Livescribe Echo Smartpen Review


The new Echo Smartpen improves on the previous generation of Livescribe products with a sleek ergonomic design that features a rubberized grip and anti-roll surface, it’s also available with the biggest capacity ever – up-to 8GB! Livescribe has also made charging the device more convenient, with a micro-USB connector, and the Echo now has a 3.5mm audio jack so that users can use whatever headphones they’d like with it. But I’ll be honest, I had my doubts about a pen that needs to be charged. But, Wow. The new Livescribe Echo Smartpen really is everything it’s cracked up-to be – which means it is extremely impressive and useful; plus it’s easy to use! It will remember everything you write and hear. You’ll be able to digitally upload all of your note taking straight on to your Mac or Windows computer. Livescribe takes it a step further and syncs all of the recorded audio to your handwritten notes. Tap any note with your pen and hear what was being said at that exact moment of writing. Livescribe Pen has a built in microphone, speaker, headphone jack, OLED screen, USB connector, and flash memory. And yes, to all of those still wondering, of course it writes–it’s a pen! Dive into the review, I guarantee you’ll be surprised just how much this regular sized pen can do.

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What’s in the Box:
* 1 x Livescribe Echo Smartpen with 4GB of memory
* 2 x Ink Cartridge
* 2 x Pen Caps
* 1 x 50-Sheet Starter Notebook
* 1 x Micro USB Cable
* 1 x Interactive Getting Started Guide
* 1 x Smartpen Tips and Tricks Guide

Livescribe Echo Smartpen looks like a pen. It’s a bit thicker than a regular pen, but it doesn’t look or feel abnormally large. It’s all black, the top half made of plastic and the bottom made of a comfortable rubber. The microphone and speaker are well placed in the middle of the pen with the OLED display right above it, and the power button above that. Because it’s most comfortable to have the display facing you, the mic and speaker will not get blocked by your hand. At the very top of the pen is the headphone jack and micro-usb connection. The OLED screen is bright and clear. It displays a very nice range of text and graphics. The brightness can even be adjusted. The Echo is very well designed and has a durable, yet comfortable, feel to it. The one inconvenience of the design is that detachable pen cap is very easy to lose as it will not attach to the top of the pen. This is why two are included with your pen.

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Getting Started:
It’s a little intimidating to start using such a powerful pen. I’m used to a bic that can do one thing: write. The Interactive Getting Started Guide turned me into a Smartpen pro within about five minutes. The Echo came pre-charged so I was able to start using it straight out of the box; it doesn’t even require any set up or syncing before using. The 8-step Getting Started pamphlet starts with an optional set up. You set up the display orientation (right handed/left handed) and the date/time by just pressing the “buttons” on the pamphlet. To set the time I just press my pen to the spot on the paper that says “set time”, then I tap on the individual numbers 1-0-1-5 and then tap on “PM”. The Smartpen knows exactly what it’s doing. And just like that, your time is set on the OLED pen display. Date and Time are important for categorizing your pen notes. The steps following this speedy set up explain how the Echo works. There are little voice bubbles which, when tapped, will read aloud (from the pen) blurbs explaining “How can I record” or “How can I save a Paper Replay Session”. You’ll then try for yourself by writing your favorite snacks down and vocally describing why you like the snack after writing it. You can then go back, and tap one of your snacks to hear yourself describing why you like it. Afterwords you’ll learn about the rest of the buttons, the applications, and the Livescribe Desktop software. This is definitely one of the most helpful and easy-to-use guides I’ve seen.

The only other set up is installing your Livescribe Desktop software, and this is not even required to use the pen. You’ll need it to upload, search, and share your notes. It works for both Windows and Mac. Download the appropriate software from the website, install it, register (if you want) and it’s ready to go. Connect the MicroUSB cable to the top of your pen and the other end to your computer. You’ll have the option to just charge your pen or to sync it. Sync and all of your Echo Smartpen notes, audio, and settings will be added to Livescribe Desktop. The software looks a lot like iTunes, and is just as easy to use.

How to Use:
Once the Echo Smartpen is turned on all of your writing will be recorded. It’s smart enough to differentiate pages. If you want to go back a few pages and add some side notes, Echo knows you’re adding to previous notes, and not starting a new page of notes. If you’d like to record audio while writing your notes just tap the record icon on the bottom of your notebook. When you’re done recording audio you can tap the stop button. You can also pause a session.
To play back the audio from any of your notes just tap on the note and Echo Smartpen will automatically sync up to the point of your audio recording where you wrote that note. It doesn’t matter how old it is, as long as it’s still stored on your pen, Echo Smartpen will find it in seconds and play the audio through the speaker or headphone jack. While audio is playing back you can adjust the playback speed (slow it down/speed it up) or adjust the volume. It’s very easy to navigate your recording session. You can also bookmark parts of the recording to easily skip to important areas.
With Livescribe Desktop installed, you just plug in your pen to the computer and all of your notes, drawings, and audio will sync to the application. Here you can also tap any note with your mouse to skip to that part of the audio recording. You’ll be able to organize your notes, search them for text, or share them with friends or the public.

Works as a pen – Sorry, but it’s important to state the obvious.
Records writing and drawing – If the pen is turned on it will record everything you write or draw in your Livescribe dot notebook. You can then upload all of your notes and drawings to the Livescribe Desktop Software. From there, you can search for text in your notes, among a bunch of other helpful features.
Records audio and syncs to handwritten notes – Audio is recorded from the microphone on your pen. It will automatically sync to the notes you are taking. You can also choose to just record audio and take notes later while playing back the audio straight from your pen. Audio and writing will still sync up in this scenario.
Password Protect Your Notes – Audio recordings can undoubtedly contain sensitive information you would want to keep private. Luckily you can password protect all of your recordings in case your smart pen falls in to the wrong hands. Navigate to “Password Protection” in Echo’s menu and then write a four digit number down. When you first attempt to playback a recording you will have to write your four digit password down
Custom Notebooks – In Livescribe Desktop you can group and organize your notes into custom notebooks. Separate all of your chemistry notes from your physics notes. It’s as easy as creating a playlist in iTunes.
Pencasts – You can share your notes as pdfs, audio, or pencasts. Pencasts are an interactive flash movie of your handwritten notes and its audio. You can publish your pencasts publicly, share it privately with friends, or even post your pencasts to Facebook.
Applications – Livescribe desktop has a whole app store for smartpen applications. There are wide range of applications ranging from productivity, entertainment, games, utilities, and so on. The piano application came pre-installed on Echo smartpen. It allows you to draw an 8 key piano and play it directly from your sheet of paper. Write the letter I for instrument and R for rhythm. Tapping these letters will change the rhythm and instrument. Grand Piano, vibraphone, steel drum, kalimba, fiddle, and flute are some of the instruments you can choose from. There are some very catchy rythyms to accompany your music playing too. The piano application makes you realize just how good the Echo’s speaker is. There are applications to define words, translate words, play games, learn instruments, and so much more. The applications, unfortunately, are not all free. Some will certainly pay for themselves though.


Livescribe Echo Smartpen is a very impressive piece of technology. It works extremely well. All of my notes synced perfectly. Even my drawings came out perfectly in its digital format. The OLED screen is very clear considering its small size. Navigating the smartpen’s menu system is rather simple with its conveniently placed screen. A neat feature is the launch line; double tap the menu button and start writing the name of the application you want to launch to quickly access it. The audio recorded from the microphone is very clear. The recording audio quality can even be adjusted from the pen. Set it to low to conserve storage space on your pen, set it to high for the clearest audio. The default is set to medium. I was very surprised with how great the speaker quality is. The volume can also get quite loud too. I’ve only recorded about 10 or so pages of notes on my 4GB Echo, but I have 285 hours of time left for audio recording according to the pen. The handwriting takes up very little space on the pen, so you could literally take thousands of pages of notes before filling up the storage capacity. The pen’s battery life will be sure to last, at the very least, a full days worth of note taking. There was really nothing I was disappointed with in terms of performance and functionality.

Livescribe Echo Smartpen can be an extremely useful tool for studying, organizing, and utilizing your notes. It is ideal for meetings and classes. It enables you to focus less on perfect note taking, and more on understanding what is going on and what is being said. You no longer have to go crazy with including finer details in your notes. You can always go back and add them later. The whole idea of tape recording a class or meeting always seemed inefficient to me because it would take so much time to navigate through the recording to find the details I’m looking for. Echo Smartpen solved this inefficiency; I can just tap my note about “dark matter” to hear what my professor had to say about that topic.
Smartpens are not brand new, I can’t vouch for any of the others, but I can say that Echo works amazingly. I can only wish I had one of these during my undergrad studies. The Echo Smartpen is the successor to Livescribe’s Pulse Smartpen. Livescribe certainly knows what they’re doing. Echo’s new design is accompanied by new features including pencast import/export, custom notebooks, password protection, launch line, and custom smartpen names. Echo comes in two different storage sizes 4gb, and 8gb. They’re priced at $169.95, and $199.95 respectively. Echo will only work on Livescribe dot paper, but luckily you can print your own paper and notebooks if your printer is up to par (mine was not). A 4-pack of notebooks only costs $20. Livescribe Echo Smartpen is an investment, you’ll be surprised how quickly it pays itself off. Finally, as a reminder, you’ll want to obtain the permission of any parties you’re going to be recording.

Good: Never miss another note, good storage capacity, OLED is bright, capable, and well located, comfortable to write with, speaker sounds great, microphone captures clear audio
Bad: Pen cap can be easily lost while using the pen, exporting your notes to text costs extra

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