Sunday, November 15, 2015

Using Livescribe for a Year

The Livescribe 3 has its annoyances but overall I'm still happier to use it than not. But if I were buying a new smartpen now, I'd probably buy a Neo N2.

A year ago, I bought a Livescribe 3. It costs $150 and requires special paper (which you can print yourself, if you don't want to buy a pretty Moleskine or other notebook), so it's not just a simple impulse buy sort of gadget.

Several folks have asked me what I think of it. It's a little complicated, so I've decided to write up my thoughts in one place, here on my blog.


First off, you should be warned that there are several MAJOR caveats in my Livescribe recommendation:

  • The older, non-smartphone-only pens, have a little LCD screen that dies every 2 years, according to user reports on their support site. (Despite this, some of those users say they just buy a new one every 2 years. Crazy.)
  • Speaking of their support site, no one has replied to posts their in 7 months (as of today).
  • Two things the OCR does not handle well: separating paragraphs, respecting indents, and crossing out mistakes. (Three things. I'll come in again.)
  • Their software looks like it was designed by Big Corp. Meaning, it works, mostly, but its usability is not that slick. Some tasks have more steps than they really need to have. Sometimes you have to "turn it off and back on again" before it actually works.
  • Every once in a blue moon (ie, months will go by just fine), the software just flat out refuses to do its OCR magic on a paragraph or two. Tech support is stumped as to why this is, so I just had to manually transcribe those couple paragraphs.
  • It's a tad bit bulky, although just this side of doesn't-get-in-my-way.
  • Its ink cartridges, while not totally proprietary, are a little hard to find. I've ended up ordering mine (including red, green, and blue inks!) off Amazon and it shipped from Japan in a couple days. :P


Now, why do I like it so much if it's got these significant drawbacks?

  • It's a fun tech toy. ;)
  • The OCR works amazingly well, maybe 90-95% accurate. (It even understood most of my husband's messy handwriting!) I always proofread what it generates, but usually I only have to clean up the equivalent of a typo here, a typo there.
  • Because its output is "just text", I can email that output to a computer script that then does all sorts of magic to it. (Eg, I wrote a program that guesses where paragraph breaks are, turns *asterisks* into italics, looks for custom syntax like "#Flickr: foo" and inserts HTML that displays & links to my Flickr photos, etc. Or, if the text starts with #NaNoWriMo, it processes it slightly differently, then hands it off to a different program that sticks the text in my Google Docs while updating a Google Spreadsheet & the official NaNoWriMo word counts.)
  • I really, really hate transcribing. I don't mind proofing, but I hate transcribing.
  • I love, love, love how it enables writing in the dark. When I'm working on a piece of fiction, it seems that my brain always comes up with an extra scene or two while I'm trying to fall asleep. I used to lose these scenes, or scribble notes that I'd then dread to transcribe the next morning. With the Livescribe's OCR, it's just as easy to transcribe neat daytime writing as messy nighttime scribbling. For example, the last short story that I wrote, 80% of it was done in the dark when I should have been sleeping. Because of my aforementioned scripts, I was even able to know what my updated word count was while still lying in bed. :)
  • When I do have problems every so often, their email-based support staff has always gotten back to me within a couple business days.


Livescribe isn't the only "smartpen" on the market. It's the only one I've used, but I did do a little bit of searching around to see what the competition was like:

  • The Neo Smartpen, which sounds like a direct competitor to Livescribe. It's $170, so right around the same price point. It looks slimmer, thus less crampy to write with. It also lets you print your own paper. And several Amazon reviews by previous Livescribe 3 owners unanimously prefer the Neo N2. If I'd known about it (and/or if it had been out when I was looking), I would have strongly considered it instead.
  • There is an entirely different design of smartpen, which lets you write on any paper you want, but requires you to clip a sensor to the top of the paper. But my research turned up lots of users complaining that if anything got in between the sensor and the pen, it could get distorted and confused. So I wouldn't recommend that other design, although feel free to do your own research. ;)

If you're still interested in getting a Livescribe after all that, here's my referral link: ;)


color commands ark said...

@MrVidau There are 2, 4, and 8 gigabyte pens. But the great thing is that you can always save it to your computer and even evernote. So you really won't ever run out of space.

xcom 2 console command said...

@MrVidau There are 2, 4, and 8 gigabyte pens. But the great thing is that you can always save it to your computer and even evernote. So you really won't ever run out of space.

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To Nick Harris: Yes, it will identify each notebook, but you have to use their notebooks because of the special "dot matrix" paper. However, the notebooks are not that expensive, and you can get multi-subject (3 subject) notebooks or separate ones. The pen and software will recognize your notes where, when and on which notebook automatically. The cost might seem high for a pen, but I've had Echo pens since they came out (still working with the 2nd version) and they are indispensable in important meetings and lectures.

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