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Smartpen makes note taking an easy task

Jane Pribek

Jane Pribek

I never learned to type.

I am old enough that in high school the class was called “typing,” because that’s all we had – typewriters, not keyboards.

I nixed the class because it was offered in the last hour of the day, and as an upperclassman, I could leave if my required classes were done. “General Hospital” was popular then. It was an easy choice; those were the Luke and Laura years, after all.

So, twenty-something years later, I’m still writing with an old-fashioned pen when I interview people – it’s just faster and more accurate than attempting to key in what people say.

Until now. I am ditching the ballpoint for the Livescribe Pulse 4G smartpen.

I did a little research and decided on this model because of its affordability. There are others, some with greater capabilities. But frankly, I hate reading instruction booklets and I don’t use half the features on, well, most every gadget I own. Again, my age is showing, but I like to keep it simple.

I found a great deal at – it’s not available in the stores. It was on sale for $149, after $30 off. The same model is cheaper if you look at the various outlets on Google shopping. But I went with Costco because I wasn’t sure if I’d really want it, and Costco has a great in-store return policy.

The smartpen is marketed heavily toward students, so you can usually find it on sale in the back-to-school fliers, and probably on Black Friday, too.

I ordered it on a Thursday, mid-morning, and per my usually policy of never paying for expedited shipping, I went with standard. So, all told, it cost $164, including sales tax. It arrived about 28 hours later. A new toy to play with over the weekend!

I’d read reviews that some people don’t like the pen’s width. It’s .63 inches at its widest point, about the size of a cigar or a jumbo magic marker. More than once, someone has called, and all I can find is a magic marker or crayon – I’m a mommy. I don’t care as long as I get the info. So the width of the smartpen didn’t bother me.

It comes with a charging cradle and “pro” charging cradle, carrying case, headphones, a starter notebook and two unlined, “dot paper” journals – you can’t use regular paper but luckily for me, my penmanship is tiny, and you can write on both sides of the paper, so it will take me a long time to use them all up.

The written materials are sparse: just a “Getting Started Guide” and “Tips and Tricks.” The actual owner’s manual is online.

You begin by configuring the pen by tapping it directly on the “Getting Started Guide” itself, setting the date and time. Then it takes about 10 minutes or so to take the tutorial – longer if you really goof around.

The smartpen came partially charged, so I just jumped in – I didn’t need to leave it in the charging cradle for hours on end after taking it out of the box, which can be a real buzz kill.

Speaking of goofing around, I scrolled down to “Piano.” It tells you to draw nine vertical lines, draw lines across the top and bottom, and you can instantly play the piano. I wowed my children with “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and then they wanted to play with it. When I previously called it a toy, I wasn’t kidding!

Most importantly for my purposes – probably yours, too – with the tutorial, I learned within minutes how to use the recorder. If you tap on the section where you wrote, it will replay the words that were being spoken at that time – it has an infrared camera that captures everything you write and draw on the dot paper.

You then move on to downloading the software from the Livescribe website, which took seven seconds. Once the download is complete, you attach the charger to your USB port and you can fully charge the pen.

You then have to register the pen if you want to share your notes and audio online (assuming you are comfortable doing that).

As a journalist covering speeches or conducting in-person interviews, it should work just fine, and eliminate the need for me to listen to the entire recording when I’m looking for a particular quote. Listening to the whole recording can be torture, especially listening to the things I said.

Recalling my legal practice days, I think the smartpen would’ve been extremely useful during settlement agreement negotiations. You come to an agreement, then start drafting the terms into a marital settlement agreement, and suddenly no one’s completely clear on the terms. Play the recording on the pen to figure out what was said, then iron out any further misunderstandings and get the default divorce.

New Orleans lawyer Ernest Svenson, a/k/a famous law blogger Ernie the Attorney, likes the smartpen for client interviews and depositions.

An important caveat: This is not a pen for use in court. SCR Ch. 61, Rules Governing Electronic Media and Still Photography Coverage of Judicial Proceedings, authorizes “one audio system for radio broadcast purposes” (time to update that provision?) and later prohibits the audio recording of conferences between an attorney and client, co-counsel, or attorneys and the trial judge held at the bench.

Jane Pribek is a former family law attorney and former editor of Wisconsin Law Journal. Since moving to Nashville, she has been our editor-at-large. She can be reached at [email protected].

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