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Livescribe writes digital pen's next chapter

The gadget maker is introducing a new version of its pen, this one supporting standard USB and headphone connections as well as a design that won't roll around.

Livescribe on Sunday is introducing the Echo--the next generation of its digital pen.

The Echo will come in two models--a 4GB and 8GB model, while the prior generation 2GB Pulse will remain as the company's most affordable option, dropping to $129. The 4GB Echo will sell for $169.95 and the 8GB Echo will sell for $199.95.

The new Echo pen has a design that won't roll around, along with standard headphone and USB jacks. Livescribe

From a features standpoint, the Echo resembles its predecessor, with the main selling point being its "paper replay" feature--the ability to record handwritten notes in synch with recorded audio. However, Livescribe has made several hardware changes that make the pen easier to carry around.

The new model dispenses with the custom cradle and nonstandard headphones in favor of a standard micro USB port for synching and charging and a standard 3.5 millimeter headphone jack. The recording headphones with their built-in stereo microphone are no longer included, but a higher-end version is available as an add-on accessory or, users can use standard earbuds and rely on the pen's built-in microphone for recording (many people weren't using the headphones to record anyway. It also is designed not to roll around, something the Pulse was prone to do.

In addition to introducing the Echo, Livescribe is outlining a few coming software features, including one called paper tablet that will allow the pen to act as a digitizer when connected to a computer. That feature, only available on the new model, will be introduced as a software update this fall. The company is also making it easier to share digital recordings of ones notes--so called pencasts--which will soon be able to be shared as a PDF file. Also coming is the ability to play pencasts via an iPhone or iPad.

Lastly, Livescribe finally gave an indication of how well its digital pen notion is catching on, revealing it has sold 400,000 smartpens since the company started shopping its first Pulse in March 2008.