphones.
  • Proprietary docking station. You had to use the included cradle to sync and charge the pen. Out of town, with the cradle left at home? Better hope that charge lasts.
  • Perfectly round. This means it has a tendency to roll when put down. Not something you want an expensive pen to do.
  • Ugly. Sorry to be shallow, but it is not an attractive pen.
  • Not retractable, no pen cap. You needed to use the neoprene case included, or an upgraded leather case.

It’s almost like they heard me talking, They addressed all my issues with this release. You can now use your own headphone with the pen. They still have “3-D” headphones (additional mics to pick up sound) as an option,  but you can plug a standard headphone into the pen. Also, next to the jack, you get a standard micro-USB jack:

I like the new design, I think it looks very slick and modern. The elliptical shape should also keep it from rolling away. Here are some nice vanity shots:

It comes with 2 smartpen caps. I couldn’t find any pictures of these, but I had noticed they came out with caps for my pen as well.

Not only did they upgrade the hardware, but they upgraded the software as well. Even better, the updates are available to those of us with Pulse pens. They include:

  • Password Protection for your recorded audio.
  • Expanded smartpen and notebook naming.
  • Enhanced pencast sharing.
  • Pencast player for something called an “iPad” if you have heard of that.
  • Easier launch of applications.

I’ll be updating my pen with the new software, and trying to figure out if my Pulse can succumb to some sort of “accident” in the near future. It is a shame these things are so durable.

UPDATE: I forgot to include the link to the Livescribe Blog post with details.

{ 15 comments… add one }

  • AR July 19, 2010, 2:24 pm

    I think though this addresses many of my perceived flaws with Livescribe, it still does not address the single biggest one – the need to use Livescribe paper.

    I tend to make notes in many many places using different kinds of paper and it would be nice if the pen could take notes whichever paper I am using. The reason this happens is that I am not good at carrying everything I need with me and a notebook would be the first on the list of things I forget.

    The simplest example I can think of is Post-It notes. Another would be my Moleskin notebooks that lie everywhere I go.

    Until they allow any paper to work with the pen, I think I am not getting a Livescribe.

  • Bryan Sherman July 19, 2010, 3:54 pm

    @AR
    I am not unsympathetic to your view, but the fact is the tech used in the pen hinges on the imperceptible dot-pattern on the paper.

    I use the journals they sell that are VERY much like a moleskin. I have had folks mistake them for moleskins. You CAN print your own pages with a postscript compatible laser printer, but I have not tried that.

    I am OK with the tradeoff.

  • Jackie Cheng July 19, 2010, 4:01 pm

    @Bryan – Is it possible if I can send you some printed dot paper for you to try your livescribe on? I just want to make sure my own laser printer can print out usable dot paper before I invest in a livescribe.
    Another question I’m concerned is does the pen detect correctly when writing over the fold of a folded up paper?

  • RainyDayInterns July 19, 2010, 7:44 pm

    The paper thing is not really that big of an issue. We know as we have been using the SmartPen for years.

    The BIG issue is the data CANNOT be loaded back into the pen once it has been offloaded. Why is this a problem? Well, one of the cool thing about this pen is you don’t need a computer for it to be useful. Tapping the pen on any pages of a Livescribe notebook will play the any audio associated with the notes from that point on.

    If you have a few of the notebooks with audio, you had better not offload any of that data from the pen, because the notebooks/audio file mappings will be lost. Sure, you can still playback the audio on the computer…but it is not as convenient as just tapping the pen on a page.

    What they REALLY need is a removable flash (t-flash or something similar) chip which can be associated with the notebook…not the pen. The pen should just be a recording/playback device.

    We still love the pen, but are definitely looking forward to the day when they address this issue.

  • RainyDayInterns July 19, 2010, 7:46 pm

    @AR…

    This pen will never be for you as the dots are the basis of how the pen works.

  • George William Herbert July 19, 2010, 7:53 pm

    Jackie –

    Responding to your second question, I have just taken an Echo and folded a page up to the point of flat and creased and then unfolded it, and it writes smoothly across the fold line with no gaps, though there may be a slight kink in some of the lines. I have a PDF of the results I am currently unable to push out of my corporate firewall, but can post later. Zooming in carefully I think you can see where the crease is, in the lines I drew, but it’s clearly seeing across it.

  • Jackie Cheng July 20, 2010, 1:26 am

    @George – Thanks for testing it out!

  • Bryan Sherman July 20, 2010, 7:21 am

    @RainyDay

    On the one hand I have never needed to remove anything from my Pulse (2GB), but now that you mention that it DOES put another crimp in my desire to upgrade to an Echo. I would want to move my current journal’s info to the new pen.

  • RainyDayInterns July 20, 2010, 9:20 am

    @Bryan,

    We started a project called the 1000 Character Text using the Pulse:
    http://www.rainydaymagazine.com/RDM2009/Home/May/Week1/RDMHomeMay0909.htm#LiveScribeOnline

    The idea is to be able to point to any of the characters and have the recordings of the sound/meaning/etc…played back to you. This works pretty well with the journals, but obviously there is no way to make more than one. Also, the pen is now forever attached to that journal :-) Not exactly the best use of the pen.

  • TC July 20, 2010, 12:46 pm

    @RainyDayInterns:

    Seems like they need some sort of “hierarchy” for notebooks and pages. In other words they could have some sort of “tap” for the actual notebook prior to tapping the actual page. Tap a different “notebook” dot and that page is not associated with a different notebook.

    It doesn’t seem all that hard but then again I have no idea how they are storing the data.

  • Bryan Sherman July 20, 2010, 9:05 pm

    @TC

    The application RDI was referring to is very cool, but not very typical. Actually, you can have multiple notebooks on your pen (the Journal format I like has 8 different numbers I can use). The issue RDI is talking about is once you remove a notebook from the pen by archiving, it is not available on the pen anymore. Typically the only reason you would do that is if you have filled up 8 books (in the case of the Journal) and need to start a new one.

    However, RDI has a good point. If I wanted to but an Echo pen, i would not be able to move my current information from my Pulse to the Echo. It makes upgrading less attractive for me. On the other hand, NONE of this prevents me from accessing that information on my computer, or on Livescribe online.

    So, I could have 8 active Journals, and as soon as I start writing on one, the pen will identify the proper page and journal, and record the information. Pretty amazing imho.

    I hope that makes sense. It’s kind of hard to explain if you have not used the system. Feel free to ask more question. You can also follow http://twitter.com/livescribe on twitter. They are very responsive. I asked whether they supported moving notebooks to pens and got an answer right away (much requested, not implemented at this time).

  • RainyDayInterns July 21, 2010, 7:55 am

    @Brian,

    Upgrading is definitely a problem for those who use the pen for more than just note taking. Not being able to transfer the data from one pen to another is a GIANT barrier to upgrade.

    As we don’t know the engineering reason for not being able to transfer data back into the pen (which we can’t imagine not being possible), we can’t comment on the level of difficulty in making the feature possible.

    If Livescribe can’t do removable memory, the least they can do is to allow us to transfer data both ways.

  • Hellene July 22, 2010, 12:19 pm

    Dang! I bought a LiveScribe pen not even two months ago! Aaah, will not readw more on this version as it’ll ruin my liking for the older pen.

  • Ed July 23, 2010, 2:48 am

    I received my echo today and have been playing with it, here are some quick initial thoughts.
    The pen is not heavy, has a nice finish though the fit on the silver band at the midpoint of the pen is off slightly so it catches on your hand – haven’t decided if that bugs me or not. The pen cap that is NOT pictured anywhere on the website is annoying and I would only use it if I was using the pen in very dusty and dirty situations… maybe. The cap is so small you could easily lose it, I guess that is why they give you two of them. It basically fits over the tip of the ink cartridge and into the hole where the infrared camera sits. It is very snug but doesn’t have a loop ring or tab to help pull it back off, just two ridges for your fingers to help pull it off – and likely have it go flying across the room. So, don’t get excited about the cap, I think that part of the design still needs work.
    The pen when put down does not roll, I know that was a huge request they had with the Pulse design along with a standard headset jack. The lower half of the pen is a rubberized finish which I like. Overall, a clean nice look. Time will tell on the durability of the finish of the pen but I like the black look.
    I also ordered a two pack of the moleskine like journals (huge fan of the moleskine products) and I think it will work as a replacement. It lacks the nice pocket in the back and the inside paper cover that is glued to the backing board has some bubbling but otherwise it seems well built and functional. I wish they had a squared option but you can only get lined or blank paper at this point, totally my engineering bias coming out there I guess :)
    I’m actually excited about using the product, especially for meetings. I do consulting and trying to remember everything that was said in a meeting based off of key summary notes can be a challenge several weeks later. I anticipate this really helping to jog my memory regarding what was agreed too and who said what when. Who knows if that will be to my benefit or not but having a reference tool like that seems like a good idea.
    – Ed

  • Deke September 7, 2010, 10:07 am

    I love this product, but the cap design is just plain dumb. It is difficult to remove and place and it cannot attach to any part of the pen (like the top) to prevent loss. Just dumb and shows the designers essentially punted on this and let the technology get in the way of design and usability. This is a basic pen design requirement that has been solved for decades. Oh wait, their design solution was to give me 2 caps in the box!

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