On SmartPens

For Christmas last year, I was gifted with a SmartPen, specifically, a Livescribe. The original function was for school. I balance a textbook and write more easily than I balance a textbook and type, and since my classes were getting into ridiculous time commitments, the gift was intended to free up some time and reduce some aggravation.  By and large it worked.

(c) Anoto AB // Flickr Creative commons. Used unchanged

(c) Anoto AB // Flickr Creative commons. Used unchanged

The idea worked handily and hooked up to my SmartPhone, another Christmas present from another relative. I was able to take notes much more quickly, then use the OCR in the software to translate to my computer. Once school ended, I switched to using my SmartPen to write short stories and a serial.

How does it do?

Not bad, really. I had to adjust some of my writing habits. I have to apply a little more pressure than I would with a regular ballpoint or gel pen. That took some doing at first. I also had to “unsquiggly” some of my letters so the OCR wouldn’t switch 2 of d, among other things. More space between words helps with word recognition, too.

Surprisingly, I didn’t have to slow down. I write pretty quickly when I get rocking and rolling, and the pen keeps up with me. The software? Not necessarily, but if I get a good idea and starting writing at a significant fraction of light speed, the pen keeps up.

Sadly, it’s not all good news. The pen eats ink cartridges. 10-12 pages per cartridge on average, and the cartridges are a little over a buck a piece. They skip a lot, too. The pen, however, registers pressure, not ink, so even if the pen is skipping, I can keep going for a while and it’ll be fine. Unfortunately, the OCR quality declines because I can’t see what I’m writing.

The software, too, isn’t exactly efficient. When it does the OCR, it’ll make glaring errors, some of which are kind of funny. Some of the errors are the sort of auto-correct things your phone will do when you text someone, so alien names and foreign words don’t render well. Formatting doesn’t exist, and I can’t make margin notes because there’s no margin on the paper and even if there were, the OCR wouldn’t know where to put the words. This translates to lots of editing and formatting time once I get the text OCR’d and moved over to a word processor.

Ultimately, the pen is handy for short stuff. Blog posts, serial episodes, short stories … no problem. Don’t know if I’m quite brave enough yet to try a novel. Maybe after a few revisions to the hardware and software.


4 thoughts on “On SmartPens

  1. eightpawswriting

    Sounds interesting. I have heard of a pen that lights up so you can write in the dark. Haven’t found one yet!


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