My First Moments with the Livescribe 3 Digital Pen

As a note taker, I found myself wondering why I even bothered. I almost never referred to my notes and, when I did, I was poring over a bunch of notebooks with a bunch of pages and rarely finding what I was looking for. So, last week, I started looking for a digital solution…

At first I thought maybe I could use a tablet. I have a (cheap) android tablet already, and I gave it a shot. No good. Writing with a stylus on glass is nothing like pen on paper.

I then turned to “digital pens”. There are a number of different approaches out there as well as a number of price points. The two primary camps are two approaches: Use a receiver attached to your notebook which tracks the pen OR Use a pen with special paper so the pen always knows where it is.

At first glance, I thought “There is no way I want to be stuck buying special paper…”. The receiver, however, would mean I would have to carry, and charge, TWO things. So I thought maybe the special paper was worth it. I decided to buy the LiveScribe 3. The internets say it is the “absolute best thing out there”. And it is. Sort of.

I have made a number of notes for this post using the livescribe 3. Some are gone. They simply never made it to the app. I have the analog backup, but, frankly, loss of data is something that is not acceptable. BOO #1.

Also, searching is kind of limited (see YAY’s and BOO’s below) so I started having to annotate stuff with unique strings so I could search and gather stuff (example: “TD:” before any To-Do item. Then I could search for that string and see them all.

Pencasts aren’t a huge deal for me, but some people love them. Basically, when I am in a meeting, I can tap an icon on the page and my phone will record audio that is in sync with my notes. Pretty cool, but a specialty feature I wish they had focused more on the app’s functionality.

The apps…. There is a link app, which handles communication, and a LiveScribe+ app which shows you notebook contents by page, a “feed” which is basically a list of entries in chronological order (oldest first? really guys?) and a pencasts page.

Exporting to Evernote is done with the standard Android “Share” menu item. Clunky at best. Also, it is difficult (3 steps) to get text to evernote. Otherwise, you end up with jpeg’s of your page (i.e. unsearchable) or a PDF (again, unsearchable unless you have Evernote Pro.

A lot of people complained about the size of the pen. I don’t see a problem. The pen, simply put, is amazing. Size, flow, etc. is perfect. I love it. But….

For the most part, the pen is as amazing as the app is poor. I almost sent the pen back because of the app but, according to the internet, this is as good as it gets….

Let’s get to my tl;dr list of good and bad:

YAY’s:

  • Installation of apps and pairing with my phone was super easy. YAY!
  • The starter notebook that comes with the pen is awesome. Great size. YAY!
  • I had seen issues with using it when your phone is sleeping. I had no issues. YAY!
  • The notebooks I purchased have the notebook number (1,2,3,4,etc) embossed on the front. You can’t use two notebooks with the same number at the same time. My order included a 2, a 3, and two 4’s. I am using 2 for work, 3 for my writing and 4 for personal stuff. All works flawlessly, even jumping around between notebooks every second. YAY!
  • My small, messy handwriting is converted to text very accurately (~95%). YAY!
  • The icons on each page to start and stop pencasts are awesome. YAY!

BOO’s:

  • Have to use a self-created annotation to easily group items (i.e. TD: for todo’s, JE: for Journal Entry, etc.) BOO!
  • Searching only works in the feed page which is basically a snippet page. Looking at the page view, your search takes you to the feeds.BOO!
  • When you DO search, and find entries in the feed, there is no way to determine what page/notebook this item is from. HUGE BOO!
  • No OCR (Read: writing to text) on page view. Only items in feed can be OCR’d
  • Sometimes items written aren’t in the app. BOO!
  • There are many unusable icons (for legacy devices) on the pages of the notebooks. Writing over these results in dropped text in the app. BOO!
  • To call the documentation minimal is an insult to things that are minimal. It consists of a few pages of instructions a 5-10 FAQ items on the website. BOO!

OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE:

  • If you draw a huge X over a section or page, it is blanked out (i.e. blanked) in the app. Not documented, but handy for stuff you no longer need to show up in search.
  • You can apply for access to their private SDK, and I have done so in hopes of writing a better app for my phone, but haven’t heard anything back yet from LiveScribe.

FEATURES I WOULD LOVE TO SEE (LiveScribe, are you reading this?)

  • Ability for special characters to inform the app (i.e. a box indicates that line is a checklist item, a star indicates it is a TODO item, etc.
  • Ability to OCR and send a whole page to Evernote
  • Ability to indicate, using special strokes, the metadata (i.e. tags) for a page
  • Currently, all data is stored on the phone’s memory store. Eventually, that fills up forcing the archiving of notebooks. It would be great to be able to store data on an SD card.
  • Make EVERYTHING get auto OCR’d and available to search
  • When search results are shown, indicate what notebook and page the results are from
  • Open up the SDK. Developers will create so much none of us have thought of. Make the data free and you will see amazing things.
  • Because the feed is broken according to some arbitrary thing (time? spacing?) and because the page view doesn’t support searching, organizing notes in the app is simply useless. Since the moving to Evernote is so difficult (either OCR’d feed items or PDF/JPEG) this is a huge issue with the app.

BOTTOM LINE:

I love this pen. Seriously, this pen is up there with High speed internet, DVR’s, surround sound and smart phones for “life changing tech”. It is incredible and awesome.

The app is simply unusable. All of the value the pen creates is shoehorned into an app that renders all that wonderful data accessible only through a keyhole that is tiny and complicated. I wasn’t thinking I would have “early adopter remorse” on a product from a company that has been putting out stuff for 10 years, but I do.

If the pen weren’t awesome, this would be on it’s way back for a refund. But since it is, I will wait for EITHER an open SDK so I can write my own note gathering app OR a renewed commitment from LiveScribe to create something that helps me capture my notes more quickly and find content more easily.

I will give the LiveScribe 3 a 4 out of 5 stars. “But you just said the app is terrible?”. Yep. That is how awesome the hardware is… It makes up for the software.

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