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TopTenREVIEWS - Silver Award - Awarded for excellence in design, usability and feature set

Imagine this: you sit down in a business meeting and your boss begins a long, important presentation. There's a lot of important information – too much information to adequately record as you scribble down notes. You'd prefer to use a laptop because you can type faster than you can write, but laptops are banned from meetings for being too distracting. As you rush to jot down one important point, you miss the next.

With the Livescribe Echo Smartpen, you can hit record at the bottom of the paper and a microphone built into the pen records the audio of your boss's presentation. You only need to write key words to highlight parts of the presentation. Then, in your own time, you can return to any point in the audio presentation by simply touching a word or sketch in your notes. Retention is maximized. The combination of audio recording and digital writing is why the Livescribe Echo Smartpen earns our TopTenReviews Silver Award.

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Performance
Compare
8.8/10
Sky Wifi Smartpen
Echo Smartpen
Mobile Notes Pro
Staedtler Pen 990 02
Wacom Inkling
IRISNotes 2 Executive
IRISNotes 1 for Smartphones
LogiPen Notes
Capturx for OneNote
DigiMemo L2
10
8.8
8.8
8.1
8.8
7.5
8.8
8.1
7.5
8.1

The Livescribe Echo uses a camera in the pen tip that works with the microdots printed on the paper to track your pen strokes. This is a very effective way of recording your handwriting to a digital page. The accuracy of the digital page is less than a millimeter of spatial difference when compared to the physical copy. This makes it great for digitizing your sketches.

The most important part of this electronic pen's performance is the audio sync to the notes. Adding audio to your notes allows you have a more comprehensive record of the important points you want to remember.

Livescribe defines this synchronization of recorded audio to your digital notes as a pencast. Pencasts are particularly useful for anyone who needs to transcribe content word-for-word, such as a lawyer taking down a client's statement or a journalist doing an interview. Having a recording of a meeting serves not only as backup to notes during the transcribing process, but it also works as an accurate reference so you can clarify confusing notes.

Pencasts also allow you to create your own presentations by recording your voice as you write or sketch. You can share your pencasts online in the same way people share webcasts. This makes it a great tool to enhance and share your creativity. However, recording audio is also optional and can be muted in situations where it is unethical or not allowed.

Uploading pencasts from pen to computer is automatic when you connect the pen to the USB charger. You can also use the USB connection for real-time pencasts. This allows you to use the Echo as a mouse or as a tablet if you want to draw in a paint or photo-editing program.

The battery allows you to write continuously for up to ten hours between charging. This is plenty of life to make sure the pen doesn't die mid-note. Also, every time you sync with your computer, the pen charges.

The few downsides to the Echo's performance is the pen's size and the paper. All the technology packed into the pen's body makes it bigger than most pens. The size is comparable to a marker.

Livescribe does a good job shaping the grip so that it fits snuggly in your hand, but the size will lead to hand fatigue if you're writing for an extended period.

In addition, because the pen will only work with paper printed with the Anoto microdot pattern, you must either purchase additional notebooks from Livescribe or print your own paper. Printing your own paper requires a 600dpi or higher color laser printer that's compatible with Adobe PostScript.

Feature Set
Compare
9.4/10
Sky Wifi Smartpen
Echo Smartpen
Mobile Notes Pro
Staedtler Pen 990 02
Wacom Inkling
IRISNotes 2 Executive
IRISNotes 1 for Smartphones
LogiPen Notes
Capturx for OneNote
DigiMemo L2
10
9.4
8.8
9.4
7.5
9.4
7.5
7.5
7.5
6.3

The Echo comes with the Livescribe desktop software that allows you to archive, edit, play and share your pencasts. The software makes it easy to search for specific notes and pencasts. It also offers shortcuts to social networking sites for easy sharing. However, it lacks optical character recognition technology – a function that turns your handwriting to text that can be edited in a word processor. Your pencasts are still compatible with OCR software, like MyScript, but you must purchase it separately.

The Echo comes preloaded with apps that allow you to use the pen as a calculator, translator and stock ticker. You can also use the pen to compose music with the paper piano app. You can also purchase additional apps with categories that range from entertainment to education. For example, an Amino Acids app helps you learn how to draw and name three-dimensional amino acids while a Guitar app allows you to play the guitar on a drawn fret board.

You have the choice between three different storage capacities: 2GB, 4GB and 8GB. The 8GB model can hold 800 hours of pencasts. That's over a month of continuous pencasts! However, this much storage is necessary if you download dozens of apps.

Additional accessories are available for the pen as well, such as earphones with binaural microphones that provide better depth in your recorded audio. This is great for recording in large lecture halls. It also moves the microphone away from the pen, which eliminates unwanted noise that the pen's microphone picks up, like when you reposition your hand or if you write aggressively on the paper.

Ease of Use
Compare
7.5/10
Sky Wifi Smartpen
Echo Smartpen
Mobile Notes Pro
Staedtler Pen 990 02
Wacom Inkling
IRISNotes 2 Executive
IRISNotes 1 for Smartphones
LogiPen Notes
Capturx for OneNote
DigiMemo L2
7.5
7.5
8.8
8.8
8.8
8.8
8.8
8.8
7.5
6.3

Setup is easy with the Echo. Simply download the desktop software, plug the pen into your computer, assign your pen a name and give it a four-digit password. Synchronizing pencasts to your computer is just as easy. Simply plug the USB into the pen, and your pencasts will transfer to your Livescribe software.

 

Help & Support
Compare
10/10
Sky Wifi Smartpen
Echo Smartpen
Mobile Notes Pro
Staedtler Pen 990 02
Wacom Inkling
IRISNotes 2 Executive
IRISNotes 1 for Smartphones
LogiPen Notes
Capturx for OneNote
DigiMemo L2
10
10
10
7.5
10
6.3
6.3
7.5
10
3.8

With all the many ways you can use this pen, be aware that you can easily get lost or frustrated if you don't take the time to learn each function. The printed interactive tutorial with the pen takes you through audio step-by-step instructions that quickly help you understand how to use this pen. You can also visit an online forum to view instructional videos and pencasts to help you understand how to use each function.

If you're still lost or frustrated, Livescribe provides excellent online support that includes frequently asked questions and tutorials. Also, you can create an account on the Livescribe website where you can communicate with a Livescribe helpdesk technician or an individual in customer support.

Echo Smartpen Summary:
8.9/10

The Livescribe Echo Smartpen allows you to take comprehensive notes by synchronizing recorded audio to your written notes. In addition, the ability to download a wide-range of apps allows you to use this pen for much more than taking notes. You can play games, compose music, translate words, learn historical trivia and more. However, the special paper means that you'll have to purchase notebooks at a higher cost or print your own paper with a color laser printer rated at 600dpi or higher.

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Echo Smartpen

Pros
This smart pen syncs audio from meetings or lectures to your handwritten digitized notes.

Cons
You must use paper printed with a special microdot pattern.

The Verdict
: 8.9/10

The Echo Smartpen is an excellent pen for taking comprehensive notes with audio.