The Livescribe Sky wifi smartpen features built-in Wi-Fi and automatically synchronises recorded notes and audio to Evernote.
Design and performance
The basic idea of the Livescribe Sky wifi smartpen hasn't changed from the previous Echo model. The pen allows you to capture audio as you write on paper thanks to a built-in recorder. However, the real beauty of the Sky wifi smartpen comes when it is paired with Livescribe's proprietary dot paper — paper covered in thousands of tiny dots. These dots act as reference points so once you've finished writing and recording, you can tap the pen on any word to hear exactly what was recorded at that point in time.
If you're coming from a previous Livescribe pen like the original Pulse or the Echo, you can use any Livescribe compatible stationary you own with the Sky wifi. The proprietary dot paper is obviously more expensive than regular paper notebooks at around $40 for four A4 notebooks or $30 for four A5 notebooks, but given the benefits this paper provides we don't see it as a huge hindrance. If you own a laser printer you can also print your own dot paper.
The Livescribe Sky wifi smartpen itself is almost identical to its Echo predecessor. It's larger and thicker than most regular pens but we didn't find it too uncomfortable to hold or write with, even for long periods. The speaker on the front is loud enough to hear any recorded audio while there's also a regular 3.5mm headphone jack if you need to be more discreet. A small OLED display on the front displays your recording time when you're taking notes, tells you when the device is syncing with Evernote and shows a battery indicator. Livescribe also includes two caps in the sales package that cover the ballpoint tip when the pen isn't in use, but they are easy to lose.
The Sky wifi smartphone charges via a standard micro-USB port on the top. Livescribe says you'll get four and a half hours of battery life with Wi-Fi switched on but we could only manage just below four before our pen needed recharging. You'll fare far better (over 10 hours) when you switch Wi-Fi off, so we'd recommend only using it when you need to synchronise your notes. If you record notes with Wi-Fi off, the Sky wifi will upload them automatically the next time you turn Wi-Fi on again. Synchronisation was smooth and effective during our testing.
The built-in microphone on the Sky wifi smartpen is surprisingly effective so you should have no problems recording meetings, lectures or interviews, even if the subject isn't close to you. The microphone does annoyingly tend to amplify close sounds though, including the sound of turning the page in your notebook, the sound of the pen writing on the paper, and the sound of putting the pen down on a table.
Livescribe has ditched its own desktop software for the Sky wifi smartpen and instead relies on Evernote to store and access your notes. Evernote works on a huge range of devices including Windows PCs, Macs, iPhone, iPad, Android phones and tablets, Windows Phones and BlackBerry smartphones and even within Chrome, Firefox and Safari Web browsers, However, users who are more familiar with Microsoft's OneNote will be disappointed their Livescribe notes can't be integrated into other note taking applications.
Evernote is free, unless you feel the need a premium subscription that boosts your monthly upload quota to 500MB from the standard 60MB. A 12-month subscription to Evernote premium is included with the 8GB Pro model of the Sky Wifi smartpen.
Evernote is easier to use than Livescribe's previous desktop application which was clunky and slow. However, there are a few caveats which take the gloss of what should be a killer feature. The most annoying is the fact that each individual page in a Livescribe notebook appears as a completely seperate note in Evernote, even if the notes from multiple pages are obviously part of the same recording session. We also found our notes had the wrong time attached to them, discovered that multiple audio recordings on a page refused to sync with Evernote, and that notes didn't appear in chronological order. Sometimes our notes didn't sync properly at all, only appearing hours after we syncronised the Sky smartpen.
Livescribe says it is aware of most of these bugs, which were meant to be corrected before launch. However, the seperate page issue appears to be questionable implementation rather than a bug. We also dislike the fact that clicking on uploaded notes in the PC and Mac versions of Evernote to listen to recordings opens a HTML5 player in a seperate browser window. We found this feature slow to load and play and unlike listening to the audio through the pen using headphones, there is no way to change the playback speed.
Livescribe sells three models of the Sky wifi smartpen in Australia. The entry-level 2GB model will retail for $229, the 4GB model for $275 and the 8GB Pro model will sell for $345.
The Livescribe Sky wifi smartpen is available now through foundation retail partner Officeworks.