The Livescribe Echo smartpen is the digital doodling followup to last year’s insanely intelligent Livescribe Pulse pen cum dictaphone, and with an even larger price (£169.99), it’s got a lot to prove. Is this worth the money, even if you’d never dream of paying so much for a posh Parker? Read on and find out in our full Livescribe Echo smartpen review.
Anyone who’s ever tried to take detailed notes of a meeting, interview or lecture, without hours of shorthand practice, will know how hard it can be to keep up, and stay accurate. That’s where Livescribe’s smartpens come into play: through the magic of an IR camera hiding behind the nib, they’re capable of not only logging your notes, but recording audio, and pairing the two together, letting you skip to find out who said what and when quickly and easily. And in this, the Livescribe Echo, like the Pulse before it, excels.
In fact, if you’ve ever used the Livescribe Pulse, you’ll take to the Livescribe Echo in no time at all: in its basic functions, it’s identical. You power up, and take notes on the special paper that comes provided, choosing what you want to do with the control buttons printed at the bottom of every page, and start jotting. When you’re done, you can playback what you recorded and what was being said as you wrote a specific word just by tapping on it: it’s astonishingly fast, and the Livescribe Echo never fails to respond. Minute taking has never been so easy, or so accurate.
The desktop offerings for the Livescribe Echo too, are identical to the Pulse, which is by no means a bad thing. You can digitise your notes through desktop software for PC or Intel Macs, store them and the accompanying audio online or even download apps for the Livescribe Echo (Though unless you like plinking out tunes with an instrument made of paper, or hear your pen say foreign phrases at you, these still aren’t hugely appealing).
So what’s new? The basic premise of the Pulse didn’t need fixing, but Livescribe’s managed to shove more tech into the Livescribe Echo this time around. Storage is bumped from 2 or 4GB to 8GB (Up to 800 hours depending on the settings, but more than enough), and full sized ports have now been squeezed into the top of the pen: there’s a micro USB slot so you can plug it straight into a computer, and 3.5mm audio for the recording headset.
The design of the Livescribe Echo has also been changed, though we’re not sure if this is necessarily for the better. It’s a chunkster of a pen, and though the rubber grip is comfortable, it just looks like a pen nicked from a hotel lobby more than the previous Pulse did. You’ll want to keep hold of the lid too (You get two in the box) as it’s not attached to the pen’s body, and the camera needs protecting for keys and paperclips in your bag.
This time round, you also get an A5 sized ring bound notebook to start things off with the Livescribe Echo, rather than a bloody great A4 block as you did with the Pulse, which will certainly appeal to journalists, if not students. When you run out, you can print more off at no charge.
Check out our Livescribe Pulse review now
The Livescribe Echo also boasts a few software tweaks, like quicker application launch by drawing, and one interesting upgrade option reportedly coming down the line: the ability to act as a USB input device. This could make for an incredibly portable graphics tablet alternative, but the software update enabling it isn’t out yet.
We’d say the extra convenience of the ports and storage on the Livescribe Echo justify the price over the Pulse, but it’s not entirely without its problems, and most of these are caused by what’s not in the box.
There’s the issue of having to buy more refill paper and cartridges with the Livescribe Echo, but what’s most odd is that this time around, a recording headset isn’t included in the box (it is with the Pulse), so if you need one for recording phone interviews, you’ll need to hand over another £29.99. The Livescribe Echo is great at handling audio otherwise though: there are settings for “conference room”, “lecture hall” or automatic, so as long as you don’t set up in a noisy coffee shop you’ll be fine.
Luckily, there are plenty of other accessories to be had too, for cheaper – a quick perusal on Amazon will let you pick up Livescribe Echo supported notepads in all shapes and sizes, along with carry cases and ink cartridges. Some, like the Moleskin-esque pads, will set you back a fair wodge, but some are pretty reasonable (see this flip notepad 4 pack, working out at £2.50 a pop).
The one killer feature that’s missing in the Livescribe Echo however, is a quick way to convert your handwritten notes into text. We’d prefer to see this feature built in for the large price of the Livescribe Echo, but as it stands, you’ll need to seek out separate MyScript software to do this, and trying to find a way to buy it through the partner company’s website (visionobjects.com) gave us a migraine.
But this is a minor fault, and it’s hard to levy at the Livescribe Echo when no other product can do what it does so seamlessly already. The Livescribe Echo is overkill for most people, but for those who put pen to paper on a daily basis, it’s brilliant.