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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.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
3 min read

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.

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.

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.