The latest iteration of the Livescribe smartpen has had its built-in audio recording removed and now only works across iPhones and iPads running iOS 7.
The Livescribe series has always been able to record both handwritten notes and audio. Using a combination of special notepaper and a camera in the pen, your notes — or sketches, scrawls, mathematical formulas, doodles — would be recorded digitally and any audio synced with them.
At that point, you could sync the notes via your PC, the later Livescribe Sky model did this automatically via Wi-Fi , or you could simply use the playback function on the pen. When you tapped on a particular note, the pen would play the audio that was recorded at the time that note was written.
For journalists it was an incredible device, although it was equally handy for students, writers or just anyone who needed to take notes regularly during meetings.
The advantage was in the simplicity of Livescribe: it was still just a pen and paper. The long standby battery life meant you could keep it in a bag for extended periods of time until needed, and you could instantly review all audio recordings, even without a pair of headphones. There was a suite of other functionality as well, including limited language translation, syncing with Evernote and other apps, the ability to share "pencasts" and much more.
The Livescribe 3, on the other hand, has no audio recorder and instead pairs with iPhone or iPad via Bluetooth and uses the microphone on the device. Written notes (still requiring the special paper) are instantly synced with the audio on the Livescribe+ app. From there, of course, you can share digitised notes via email, SMS, AirDrop, Dropbox, Evernote and so on.
In fact, the pen seems to have been re-created around the idea of it being an Apple peripheral and companion app rather than a stand-alone device.
The Livescribe 3 is roughly the same dimensions as the Echo model — removing the audio recording has shaved off 5g, dropping the weight to 34g. The design is rounder, with a centre ring that twists to both turn on the Bluetooth and extend the ink nib.
The strategy of "appifying" the Livescribe 3 and alienating Android and Windows users seems a little mystifying, although Livescribe says that support for those platforms will be available at some point. More importantly, the act of taking notes now requires you to remember to charge up and carry two devices, as well as a separate notepad.
As a long time user of Livescribe pens — all three models from the Pulse to the Sky — the Livescribe 3 holds little appeal and feels like a step backwards in terms of design and function. Being forced to carry a phone or tablet to access the basic functions of the pen seems counter-intuitive to the basic premise of Livescribe.
The Livescribe 3 comes as an AU$199 starter kit, with the pen and a 50-page notebook, or an AU$269 Pro Edition, with a leather smartpen portfolio, a 100-sheet hardbound journal and a one-year subscription to Evernote Premium.