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Livescribe Echo review – not your everyday pen

Livescribe EchoI hate transcribing. For a journalist, this kind of hatred can be fatal. In my chosen career, I spend a lot of time recording interviews and then writing them up. Enter the Livescribe pen, which Bite Communications kindly sent to Dynamic Business to trial this month. And while there’s nothing more nervewracking than carrying around a pen worth over $200 in the kind of cavernous handbag where pens go to die, I can happily say, this pen could change your life. At least during business hours.

Over two hundred dollars? For a pen? While it’s not your diamond-encrusted Mont Blanc, Livescribe is much more than a pen. It is a fat cylinder of computer technology that marries audio and ink to transfer paper-based communication to the screen. It does a lot of other things too, including behaving as a piano and a calculator, but its most impressive feature is also the most simple. It’s the ability to record audio and link it in real time to what you are writing. Make a note of something important whilst recording a conversation, and the Livescribe can play it back to you when you return to your notes.

The Livescribe writing paper has a record button pictured at the bottom of every page. Tap it with the pen, and the Livescribe is now capturing all the audio happening around you, whilst recording the notes you are scribbling. You can stop, start, playback, fast forward and rewind like an ordinary voice recorder, just using the page.

It’s usually a few hours after an interview when I take out my voice recorder and dread the thought of typing out 60 minutes of audio. This time, I pop out the Livescribe, and tap it to where I’ve written “good quote” on the page. The pen regurgitates the audio that was happening at the moment I scribbled the note. Sure enough, it’s a great quote. Even better, I didn’t have to listen to the ten minutes of useless speech that happened around it. The usual painful transcribing process was cut down dramatically, as the Livescribe meant I only had to listen to important parts of the interview.

For anyone who regularly attends meetings, the Livescribe would be a valuable gadget to invest in. It allows you to take comprehensive audio notes by scribbling down just a few words, so you won’t miss a beat in meetings as you struggle to write as fast as the speaker talks. Better still, you can export your ‘pencasts’ (a combination of audio and your notes/diagrams) to share with others. Livescribe is fully integrated with Adobe PDF, meaning that your notes are stored in a fully accessible format. With standard micro-USB and audio jack connection ports, the pen can be used with your favourite accessories.

While I confess I didn’t do much more than write and record, the pen offers a range of reference tools and even games through Livescribe’s Beta Application Store. It includes a dictionary, an octave of keyboard and can be used as a calculator to solve basic equations on the page. Once your written notes are on screen, you can use your mouse to interact with the page and extract relevant audio. The software comes with a host of features that can enhance productivity, improve integration of paper and digital communication and enable the sharing of notes and audio between different stakeholders.

A word of warning, much like pulling out your Apple iPad, using your Livescribe at a meeting is a conspicuous look-at-my-gadget kind of move. Fortunately, unlike the iPad, it will attract curiosity, rather than derision.

The recently released Livescribe Echo is available for $259 (4GB model affording 400 hours of audio capture) and $299 (8GB model affording 800 hours of audio capture). The 2GB Pulse model is now available for $209. For more information visit www.livescribe.com/au

Thanks to Bite Communications for lending us a Livescribe review unit. I’m back to my regular method of transcribing. Cue much gnashing of teeth.

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Jennifer Blake

Jennifer Blake

Jennifer Blake is a staff writer for <i>Dynamic Business</i> magazine. Fascinated with the power of media, she's previously worked for Sky News and <i>The Jakarta Globe</i>. In her time off, she's likely cooking up a storm, haunting vintage stores on King St, Newtown or trawling design blogs for things she can't afford.

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