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Livescribe Pulse – A month and a half of use later…

I’ve been using the Livescribe Pulse for about a month and a half (My first post on the topic was May 15th.)

The pen is holding up very well.  The most surprising thing about the pen is that, despite extensive – DAILY – use, I have over 1.2GB free space.  Obviously pen strokes don’t consume very much data, and I don’t record every meeting I attend, but I do have a large amount of audio on the device.

The written recording is extremely reliable – whether you’re writing at unusual angles or without much pressure.  I find that the pen’s camera is tolerant of sloppy use, quick jotting, or even writing at the edge of the page.  Anoto’s technology is very refined, and seems to be able to cope with just about anything in typical use.

The battery life is fairly reasonable – I think I’ve gone about 3 days without charging the unit so far – definitely more than two.  As with all devices, the battery life indicator tends to surprise you by jumping from “mostly full” to “just about empty” without much time in-between.  You won’t need to charge this pen nightly, however – and I don’t.  When I get to work, I turn on the pen.  Throughout the day I leave the pen running – and this constant usage does not cause me problems.  I prefer to leave the pen on as I sporadically write notes as they come to mind.  When I’m not using the pen, it rests on top of the keyboard function keys.

Ink lifetime is reasonable.  At present, I have filled up about 320 pages across three notebooks and only just this past week run out the first ink cartridge.  I have one more before I order the $6 replacement pack.

Audio recording is outstanding – especially when using the headphone-mounted microphones, but surprisingly when using the internal microphones.  In an auditorium, I used the pen microphones to record a departmental meeting along with my own notes.  I tend to take notes to summarize the key points as I understand them, but with the Pulse, I also tend to use written words as audio bookmarks.  The audio from the auditorium was clear even during audience questioning.  During smaller conferences where I might be recording a meeting, the audio is even better.

I tend to record most of my telephone conference calls, in part because I find having the recordings to be invaluable when reviewing any obligations I may have made or if I’m responsible for delivering the meeting minutes.  Fortunately I live in a one-party state, where I do not need to notify the other party of audio recordings.  People will differ on their comfort level with recording calls and meetings, but I’m very comfortable bringing my “surrogate memory” to the table – it helps a great deal in delivering better results on meetings and capturing important details during discussions.  I do not tend to record very informal meetings, one on one discussions, and meetings where I don’t see any value in consuming the storage space – in these cases, simply having a digital copy of the notes works well enough.

Another use for the audio recording has helped me with recalling phone calls to call centers.  I routinely record calls to a telephone call center to capture the name of the agent and any obligations that I may have made or received by the service provider.  This is especially useful when making follow-up calls where you need to reference something said by the previous agent.

I don’t use the online service at all.  The material I store is not suitable for insecure sharing – much of it is not for public use, and in many cases due care would prevent me from uploading it to a third-party website.  At the moment the data is stored on the pen and on my home PC – and I would prefer to be able to share the data selectively using standalone files.

I tend to carry the “Moleskine-like” journal around the most.  You can use the velcro flap on the pen case to clip the pen to the journal elastic.  This looks professional and travels well between the myriad floors in my building.  Going forward, I will probably invest more in journals than in the spiral bound notebooks.  Since I tend to fill a notebook before moving on to the next, I don’t see a limitation in the two-book series of journals.  I will simply “archive” my spent journal and open a fresh one.  (In my previous post on the topic, I explained how Livescribe’s paper products were serialized – using two notebooks with the same series type would result in overwritten notes as the pen uses the series to differentiate between different notebooks.)

One tip: it appears that if you hold the power button down continuously for about 20 seconds, it will kick the pen into audio record mode.  This is handy if you need to start recording something unexpectedly and don’t have the paper or storage case nearby.  This is something you’d rarely use, but if one of your coworkers begins harassing you in the hallway, perhaps having a recording to back up your HR claim would be useful. :)  We live in a surveillance society – we’ve accepted it (I don’t like it,) – we may as well equip ourselves for the same reasons.

Things to wait or watch out for:
The Mac version – I need this more than I need any other feature.  I do not tend to use my Windows PC for data applications such as this, I tend to aggregate my information on my Macintosh.  I usually use a Remote Desktop session to access pen data on the PC, but would prefer to leave it on my Mac.  Bonus points to Livescribe if they can make the searchable notes integrate with Apple’s Spotlight search engine.

Exporting data as PDF or machine-readable ASCII files.  Searching my notes is great – now give me that data so I can use it for something else!  I know you brought it with you, Livescribe – don’t hold out on me.

Conclusion:
The Pulse Smartpen is an excellent purchase.  For $200, you acquire a very handy “surrogate memory” that not only travels exceptionally well, but works unobtrusively.  It does not scream for constant battery charging, and it is so reliable that I do not fret about whether or not it is operating properly.  I simply turn it on – a five second operation, and start writing.  I don’t worry about volume levels in recording, and I don’t worry about running out of memory.  Even if Livescribe never releases the enhanced features they claim to be working on – the base set of operations is very impressive and works exceptionally well for the busy knowledge worker.

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