LiveScribe Pulse Smartpen Review

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Kids sure are lucky these days because they have laptops and PDAs to help them with their school work. Back in my day, all we had were pencils, that we had to sharpen with a pocket knife as we walked to school barefoot in the snow. Ok, maybe it wasn’t that bad… But really, all we had were pens and pencils to take notes during class. I used to hate taking notes in school because my mind had a really bad habit of wandering. Fast forward to present day and not much has changed. My mind still wanders and I still don’t like taking notes. But, now I have a new tool that can help fill in the gaps during those times when I’m supposed to be paying attention during meetings. It’s an electronic pen called the Pulse Smartpen from Livescribe.

livescribe pulse smartpen 1

Hardware Specs

Processor: Samsung ARM 9 (32-bit, 150 MHz)
Screen: 96×18 OLED Display
Storage: 1GB NAND (over 100 hours recording time) or 2GB NAND (over 200 hours recording time)
Battery: 300 mAH rechargeable lithium (non-removable)
Audio jack: (2.5mm)
Size: 6.1 x 0.55 in. (155 x 14mm)
Weight: 1.3 oz. (36 Grams)

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Package Contents

Pulse Smartpen
Smartpen sync / charge dock
Carrying case
100 page spiral notebook
3 ink refills
1 stylus tip
Neck cord
Quick start guide

What is it and what can it do?

The Pulse Smartpen is a ballpoint pen that you use to write notes during your classes, lectures, meetings, etc. As you write, the pen will record your strokes along with audio. When you are done with a note taking session, you can go back to your handwritten notes and tap on a word that you wrote to hear what was being said as you were writing that word. You can also upload your note taking sessions to your computer for archival and searching purposes.

The hardware

For the most part, the Pulse Smartpen looks like a regular ballpoint pen. But upon closer inspection, you will soon recognize the fact that this is a very powerful electronic pen with all kinds of amazing features.

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The body of the pen is made of aluminum that isn’t overly flashy. The top side has the power button, dual microphones, a speaker and a small OLED display.

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On the underside, you will find the contacts for charging with the included USB dock.

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The dock is a small plastic stand that has a magnetic connector built into its base.

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All you have to do is just set the pen in the dock, for it to make a connection for both charging and syncing with your PC.

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From the side, the Pulse looks a bit like a fountain pen.

livescribe pulse smartpen 11 livescribe pulse smartpen 6

But if you look closer at the area behind the ballpoint pen tip, you’ll see an Infrared camera lens. This camera is what will record everything you write or draw.

On the top of the Pulse, there’s a 2.5mm audio jack for a set of ear buds that are included with the pen. These ear buds allow you to listen to recorded sessions in privacy and will also record audio with their built in microphones.

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In hand, the Pulse Smartpen does feel a bit chunkier than your typical Bic pen, but it’s not overly cumbersome. I didn’t have any problems writing with it and experienced no discomfort even after long note taking sessions.

How does it work?

To use the Pulse Smartpen, you first need to charge it through the USB dock. Then just press the button on the Left side of the LCD to turn it on.

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Start up time takes about 5 seconds, and then you’ll see the time of day displayed on the screen. When you tap the record button on the paper, the screen will start displaying a counter of how long you’ve been capturing writing and audio.

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The LCD displays status information, but can also be used to play movies. This is a cutesy feature that teens will probably appreciate more than adults. There are a couple different animated movies saved on the pen, with audio and everything. There’s even a little app in the pen that instructs you to draw a piano keyboard on the paper. From there, you can play little tunes. Again, this is kid fluff, but it’s fun for demos.

In order for the pen to record your writing, you have to use special notebooks sold by Livescribe. Included with the pen is one 100 page spiral bound notebook.

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You can purchase additional notebooks and even Moleskine style journals directly from Livescribe. According to one of the demo videos on the Livescribe site, you can print your own paper. I’ve yet to find that option though… The Pulse pen is able to keep track of sessions recorded on multiple notebooks and journals, which I think is pretty cool. That way, you can have a separate notebook for each class or project.

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The inside covers of the notebooks and journals have several ‘tools’ that you can access just by tapping the tip of the pen on the paper ‘buttons’. There are tools to show the time, date and battery status. There is also a calculator and keyboard.

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At the bottom of every page in the notebooks and journals are tools for recording the note taking session.

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What makes the paper special are the tiny dots printed on the page, which can be seen when looked at very closely.

To record a lecture or meeting, you just turn the pen on, tap the record button and start taking notes. When you’re finished taking notes, tap the stop button. From there you can do two things. You can go back and study your notes by tapping on different words with the pen tip. When you do this, the audio captured at the time you wrote those words, will start playing through the speaker built into the pen. Studying your notes with this pen is so cool because you’ll never miss something that was said. I know it can be difficult to keep up when taking notes. This way, you don’t have to worry.

The tools at the bottom of each notebook / journal page allows you to skip around in the session and even speed up / slow down the audio.

The built in microphone in the pen worked really well for the average sized conference rooms where I did my testing. The included earbuds have microphones built into them and are supposed to work really well for large size lecture halls. I didn’t have the opportunity to test this though…

The second thing that you can do with your recorded sessions is to upload them to your PC (right now, there is only a desktop app for Windows, but according to the Livescribe website, they are working on one for the Mac).

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Click thumbnail to see full size image

The desktop application is easy to use and is pretty cool all by itself. When you connect your Pulse pen, the sessions or any changes to previous sessions will automatically sync to the desktop. You can then see exact images of the pages of notes that you’ve entered… in your own writing. You can click on a word with your mouse, and the audio will start playing from the time that you wrote the info.

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Click thumbnail to see full size image

As the audio plays, you’ll seen an animation over the top of the ink, showing it draw as the audio progresses. So ok, that’s cool right? Well get this… You can even search for words in your notes. Printed or cursive. In my testing, I found that it did a really good job finding words, even with my sloppy writing.

You can also share your notes with other people by saving them as PDF files or what they call Pencasts. Pencasts are encapsulated movies of your notes with audio. You can share them via Facebook or though the Livescribe community website.

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Click thumbnail to see full size image

Once you delete the sessions from the pen, you’ll no longer be able to play back the audio by tapping in the notebook or journal pages where you originally wrote the notes. Of course, you can still use the PC desktop application to listen to those sessions. The 1GB pen can hold up to 100 hours of audio though, so you won’t need to delete the sessions very often unless you really want to.

Another thing that I think makes this note taking system very powerful is the fact that you can go back and add more info to your notes and it will know which page it belongs on when you sync back to the desktop application.

I really have enjoyed testing and using the Livescribe Pulse Smartpen. It’s super easy to use and would be great for anyone that needs to capture notes on a regular basis. Students will absolutely love this product and will wonder how they ever got along without it.


Product Information

  • Windows XP SP2 or Windows Vista
  • Very easy to use
  • Records audio and ink
  • Can search for written words in text
  • Can share notes with others
  • Have to use special paper with the pen

53 thoughts on “LiveScribe Pulse Smartpen Review”

  1. Gadgeteer Comment Policy - Please read before commenting
  2. Very neat…kind of an adult’s version of the Leapfrog Fly.

    Does the software do OCR on the text when it’s downloaded? Also, are the tablets you need expensive? That’s really the only thing that’s kept me from buying one of these gadgets…the notebooks you need are high compared to your standard 70-page, college-ruled, wire-bound notebook you can get at Wal-Mart for a nickel during back to school sales.

  3. Tyler:

    I’m not sure about OCR. It would have to be translated somehow though in order for the word search to work.

    The notebooks can be purchased in 4 packs for $19.99, which isn’t cheap… But, supposedly they are going to have a way to print your own paper.

  4. That is awesome, I would so love to have had one for my birthday. I could really use it at school and at home for when I have to take notes but can’t take my laptop with me. -cries- Poor little laptop, the charger unit broke inside of it and now we can’t fix it. SO, I must save up for a new one. Great Review.

  5. Of course it doesn’t capture power point, but often those files are available digitally. Also good for discussions and meetings! I think one key to the expensive paper might be to cut way back on your writing with a bullet list, knowing you can listen to the details later. The paper is 1¢ per page–actually quite cheap! I teach at a community college and think this sounds great.

  6. I have one and I love it. It’s so great for taking and organizing my notes. Here’s a discount code I used if you are thinking of purchasing one from SCRIBEA533 It’s good for a 5% discount of either the 1GB or the 2GB pen, so if you’re thinking of getting one, why not get some money off?!

  7. Im a High School student is this worth buying for teens. I take alot of notes but sometimes the class is very disrutive and I wonder if I will be able to record the lectures in my AP classes.

    1. Jose:
      That’s a good question. I didn’t have the opportunity to test it in really loud environments, just business conference rooms. I’ve just googled around and some people complain about using it in large lecture halls…

    1. N.venkateswarulu:
      You can use this pen to ‘write’ in any notebook. But, if you want it to work with the included software to map the recordings with what you’ve written, you will have to use the special notebooks with the dots.

  8. I have a quick question about the pen:

    Is it worth buying for people who like to write novels, and/or short stories? Is the ink/paper to expensive? I thought that the recording thing would be helpful for recording my thoughts and it would be handy in the pen that I’m using, but is it worth it? Can it convert to computer text?

  9. Since people are still looking at this review, I thought I’d mention that recently LiveScribe released beta software for the Mac, and also added the ability to print blank dot paper on your own printer. No clue how well that works, but it’s worth noting 🙂

  10. @Zach: I think the LiveScribe is overkill for what you’re describing. It’s too expensive to use as a small voice recorder. It’s main feature is that it syncs voice recordings with what you are writing at that exact same time. I don’t know anyone that would be speaking story ideas while writing them at the same time.

    No, the LiveScribe will not convert your spoken words to computer text. It converts your written notes into computer searchable text.

  11. I am researching this pen for my boss and he would like to know if there have been any complaints about it and if so what were they. I personally think that this would be a great tool for him. Do you have any reviews of the printable paper yet. If so what did they say. Also, the software you need to download the pen, does that come with the pen or do you have to pay separately? Let’s just say that I wanted to but the pen and one notebook of dot paper, would that be enough for it to completely function as it needs to?

  12. 1) Irie, You’ll be happy to know that Google will lead you to a host of reviews by purchasers, on assorted blogs and in various forums, as well as highly detailed magazine reviews.

    2) While I’m here, thanks to this site’s editors for the info!

    3) Be careful when reading reviews. A workout with Google = the PC software was updated in Nov 2008, yielding some very positive changes.

  13. This page was very useful for me to understand the pen. Well written, concise and understandable. I will be buying a pen based on this information. It told me what I was looking for.

  14. Can you tell me how long the battery lasts? I am a full time student and am thinking about buying this pen, but I want to make sure that it will last throughout the day.

  15. Has anyone with a hearing loss used one? What is the sound quality like? I am interested in buying this pen for my daughter who has a moderate hearing loss. She usually understands about every 3rd or 4th word her teachers say in class & I think it would be great for her to review her classes at home.

  16. This product is really cool, it’s too bad that their customer service/technical support is horrific as I was informed that it is not their protocol to be sure that an issue is resolved and the pen is working before ending a call, I was told it was due to their high call volume, to which I replied that I’m sure Microsoft has an equally if not greater high call volume, however they make correcting your issues a priority. BEWARE!!! They sell bugs in their software and drivers, but don’t want to help you correct them!

  17. Just a quick question, about how long does it take to charge the battery fully, and how long does it last once charged? Thanks.

  18. I’ve had the LiveScribe Pen now for about a year and I love it and probably couldn’t do my job without it. I’ll try to respond to some of the questions that were asked above:

    1. The battery life is very good. I attended a three-day conference just last month with a full day of speakers per day. I charged the pen every night, it takes about two hours to get to a full charge, so that it was ready to go when I went to the conference the next day. I did not get a low battery warning on any of the three days (with seven hours of recording and notetaking per day).
    2. The sound quality is excellent. Even in the large conference room at the Anaheim convention Center I was able to hear the speaker very clearly over any of the background noise when I went back and reviewed my notes. I have used the pen to record and take notes on conference calls, meetings in conference rooms, and like I said, in the large conference room at the convention center. I have had no problems hearing the speaker in any of those instances.
    3. While the paper may be expensive I would like to agree with one of the commenters above. My notetaking style has evolved since I began using the pen. I used to take copious notes so that I would remember everything that the speaker said, I now just put down bullet points to remind me where to go back to listen to what the speaker said. I use the pen almost daily and in my current notebook I began taking notes on 4/20/2009 and due to my shorthand I am only on page 57 of the notebook. (12 of those pages were from the three day conference).
    4. The only occasion where I have had an opportunity to contact their customer service/technical support was when the first pen that I purchased quit working suddenly. I had left it out of the case and pen and got pushed back and no longer worked. I called their customer service, they sent me out a replacement pen and I returned the old one. No problems at all. That does bring up the point though that the pen does need to remain in the leather case when you are not using it because it is sensitive to damage, I think if you treat it like any other sensitive piece of electronic equipment you’ll be fine.

  19. Sorry about the length of my last posting–I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking and I didn’t realize that it had gotten that long. In #4 above it should say that “I had left it out of the case and the pen tip had gotten pushed back into the pen and the longer worked.” The way the pen works is that when you push down on the paper it activates the camera. Evidently that push damaged the switch.

  20. I am wondering if you upload to a laptop does the link between text and what was being said at the time remain intact?


  21. I’ve heard some negative comments about the software for syncing this with the computer. I realize they have made some major changes since many of the reviews were written and that they’re only in version 1.1 (for mac), but I was curious how buggy the software still is…

  22. I just got my pen and I’m loving it so far. My only quesion -is there a way to use a page of the special paper if you didn’t take up the entire page. I’m still in the starter notebook, only filled out about a third of a page then synched it up. Came back the next day to practice hand writing using the same page but now can’t get the bottom half of the page to load. I’ll try not synching up until I fill up a page to see if that works but was hoping someone might know a trick to get it to still let me use up the rest of the page.

  23. Has anyone got an answer re message 19? I have a hearing impaired student with a moderate loss who as asked about using the pen. She is about to move onto college – does the pen record a good quality audio recording of lecturers that she would be able to hear? Are there facilities in the software for boosting the volume?

  24. I just received my Smartpen and would like some suggestions for using it with web conferences (webinars). My company has frequent conference calls and webinars and I take detailed notes. I can’t get my head around how my pen can record the webinar audio to accompany my notes. The webinar audio is via a telephone connection rather than speakers.
    Thank you.

  25. Ok I am a paramedic and I’m wondering if they make any type of pocket sized notepads this would be awesome for call reviews or even just the small bits of knowledge that I often pick up from dr. Nurses and just off the streets would also work great for cops I would imagine!


  26. After researching this product, I am still unclear as to whether the software will parse written text into a file. That feature is rather important in regards to the full usefulness of this pen. Perhaps there is 3rd party software to do this?

  27. Windows Software is Awful – Support is Insulting.

    The desktop software checks for updates over the internet. This cannot be disabled. Fair enough – they have some ‘online pen lovers’ community thing going and everyone is wired these days. But at work I have a firewall (like most schools, offices, hospitals, libraries, coffee shops – okay everywhere but home).

    The CHECK for updates works – but the UPDATE ITSELF does not work through a firewall.

    This happens EVERY TIME YOU CONNECT THE PEN TO THE PC – EVERY TIME. YOU CANNOT DISABLE IT. YOU HAVE TO CLICK ‘DECLINE’. Then it asks you if you REALLY want to decline the update you just declined. Yes – you have to click twice every time you connect the pen.

    Now I’m mad. So I send an email to tech support.

    They say that it’s not their problem – they send me links to other frustrated users who have written their own software to try and correct the issue. This doesn’t correct my issue, but then again it’s just another frustrated user trying to be helpful. So I send more email to the Livescribe support staff. They stop returning my emails. These are not CAP LOCK email, these are polite but firm requests for help. I even offer to beta test software if they have something that they think might help!

    I post on the Livescribe blog – within seconds (really!) I get a reply telling me that they can help and I can expect some support soon.

    Then they stop replying to my email – and they disable commenting on their blog. No kidding.

    I’m not sure what to do now.

  28. Thanks for your well presented review. As a writer who can hand write faster than I can type, I’m looking for a miracle. I tried DragonSoft but it took too long to recognize my handwriting. Does the SmartPen require the same kind of training? Once the notes are uploaded and transcribed into text, how easy is it to edit?

    1. @Layla The LiveScribe does NOT convert your writing to text. It records audio while you write and allows you to tap on your handwritten notes in order to hear what audio was being said at that time. The client software that you install on your computer lets you search for words in your notes and it finds them, but your writing won’t be translated into a text file (at least not in the version of the software that I tested a year ago.

  29. Ronald C. Smallwood

    Really slick technology but I took mine back for a refund. Pulse has set it up so the only way you can share files is through their website. You can’t save the files to your own web site or back them up on your own computers. Would you buy a camera from a company that said the only way you can share your photos was through their website? Not me! If I create something, I should be able to choose where and how I store & share my creation.

  30. I agree with you Ron! I have been trying to find a way to save the file as my own but it doesn’t look that way. You can save the page as a PDF and then the audio separetely as a .wav or .mp4 file but then you have to embed the audio into the doc once you’ve uploaded to your site. I can do this with many other tools, like a tablet so why would I spend the extra money and have to do more work!! I am pretty disappointed with the fact that livescribe has limited the amount of file space and their control over the objects that we create! I have also been trying to figure out if we can only use 1/2 the page upload it and then use the other 1/2 and upload it as a seperate file, or do I have to have both on the same page. I am trying to create working examples for students but can not have them all together. From what I have found so far you need to use an entire new page!
    Just my thoughts…………….

  31. Chris (comment 30),

    Yes, they have flip notepads and I use them! I am a firefighter/ALS provider and this thing is awesome for use on calls. I just start recording as soon as I get on the scene and take my usual notes. When I get done with the call I just refer back to the pen for everything to help me fill out my report. What an awesome gadget!

  32. @TIm (comment 39) and @Chris (comment 30).
    So, Tim, the bottom line is that it perhaps helps you prepare more accurate reports. I doubt it saves you time in filling out the reports.
    Appreciate your feedback – thanks

  33. I’m interested in the pen because I hate to type.
    Can you turn the audio part off if you just want to take notes in silence?

    1. @Tim Turn off the audio part? This pen records any audio while you’re taking notes in a mtg. You don’t have to listen to the audio when you go back to read your notes, if that’s what you mean. But that’s really the whole point of the device.

  34. PROBLEM PROBLEM PROBLEM. My spouse bought the pen for my daughter. Daughter then plugs pen into holder, holder via usb into MAC Book, she waits and gets a notification that the pen is registered to someone else. After multiple try s I enter the gam and slowly look for some reset process. There is none. After contacting customer service, we were told basically tough. The pen was apparently restocked after being returned. Target, company we bought it from, is not supposed to restock returns. Therefore we must way two business days before they can register the pen and then only if it has not be reported stolen. No, we cannot speak with a supervisor and no the manager will not take our call or leave us an email to contact him. And no, there is nothing to do but, wait or return it to Target for a replacement. Also you can still use it as a ball point ( no joke she actually said that) HA HA. And by the way there is no policy to reset the pen when this type of problem occurs. Again, go to hell customer, we got your money. This is the worst customer service I have seen from an IT company in years if not ever.

  35. @Tim
    I just got a 4GB lightscribe pro-pack. It is awesome, and I have no troubles with the diameter of the pen. I got it for two main reasons: 1) I am an English major and take a great deal of notes
    2)I write constantly, and I hate typing my written papers, stories, and the sort. I would rather fix OCR errors than retype.

    The Pro-pack contains a registration key for MyScribe Notes, which takes your handwriting and converts it into digital text. From there, you can export it as a .rtf and edit it in Word. (I like OpenOffice Writer, personally). So, to all the writers out there who ask “Can I use this to transcribe my stories, notes, ect?” the answer is YES! (you may have to adjust your handwriting for better OCR transcription).

    If the pen is worth this convenience, ask yourself how much your time is worth. How long do you spend hand-typing what you’ve written? Are you drowning under piles of written papers? My writing job earns $30/hour. I bought the pen for $220 at BestBuy, so I would only have to use the pen for 7.5 hours to recover my loss.

    People with loopy handwriting might confuse the OCR, but my sloppy cursive is translated amazingly well (2 mistakes on my entire test page). For me it is an AWESOME tool, not only for classwork but also for my writing.


    PS, I am a little bit disturbed no one has brought up the ethics of this pen. Many people want permission to be recorded. If they see a recorder, they report this, but in the form of a pen they may never know.

  36. 1) can you disable recording?
    2) With handwriting and drawings mixed, will the software keep convert the handwriting to text and leave the rest as image?

  37. I have had my pen since 2009. In Maryland I do ot get to use it much for it is illegal to record anything unless all parties agree that are involved and believe someone always gets upset. Once you convert your handwriting into text you cannot put on pen on your text and hear the audio. Personally, I think it is an expensive tool. If the pen converted voice into tex it would be better.

  38. rebecca hopkins

    Livescribe pen, good idea, bad execution, even worse customer service. Glitchy, functions work, then won’t. Hey google, buy them out and put your people on it,

  39. Hi Julie,

    if I get it right, all LiveScribe smartpens vitally need the dot paper (purchased or self-printed) to function properly, because the dots enable the orientation of the pen’s infrared light beam(s) while darting over the paper surface. In other words: there is probably no way of benefiting from the pen thoroughly, i.e. with all it’s technological gadgets (and not solely as a simple writing pen, which of course will work on any paper).

    This limitation will include that the pen won’t provide you with either spell-checking or translating (if these functions are included anyway?) when ΝΟΤ writing on especially dotted paper, right? So, in case you find yourself in an examination and you are obliged to use only the paper, which is handed out to you by the examiner, the pen won’t be of much help! Did I understand that right?

    Thanks a lot in advance for taking you time to answer my concern.

    Greetings from Thessaloniki, Greece.

  40. Of course I meant:

    “there is probably no way of benefiting from the pen thoroughly […]” if not using the appropriate dotted sheets of paper.


    1. @Alexandros You’re right. The pen only works with the special paper. So you are forced to either buy their notebooks or print your own dotted paper.

  41. Thank you for a very quick response, Julie!
    And by the way: you did/are doing a nice job with this blog. The information you (and the commentators) give here are indeed much more helpful than the information provided by LiveScribe! 😉

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