Dane Elec Z-Pen Review

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If you’re like me, you multi-task all day and have notes all over your office and probably at home. So when I came across the Dane-Elec Z-Pen my heart did a little jig.  The thought that I had found something that would transcribe all of my notes into type-written text that could easily be filed away neatly and electronically, held a lot of interest for me. What made this pen different from some others I had looked at was that it did not require any special paper to use. All I had to do was clip it to the top of my common office pad and away we go!  I had a meeting coming up and tried it on for size. Two hours later I returned to my office and plugged it into my office PC.  The transfer was simple and painless; the output was jumbled and painful.


The software is bundled into the receiver. You simply plug in the device, it is usually recognized quickly and you download three programs: Pen & Ink Viewer (for viewing an exact copy of your handwritten notes); My Script Notes (converting the handwriting to digital text) and Note Searcher (to look up notes by keywords). There isn’t a written manual included; you are expected to go to the website.  After checking the online manual it was suggested that I had started “too high” on the pad which was why even the Viewer software wasn’t accurately reflecting what I wrote.  I quickly tore off those pages and started writing random notes on the third line down from the top of the pad.  This time I could see all of my notes on the screen. I then had to “train” the software to decipher my handwriting. This was a fairly long and tedious process that took about an hour–mainly because I had to keep redoing the training sheets.  It seems my receiver didn’t always want to work when I started on the third line, sometimes I had to start on the fifth etc. I then loaded this into the computer and it proceeded to “read” my writing. Each letter, word or sentence was analyzed and then you correct any of the mistakes the program made in translating. After another half an hour of that I tried to transcribe my random notes from earlier. The result was a combination of broken English and Klingon. I couldn’t bring myself to train the thing again so currently the pen and receiver are sitting on my desk in the “things that still need refining if they are ever going to be useful to me” pile.

The Z-pen retails for about $100. Included in the package is the Z-pen, receiver and USB cord. Can I recommend this product? No, I really can’t. I’d like to think that I’m not an overly impatient gadget user with a Dr.-like scrawl that can’t be deciphered by modern technology. In essence, it should have worked better than it did and if they are going to make the fact that you can use regular paper a selling point, then it shouldn’t require you to navigate all over the page and never knowing if your receiver is picking up all of your words.


Product Information

Manufacturer:Dane Elec
  • Easy to setup
  • Compact
  • Receiver doubles as a flash drive
  • Can use plain paper
  • Expensive for something that doesn't work correctly most of the time
  • Training process is tedious

16 thoughts on “Dane Elec Z-Pen Review”

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  2. Very nice review, Alisa. I’ve been looking for one of these pens that did NOT use special paper (glad to see that some digital pen manufacturers understand how annoying that requirement is). Here’s hoping they work the rest of the kinks out of the product and get the accuracy/transcribing up to a point where it’s an acceptable alternative to scanning physical documents later or transcribing notes by hand.

  3. I had the Nokia SU-1B digital pen years ago (it’s actually still in a box on my desk). It was very cool, but the special paper was a real bummer. The other thing was that I found that I really didn’t need to download my notes as much as I thought I would. However, when I pulled it out and started using it EVERYONE would ask about it. So, it definitely upped the nerd-cred factor. 🙂

  4. Interesting — I have the IO Gear version of this device (I’m betting it’s the same underlying hardware — it looks very similar and “My Script Notes” is the same application). I didn’t have the same issue with the device not recognizing notes on the top of the page, but it is very important that the receiver be mounted straight at the top of the page — if it gets knocked about or moved dramatically, your notes won’t line up correctly.

    I haven’t tried the handwriting OCR as I have no illusions as to its (in-)ability to read my henscratch, but having a digital copy of my paper notes has proven useful. I upload the notes after every meeting and they are automatically date and time stamped. I add a small note about the subject of the meeting. It makes finding old notes a lot more efficient than flipping through a notepad. The resolution of the handwriting is excellent (it stores the content as a vector image so “resolution” is not an issue), so I can always re-read what I’ve written.

    I think if you go in expecting the handwriting OCR to work decently, you’re bound to be disappointed as even printed OCR is fairly hit-and-miss. But if you just want a quick way to digitize handwritten notes, it works pretty well.

  5. Well Ben, I understand what you’re saying but if I just wanted my own handwritten notes in my computer I could just scan them in. I bought this pen because I wanted my notes transcribed without having to go through the added expense of buying special paper, which is probably why other people would have eyeballed it.

  6. Many years ago, I had a similar device for the Handspring Visor- a small clip that basically watched your pen movements and digitized them for viewing, and it had similar problems with the ‘capture zone’- it could not be too high, too far to the side, etc.

    I agree that most buyers will expect that this pen will provide them with good text from scrawled notes fairly painlessly. As a guy who has spent a lot of time cleaning up scanned OCR text, and using the old Palm Grafitti, I feel your pain.

    So… would a more standardized, Palm Grafitti-like handwriting help? I noticed that in the heyday of the Palm, my handwriting got very Grafitti-like and almost readable.

  7. I still believe that the only real digital pen & paper solution comes from using the special paper (developed by Anoto – which is what Livescribe use).

    The Dane Elec style pen and others of their type with USB receivers suffer from the problem of paper movement. If you bump or drop your pad or the cat starts chewing it on your desk, then your alignments are out. But with the Anoto dot paper you can come and go as you please and never be concerned about alignment because the pen is always aware of exactly where it is on the page when it starts writing.

    Much better solution for business use as well.

  8. After reading this review, I actually installed the My Script Notes app that came with the IOGear device I have — I was pleasantly surprised by how well it works if I slow down a bit and try to write with the idea of OCR’ing my notes in the back of my head. It’s not perfect, but it would serve to provide a keyword-search capability that I could use to find the handwritten notes that I could then read.

    The difference between hand scanning all my notes and using the pen is a simple one: convenience. After a meeting (or at the end of the day), all I need to do is plug in the device and the notes are transferred into the note management app on my computer; no futzing about with scanner software, etc. I just make a note of what the meeting was about and I have a much easier time finding my notes than I would thumbing through a notebook.

    I’ve written more about my experiences with the IOGear Digital Scribe on my blog: http://simplisticton.livejournal.com/ — check it out!


  9. I have the Z-PEN. I was quite happy with its use, but I left it charging too long, and it is now permanently dead. I know this is not a one-off problem because this happened to a brand-new one that I then exchanged. The battery circuit is garbage, so not I am left with a $100 piece of plastic (it is past its exchange date now).

  10. This is my 3rd unit. I can’t get one with a receiver that will charge up enough to power on. This time it is going back for good. Guess I’ll apply the refund to a scanner. ~W

  11. Just bought this Dane Elec Z Pen 3 days ago and I cannot get it to charge up. Left it plugged into my computer for the recommended 6 hours, went to use it, and nothing happened. Wish I had read these reviews before buying it, taking it back to store tomorrow. Avoid buying this product.

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