Take better notes with the Echo Smartpen (photos)

Meet a not-so-average pen. Find out how the Echo Smartpen syncs audio with handwritten notes, digitizes them, and learn a few tricks along the way.

Sharon Profis
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Meet the Echo Smartpen by Livescribe

While the Smartpen allows you to take traditional ink notes, it simultaneously makes a digital copy of everything you write. But here's when the real magic happens: the Smartpen also records everything you hear or say as you write. Later, if you tap a word, the Smartpen will play back whatever was recorded at the time those notes were taken.

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The secret? Dot paper

The secret to the Smartpen is its proprietary dot paper. Every page in your specialized notebook is mapped with thousands of dots that the Smartpen uses to track your writing, digitize your notes, and anchor the audio.

Most surprising, the Smartpen has a camera tucked into the barrel of the pen, which reads the dots as your write and record audio.

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Tap to record

To take notes with audio, simply tap the "record" button at the bottom of any page and begin writing. You can pause to take a break, and stop entirely to end that note-taking session.

Then, if you tap any given word, the audio recorded at the moment that word was written will play back. This way, you can go back and clarify what you wrote, or even catch up on anything you might have missed.

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An interactive calculator

Included in every Livescribe notebook are interactive tools, like a calculator. As you create formulas, the calculations are displayed on the screen of the pen.

The Smartpen's settings can also be adjusted on this page.

5 of 10 Screenshot by Sharon Vaknin/CNET

Digitizing your notes

The beauty of the Echo Smartpen is that its capacity goes well beyond paper. The Livescribe Desktop software, which can be downloaded for free, brings in the element of digitized notes.

Notes with associated audio appear in green. Emulating the on-page experience, clicking on a word will prompt the audio, and a real-time playback of your notetaking. These interactive notes are dubbed "Pencasts."

6 of 10 Screenshot by Sharon Vaknin/CNET

Export digitized notes and audio

Whether you want to share your notes with a classmate, upload them to your cloud account, or save them on your computer, Livescribe lets you export audio recordings, Pencasts, or just the written notes with its desktop software.

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Make an audio-based study sheet

If you need to memorize terms, you can create an audible study sheet.

First, write out all the terms you need to study on a single sheet. When you're done, record definitions for each term. To do so, tap Record, tap the word, say the definition, and hit Stop. Repeat this process for all the terms.

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Upload notes to the cloud

When you're taking notes and you realize you'll want to sync them with a cloud service, draw a short horizontal line back and forth (overlapping) on that page of notes. Your pen will say, "Command?"

Above the line, write the service you want to sync those notes with, like Evernote. Then, tap each page (anywhere in the notebook) you want to sync. When you're done, double tap. The next time you sync the pen with Livescribe Desktop, those notes will automatically be uploaded to the selected cloud service.

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Add notes to previously recorded audio

Here's a quick tip not many users are aware of. If you're playing back audio, either by searching for it on the pen, or by tapping the notes written to it, any notes you take during the playback will also be associated with that audio.

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Use the pen as just an audio recorder

If you're out and about without a notebook and want to use the Smartpen as just an audio recorder, you can do that by long-pressing the power button. A couple seconds later, the pen will beep to indicate your recording has begun. To stop recording, just tap the power button once and the file will be saved.

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