The LiveScribe Pulse is the debut product of LiveScribe, Inc. It can best be summarized as the offspring of a smartpen and a digital voice recorder. Its banner feature is Paper Replay, the automatic coordination of locations on the page to points in the sound recording. It is marketed primarily to college students, but is useful in any endeavor that requires handwritten notes.

Smartpen Technology

The LiveScribe Pulse is a variety of smartpen: a pen designed for close integration with a computer, to archive everything handwritten in clear digital format with a minimum of inconvenience. There are two primary variations of smartpens: triangulators, which use a pair of sensors clipped to the top of the paper to watch for a signal being emitted by the pen and record the position of the pen on the page by calculating it via trigonometry; and dot cameras, which have a small infrared camera in the tip that reads a special pattern of dots on the page that, within the vision range of the camera, does not repeat for a very large area. The Pulse is the latter, which ensures a constant cash flow to LiveScribe in the form of dot paper, which is the only writing surface the Pulse can locate itself on.

Dot paper is, as the name implies, paper covered with a very fine imperfect grid of dots in a very specific pattern. The dot pattern is patented by Anoto, from whom the dot paper is licensed. These dots are extremely small and light blue, a lighter shade than the ruled lines on the page. They are quite visible when one looks, but for the most part they are easy to ignore.

The dot pattern is robust. The camera can figure out the exact position of the pen, including which page it is on of which journal. (Each journal has a series and number; two journals of the same series and number cannot be used simultaneously by the same pen, as they have identical patterns, and your notes will collide in an illegible mess of superimposed text-goo.) This includes through rotations, tilting, and the unfortunate tendency of ink to get scribbled all over the pattern for some reason.

The specifications of the camera are undisclosed. It is behind a lens behind the pen tip, and when the tip of the pen is pressed, a red LED is visible. (Writing with insufficient force on the page will therefore cause the camera not to activate and ink strokes not to be recorded. The activation pressure is less than normal writing pressure, but it is possible to mark the page without making a digital record, deliberately or accidentally.) The position of the camera leads to a somewhat unbalanced pen design; the pen tip is in line with the top of the pen, not the center.

The ink cartridges are unremarkable ballpoint resivoirs of average quality; superior to $0.05 stick pens, but not what one would hope for a $200 pen if it was not simultaneously a scanner replacement and a voice recorder.

Sound Recording

Embedded in the LiveScribe Pulse is a pair of microphones: one facing forward, one facing upwards. These are designed to catch both sound in the immedate vicinity and any speech of the user. This is the basis for LiveScribe's slogan, "Never Miss A Word". The user can record sound simultaneously with taking notes, either to record one's talking to onesself or to record a meeting or lecture while taking notes upon it, so the original discussion can be replayed should the notes be insufficient.

For recordings from a better sonic focal point that do not result in remarkable detail and sound amplification of the scratching of the pen, the Pulse includes a set of microphone earphones, marketed as the 3D Recording Headset. Designed to take binaural recordings, the microphones result in a stereo recording equivalent to how the user heard it at time of note-taking when heard over headphones. (Replay over standard speakers works fine, but does not reproduce the original acoustic experience the way headphone playback of a binaural recording does.) These also work fine for recording one's own speech; it merely sounds as indirect and echoed as one naturally hears one's own speech, which can be a strange experience during playback when one hears this while not speaking.

Alternatively, the 3D Recording Headset can be worn on a lanyard across the neck, to avoid the appearance of listening to an MP3 player when you should be taking notes. Furthermore, there is nothing restricting usage of these earphones to upon your body; any suitable placement for stereo recording for which the cable is long enough will suffice.

The 3D Recording Headset uses a proprietary five-conductor connection. Headphones with a 2.5 mm plug, or with an adapter that allows them to work with such, can be used for playback, but even though this is the standard size for wired headsets, they will not make the correct electrical connections for recording.

Paper Replay

Paper Replay is the assigned term for the sound playback interface to the Pulse. Any sound recorded while writing notes is linked to that note. Tapping on the page with the pen-tip near text or a drawing written while audio was being recorded will immediately begin sound playback from the point when the touched ink was being written. This is intended to allow for instant cross-linking of paper notes with the audio that spawned them.

When you are not talking to yourself, you are likely to start writing after someone starts talking. Paper Replay offers a latency feature, which when enabled starts playback five seconds prior to the position corresponding with the touched position, allowing for a position bearing some approximate resemblance to when the idea that made you start writing started.

LiveScribe Desktop

The Pulse comes with a desktop client for backup and synchronization of pen content, as well as installation of new smartpen programs, known as "Penlets". The backup taken is not a true backup, because data cannot be copied back onto a new pen should the original be lost.

LiveScribe Desktop has no input capabilities other than copying off the pen. It has a browser for page images synthesized from its knowledge of LiveScribe Dot Paper and pen tracking data. These images can be exported as raster images, but they will lack Paper Replay data. Audio recordings, which are stored in AAC format, can be played similarly to how the pen itself can play them, but a user must search through LiveScribe's impractically-named data directories to find where the files are stored if export to a different program is desirable.

LiveScribe Desktop can connect to LiveScribe Online to upload notes to share with other people registered on the LiveScribe site. LiveScribe Online generates Flash videos of Paper Replay, illustrating ink being added to the page synchronized to the recorded audio. These videos refer to XML files on the LiveScribe server, however, so they cannot be simply copied to a different server and displayed without LiveScribe; the videos (known as Pencasts) are, presently, locked to LiveScribe Online. LiveScribe Online allows downloads of PDFs of notes; however, these PDFs have no embedded audio. Strangely, LiveScribe Desktop will not do this conversion directly.

Gimmicks

The Pulse includes a number of completely useless features, many of them advertised quite prominently. The LiveScribe logo in the corner of the inside cover of every notebook or journal plays a brief tune if tapped. The pen comes preloaded with two movies designed to show off binaural playback; as the pen's OLED screen is designed to show a single line of text, they come out rather small. It also includes a five-language translator, which they acknowledge is merely a demo; it knows 21 words in each language. The pen also features a virtual piano, which can be played by drawing a piano on the page, then tapping the keys.

More useful is the scientific calculator printed on the inside front cover; tapping the keys causes the calculation to occur on the pen display. Handwriting recognition also allows for a four-function calculator anywhere. Most of the features, in fact, can be activated with handwriting recognition, and the keypad used to nagivate through the menus can be drawn anywhere on dot paper and activated with a double-tap.

Uses

The most obvious use of the LiveScribe Pulse is to take notes in any sort of lecture. The sound recording features are designed primarily for this; notes can be immediately linked to the speech that inspired them. It also works well for recording meetings, for much the same reason. Taking personal notes works well, if you don't mind talking to your pen should you feel the need to say more than you can write down.

A refinement of meeting notes is when you come into the meeting with questions. A user prewriting his or her questions can simply tap on them when they're asked, while recording; this will link that portion of the recording to the question itself, so even if no writing of the answer is performed, the question is immediately linked to its reply.

The LiveScribe Pulse lends itself especially well to dream journaling, as it can pick up your sleepy half-mumbled impressions of your dream as you frantically try to scratch down the more salient bits before they drift off into the morning. For similar reasons, it works well for Tarot journaling; speaking your impressions of the cards as they are first encountered can be useful to have later, beyond the filtered parts that you go to the trouble of writing down. This works especially well if you don't actually like writing; sketching a diagram of the Tarot layout, then tapping the relevant bits when you talk about them (and drawing notes for connections between cards) results in a fully interactive recording of your reading.

The LiveScribe Pulse can also be used to play tic-tac-toe.

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