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Christmas Gift Guide
Gadgets

Fund this: Equil Smartpen 2 turns handwritten notes into digital ones

Unlike other connected pens, this one doesn't require special paper. And you can save big if you back its Indiegogo campaign.

equil-smartpen-2.jpg
Luidia, Inc.

A recent study suggested that students who take notes on a laptop don't retain nearly as much information as those who take notes with a pen and paper. And whether you're a student or not, sometimes it's just easier (and preferable) to scribble -- especially when you're standing up.

For those reasons and more, a smart pen can be a decidedly handy tool. As you write, the pen not only produces ink on paper, but also captures your notes digitally for storage, sharing, and review.

Livescribe is perhaps the best-known company in this still-nascent category; the company's Livescribe 3 can send handwritten notes directly to your phone or tablet. However, it has one fairly major limitation: It requires special paper.

The Equil Smartpen 2 does not. Soon to finish a highly successful round of Indiegogo funding (nearly $400,000 pledged on a $50,000 goal), this smart stylus can capture notes written on just about anything: a Post-It, a legal pad, a Moleskine, even just a stack of scrap paper.

equil-smartpen-2-cradle.jpg
Luidia, Inc.

Rather than rehash the details, all of which are spelled out on both Equil's site and the Indiegogo page, allow me to share my experiences with a preproduction Smartpen 2.

Short version: It's really cool. And it works really well. I paired it with an iPad, started jotting notes on some scrap paper, and watched as their digital equivalent appeared almost instantaneously onscreen. A few taps later, the app converted handwritten notes into text. I could also route notes directly to Evernote, Dropbox, and the like.

When the pen isn't paired with a phone, tablet, or computer, it stores your notes in memory for later uploading.

equil-smartpen-2-receiver.jpg
The Smartpen receiver clips to the top of your page. Luidia, Inc.

Specifically, it stores notes in a small receiver that clips to the top of your paper, notebook, or whatever. That's how it's able to work around Livescribe's special-paper requirement. It's also the Smartpen's own form of hassle. Although the receiver is smart enough to know when you're starting a new, blank page (and has a blank-page button if you prefer to force the issue), it doesn't allow you to flip up the pages of, say, a legal pad. Doing so would block the receiver's IR sensor.

Even so, I like how the receiver and pen tuck neatly away into a triangular dock/charging cradle, one protected by a nifty magnetic cover similar to the iPad's Smart Cover. It's a bit more gear to carry, but the design is very travel-friendly.

The Smartpen 2 will go on sale at the end of October for a list price of $170 (available to ship internationally, that converts to about £105 and AU$195). However, if you preorder via the Indiegogo campaign, there's still time to score one for $109, £67 or AU$125. (The next pricing level for a single smart pen is $119, £75 or AU$135, though you can also get a two-pack for $209, £130 or AU$240.) This is far less risky than most crowdfunded products, as this one is already in production and ready to ship this month.

I'll be honest: I didn't expect to like the Smartpen 2. I was underwhelmed by the Livescribe 3 and its need for special paper, and some initial setup hassles with the Smartpen left me irked. But once you get everything figured out, it's a seriously slick product -- a smart, modern, even fun way to take notes.