The Livescribe intelligent recording pen is already one of Road Worrier's essential technologies to take on the road. How does the new Echo design measure up against the original?
The concept of the Livescribe is pretty simple: you can record audio and take notes, and the two are linked. Tap with the pen on your notes, and the audio starts playing from the point where you wrote the notes. (There's a more detailed explanation in my original review from earlier this year). It's done pretty well too, with more than 400,000 pens sold.
The Echo model, which officially got launched last week, doesn't represent a radical rethinking of the approach. However, it does have a handful of design changes, three of which are very useful and one of which is a minor hassle.
The most useful change is that the Echo has ditched the custom docking station for PC synchronisation found on the Pulse in favour of a standard micro USB connection. Given that I already use a micro USB cable to charge and sync my BlackBerry, that's one less cable to throw in the bag.
In a similar vein, the Echo now has a standard headphone jack, so you can plug in any headphones you have lying around if you want to transcribe. There's a built-in speaker for playback, but having headphones is useful if you're transcribing in a public place. You can buy a special binaural set of headphones which act as stereo microphones if you want to capture better-quality audio.
Even as a standalone device, the Echo does a good job capturing audio in large spaces. I used it to record and take notes at a Stephen Fry talk and had no trouble using that to write up the event.
A small but useful change is a flattening on one side of the pen, so it doesn't roll away while recording. That's admittedly not an issue if you're constantly taking notes, but the Pulse is hard to keep in one spot if (for instance) you're recording a meeting and plan to listen back later.
The one change that doesn't quite come off? There's now a cap included to place over the pen and prevent the end of the pen scrawling on the inside of your bag or — as has happened to me — becoming non-functional. That's a nice enough idea in theory, but in practice it's just a small bit of plastic that seems all too easy to lose. (Perhaps recognising this, it comes with a spare cap as well.)
The 4GB Echo is $259, and the 8GB model is $299, so it's a big investment if you don't regularly take notes. If you do, however, it makes the task of capturing key information and transcribing quotes much easier — and the lack of clutter is a big benefit for travellers who already have enough cords tangled up in their luggage.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman might even learn to love transcribing one of these days. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.