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Tuesday / October 16.
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Livescribe 3 Smart-pen

Writing, used to be everywhere and I used to do it every day. Letters, notes, cheques, postcards; there was always a reason to have a pen to hand. Students of course, spent most of their academic lives taking notes and writing answers or essays. Digital evolution changed that though with the laptop and tablets replacing old fashioned paper in the home, at work and in schools. Recent research shows us though, that hand-writing may actually help students achieve better results and I always feel that if I write it down, I’ll remember it. I have no intention of casting aside my smart-phone or iPad, but, I’ve added an interesting gadget to my desk that might help me bridge what a digital gap.

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This new version of the Livescribe 3 Smart-pen looks like a traditional ball-point pen. Unpacking the box reveals the pen. It’s slightly broader than a biro, and has the looks of a high end fountain-pen. Also in the box is micro-USB cable and a Livescribe starter notebook. The pen weighs just over an ounce, and while light, it’s well balanced in the hand.

There is little on the pen’s body to hint at the tech inside this clever writing tool. The ball-point is a made from Tungsten-Carbide and can retracted using the twist ring in the middle of the pen which also puts the pen to sleep. The top of the pen also doubles as a touch stylus that can be used for tapping on your tablet or phone. Removing the top stylus gives access to the USB port, where you can plug in the charging cable, and a full charge should give around 14 hours of use from the pen.

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The pen is a really well designed gadget but the magic happens because of the Livescribe paper. As well as the supplied Livescribe Starter Notebook, there are also compatible Moleskine notebooks and with a laser printer you can print your own supply of compatible notebook pages.

To use the pen after I’d charged it, I needed to pair it via Bluetooth to my iPad, then download the free Livescribe+ app, which is also available for Android. I launched the app, turned on the pen and started to handwrite a list of notes on the first page of the notebook. As I wrote, with a small delay, my handwriting began to appear in the feed section of the app. It’s impressible watching your handwriting appearing on the tablet screen, but the app also has a clever feature that lets you swipe on the handwriting to turn it in to regular computer text, and you can repeat the process to turn it back to the original note form.

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Electronically taking your notes is useful but the pen adds a clever audio feature. The notebook pages all have a record, pause stop icon printed on them and these icons can be tapped to use the additional features of the app. Tapping the record icon with the pen launches the record feature on the app which uses your phone or tablet’s microphone, and a time displays how long your recording lasts. You can pause recording momentarily and tapping the stop icon finishes the audio recording.

The Livescribe+ app is well organized and allows you to organise notebooks easily. There’s a Pencast feature which plays back your your notes in sync with any recorded audio and these can be viewed on the app or shared via PDF. You can add annotations to your notes with tags, and flag a specific note, and the app makes it easy to find these notes later.
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Andy O'Donoghue talks about technology, some say, too much.

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