Livescribe 3: The Pros And Cons

Livescribe 3: The Pros And Cons

Livescribe’s latest addition to its smart pen range, the Livescribe 3, ties in tightly to the iOS platform. Here’s what we like and what we don’t like about it.

I’ve been a keen user of the Livescribe ever since the initial launch — being able to take notes and record simultaneously, and then tap your notes and hear the recording at exactly that point, is incredibly handy for a journalist. As such, I was happy to check out a preview of the Livescribe 3 recently ahead of its official launch today.

The new Livescribe 3 works in close conjunction with a built-in iOS 7 app. While you still need a specially-printed “dot paper” notebook to take the notes, most of the recording process actually happens on your phone or tablet, rather than on the pen. To begin recording, you twist a ring on the phone.

That approach means the pen itself is lighter, but also means you have to carry around an iOS device as well as the pen and notepad if you want to do anything with the content. That said, huge numbers of people already do, and writing on paper is still much nicer than writing on a glass screen.

Two versions are going on sale: a basic model with a 50-sheet starter notebook for $199.95, and a Pro edition for $265 with a leather portfolio, a 100-page notebook, a 12-month Evernote Premium subscription and a charging cable. The 3 will be sold online through and via Apple stores.

Here’s what I like and dislike about the product based on the preview.

Pro: Uses Bluetooth Smart to sync The previous generation Livescribe used Wi-Fi to sync. While widely supported, that was also a major drain on battery life. The 3 should do better in that regard.

Con: iOS only: If you’re not already carrying around an iPhone or an iPad (and no, I’m not), this new Livescribe is effectively pointless. Livescribe says an Android version is being planned but hasn’t committed to any firm timeframe.

Pro: Other versions remain on sale Both the Echo and the 4GB Wi-Fi pen will remain on sale, so you’ll still have non-iOS choices.

Pro: Now useful for random notes Notes taken with the 3 can now be tagged and joined together, Evernote-style, making the Livescribe more useful for individual notes and snippets (rather than just long meeting or interview recordings).

Con: Playback relies on the on-screen recording Playback from the notebook will be offered “at a later date”.

Pro: Syncs to more services Notes can be synced to Evernote, Dropbox and Box.

Con: iCloud is used as the transport layer iCloud doesn’t have a great reputation for reliability, and a different method will be needed for other platforms.

We’ll be testing the Livescribe 3 more thoroughly in the coming weeks. In the meantime, do you like the idea?


  • For what it’s worth, I was a fan of Livescribe until the display on my livescribe pen died less than a year after I bought it. It was working but so dim it was nearly impossible to read. Their forum has a bunch of posts suggesting this isn’t an isolated problem and some of the companies responses have been extremely unprofessional. The company did replace my pen with one that couldn’t sense half the words I wrote (pretty sure I was sent a refurb) but refused to admit fault. After all that I just gave up and went back to taking notes on my IPad. A lot of money wasted on an obviously faulty product.

  • I had an older Livescribe Echo – It was great. But when I got my iPad there wasn’t a strong case for it.

    I liked the idea of the Livescribe 3 – bringing the pen into a closer relationship with the iOS device – effectively making it an extension of the iOS app.

    However that implies that Livescribe 3 is as much about the software as it is the pen. And you would expect that some close attention was paid to getting the software and hardware working well and intuitively.

    Sadly this is not the case. Clearly this is a company of hardware enthusiasts and software comes second. Idiosyncratic interfaces, re-install as the go-to support advice, and things that work intermittently are all tolerable – A clear sign that software comes second.

    For a start the bluetooth pairing is flakey. My iPhone (5 iOS 7.0.3) won’t connect to the pen. Won’t even produce a useful error message. Tapping away at the connect link just produces a momentary grey-out. It connected to my iPad just fine. Until I turned off the pen. No amount of tweaking would get it reconnected – until according to Livescribe’s advice I reinstalled the software. That will be just wonderful at the start of a meeting.

    The stream interface is bizarre to the point of hurtful. The software breaks up your notes into arbitrary sections – presumably chosen by an algorithm to optimise transcription from handwriting to type (which does work reasonably well). However those sections exert way too much cognitive precedence over the rest of the interface’s functionality.

    I only discovered from an intermittent pop-up menu option that there is likely some way to merge sections – I challenge anyone to figure out how to select more than one section so that a merge could be performed. And if you want to export notes say to email then you either have to figure out how to merge the sections – which I haven’t – or send a whole bunch – a very large bunch – of separate emails – one for each little section.

    The arcane tagging function seems also to be determined by this section approach – not pages or notes – and also appears to completely throw out the useful tags-are-meta-data convention in favour of some Livescribe idiosyncratic approach where the section tagged is the tag. And this completely determines how you can organise material for later retrieval.

    It’s near idiotic to have so much functionality – editing, organising, classifying, and exporting – determined by where an algorithm decides to break up your notes. None of this stuff works at the page, session, notebook, notes level – there is no important post-production function in the stream interface can be applied to concepts that everyone who writes has been working with their whole lives.

    And to make matters worse there is no simple group select and merge. There seems to be no ‘sticky’ way to select and an do on more than one section at a time. It made me want to scream – “Multiple select!! How on earth did the ship the stream interface without multiple select and do!!???” How does one think that is not needed!??

    If you are going to make a device all about the software, its a good idea to make the software a joy to use, fault tolerant, reliable, and intuitive.

    This device as it is now depends on software that isn’t even half-baked – it’s barely one-quarter baked.

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