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Livescribe's latest smartpen draws heavily on iOS

Philip Michaels | Oct. 29, 2013
The Livescribe 3 smartpen captures your notes as you jot them down, syncing them with a companion app for the iPad, iPod touch, and iPhone.

I'm an easy person to spot at meetings. While everyone else is dutifully tapping away at their iPads, I'm still scribbling down notes with pen and paper like a 20th century chump. It's not that I'm a luddite, but after trying out a parade of note-taking apps for the iPad, I've just never found anything in the digital world that matches handwritten notes.

Livescribe says I'm not the only one to feel this way. According to the digital penmaker's internal research, roughly two-thirds of smartphone and tablet users still prefer pen and paper for jotting down notes in meetings, lectures, or whenever they're on the go. But the company thinks its latest offering will be the one that causes us holdouts to cast aside our old-school pens for a digital counterpart.

The company's latest smartpen, the Livescribe 3, goes on sale Monday online, with the pen arriving in stores next week. In addition to a slimmer design, the Livescribe 3 promises tight integration with the iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, thanks to a just-released iOS companion app.

Previous pens from Livescribe were more desktop-centric, says Bryan Rodrigues, the company's vice president of marketing and e-commerce. But pens like Livescribe's Pulse and Echo hit the market before the proliferation of mobile devices. The Livescribe 3 takes a much more iOS-centric approach.

"People are taking to the road with a notepad and an iPad and trying to get more out of that," says Rodrigues, pitching the Livescribe 3 as the third piece of that puzzle.

The pen is mightier
The Livescribe 3 is an actual pen, of course, that sets down physical notes in actual ink. But pair the smartpen with Livescribe's Dot Paper notebooks, and the pen keeps a digital record of every pen stroke. The tip of the Livescribe 3 contains a camera that's capturing what you write, allowing the pen's companion software to search through your text of find specific words in your handwritten notes.

With the Livescribe 3, Rodrigues says his company was aiming for a more pen-like look and feel. The new version certainly feels more slender than past Livescribe pens, the result of an inside-out redesign to make everything slimmer. There's no on/off switch; instead, you twist the Livescribe 3 to turn it on, just like you might twist a ballpoint pen before writing with it. (Forget to twist the Livescribe 3 off? Then pen shuts down after four hours to conserve battery life.)

"It's a writing gadget that looks and feels like a writing implement," Rodrigues says.

It's also a writing gadget that boasts some impressive battery life--about 14 hours of active writing on a single charge, according to Livescribe. The Livescribe 3 is able to last that long thanks to its use of Bluetooth Smart, a low-energy version of the wireless connectivity standard that connects the Livescribe 3 to your iOS device. When you're running on juice, just flip over the rubber cap on the top of the Livescribe 3 to get to the Micro-USB charging port.


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