Livescribe 3 smartpen (preview)

The Livescribe 3 smartpen employs an app-centric model that relies on an iOS-based device for recording and playback

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Livescribe 3
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Pros

  • New design
  • 14 hour battery life

Cons

  • iOS only at launch
  • Requires smartphone or tablet to record

Bottom Line

Livescribe’s fourth generation smart pen, the Livescribe 3, is a revolutionary step for the vendor. Unlike its predecessors, it does not have an built-in microphone, speaker, or storage, but employs an app-centric model that relies on an iOS-based device for recording and playback via Bluetooth Smart.

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Livescribe’s fourth generation smart pen, the Livescribe 3, is a revolutionary step for the vendor. Unlike its predecessors, it does not have an built-in microphone, speaker, or storage, but employs an app-centric model that relies on an iOS-based device for recording and playback via Bluetooth Smart.

The Livescribe 3 smartpen has been exclusively developed to pair with the iPhone and iPad, and in particular, those running the newest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 7. It’s compatible with the iPhone 4S and above, the third generation iPad and above, and the iPad mini. The smartpen requires the Livescribe+ app to operate.

It’s not all doom and gloom for Android and Windows Phone users, however. Livescribe Australia and New Zealand's general manager, Mark Parker, said the Livescribe 3 will be platform agnostic in the future. The company has not offered a timeline, so consumers can expect at least a four-month wait, if not longer. In the meantime, the smart pen proves entirely redundant for users of Google’s and Microsoft’s mobile operating systems.

Livescribe claims the new smartpen is more elegant than previous models, and says it looks and feels more like a standard pen.
Livescribe claims the new smartpen is more elegant than previous models, and says it looks and feels more like a standard pen.

Keeping it simple, with a bit of complication

Livescribe has placed a lot of emphasis on the ‘out-of-the-box’ experience with its new smartpen. To get started, users must download the free Livescribe+ app from the Apple App Store. From there, pairing the Livescribe 3 with a device and the app involves nothing more than turning on the pen; the Livescribe+ will automatically recognise it.

The key difference between the Livescribe 3 and previous models is that all sound recording is done by an iPhone or iPad. Parker said the reason for this is the superior sound quality on mobile devices, though we haven't experienced any issues with the clarity or volume of sound when recording with previous Livescribe devices, particularly the Sky wifi smartpen.

Unfortunately, this means you not only have to bring an iPhone/iPad with you at all times if you intend to use the Livescribe 3, but you must also take it out of your pocket/bag so it can record audio without impediments.

This big change aside, Livescribe’s special digital paper operates in the same way. It can still be used to start, pause and stop recordings, and tapping on notes will skip the recording to the appropriate time during playback. Users will immediately notice that the new notebooks are simplified; several operational features, such as slowed-down playback speed, and the ability to jump to audio in specific increments, have been removed from the page.

Livescribe’s special digital paper operates in the same way but the new notebooks are simplified.
Livescribe’s special digital paper operates in the same way but the new notebooks are simplified.

The “elegant writing implement”

Parker told us that when the Livescribe 3 was being designed, the big question was, “How do we create a more elegant writing implement?” The goal was to make something which looks and feels more like a standard pen.

Apart from throwing the microphone and speaker out the window, Livescribe has also sacrificed the LED screen found on the Livescribe Sky wifi, opting for more discrete indicator lights instead. When the Livescribe 3 is on, the light will be green (not connected), yellow (low battery or hardware issue), or blue (paired).

One new feature is a silicon stylus tip on the top of the smartpen which can be used to operate an iPhone/iPad. When removed, the pen's micro-USB input is exposed, through which the pen charges. According to Parker, the Livescribe 3’s “radically extended” battery life will now allow it to operate for up to 14 hours.

A leather-bound Livescribe notebook is included in the Pro Pack.
A leather-bound Livescribe notebook is included in the Pro Pack.

Livescribe+ app

The Livescribe+ app contains a bulk of functionality intended to break down the divide between pen and paper, and device. Marketing jargon aside, it simply allows you to do more with what you write once the automatic handwriting conversion kicks in. This includes copying, pasting, and editing.

There are three viewing options: page view (your traditional page by page conversion), feed mode (which timestamps information, and creates snippets between paused recordings), and pencast mode.

While the Livescribe 3 smartpen no longer syncs automatically with Evernote, it can be pushed to the service, and content can also be shared to Dropbox, Box.net, and other services.

Also worth a mention is the availability of location-based services, for example, tapping on a written location with launch the Maps app, and iCloud sync. The latter includes push to calendar, and contacts.

The Livescribe 3 Pro Pack will cost AU$265 and includes a 12 month subscription to Evernote Premium, along with a leather-bound notebook.
The Livescribe 3 Pro Pack will cost AU$265 and includes a 12 month subscription to Evernote Premium, along with a leather-bound notebook.

Australian availability

The Livescribe 3 smartpen will be sold from Wednesday, 30 October in two variants. A Standard Edition will retail for $199, while a Pro Pack will cost $265. The latter includes a 12 month subscription to Evernote Premium and bundles a leather-bound notebook in the package.

The device will only be available online and through Apple retail stores from launch, and is likely to stay that way until 2014, according to Livescribe.

New Zealand availability

The Livescribe 3 is available from online retailer www.smartpen.co.nz for NZ$286.35 for the standard edition, and NZ$329 for the Pro Pack. It's also available in a 'Mobility Bundle' for NZ$333.99, which includes a leather portfolio and four-pack of A5 notebooks.

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