Livescribe's new smartpen syncs handwriting to your iPad or iPhone

Livescribe's new smartpen syncs handwriting to your iPad or iPhone

Summary: The Livescribe 3 smartpen lets you write or draw diagrams in a notebook and sync the results to an iPad or iPhone running iOS 7, with an Android version due next year.


Now you can write in a paper notebook and have your words appear on your smartphone screen as well, if you use the Livescribe 3 digital smartpen. The system requires special notebooks using Anoto-based Livescribe Dot paper, like the previous versions. The first- and second-generation pens are not being replaced, and will continue to be produced and sold.

Livescribe 3  Pro edition box
Livescribe 3 Pro edition box. Image: Livescribe

The Livescribe 3 pen communicates with the phone, tablet, or other device using LE (low energy) Bluetooth 4.0, so the system is currently limited to recent Apple devices running iOS 7. Livescribe expects to have an Android version available next year, but Simon Lee, Livescribe's UK general manager, says a Mac app "is not on our roadmap at the moment".

The first generation of Livescribe pens, such as the Echo and Pulse models, could capture both movement and audio as you wrote into your notebook, and you could transfer the file to a laptop for optical character recognition etc. The second-generation pens transferred your handwriting to a cloud-based service using a wi-fi connection.

The third-generation pen is somewhat simpler, as it doesn't offer audio recording and playback: If you want to record something while taking notes, you can do that with your mobile phone or tablet.

Using a phone provides a better recording with none of the scratchy noise sometimes picked up by the microphone in the pen, according to Livescribe.

However, the Livescribe 3 pen still works independently. Livescribe says you can record up to 20,000 pages of handwritten notes before you need to sync it via Bluetooth. The pen can be recharged when needed via a micro-USB cable. The pen runs for about 14 hours, and charging takes about two hours.

One of the big changes for users is that the new pen can use standard tungsten carbide ballpoint ink cartridges. It does not work with the special Echo/Pulse/Sky cartridges produced for previous pens. The result, from my brief hands-on, is a much nicer writing experience. However, people who prefer gel or rollerball pens are still out of luck.

Livescribe says the system works best with carbon-free ink cartridges and that it will be selling packs of eight refills for $9.95.

Livescribe 3 app, iPad & pen
Livescribe 3 app on an Apple iPad. The other end of the pen works as a stylus. mage: Livescribe

Handwritten notes can be sent to other people, stored in Livescribe's PDF-based file format, or converted into text with the usual Vision Objects OCR software. The system does not learn from experience, but it's generally good, and you can change your handwriting slightly to help eliminate common errors.

The Livescribe 3 pen will be available in standard and Pro versions at £129.99 and £169.99 in the UK, or $149.95 and $199.95 in the US, with first sales via Apple stores from November 6. The Pro version includes a leather portfolio with a 100-page hardbound journal (instead of a 50-page Starter notebook) and a year's subscription to Evernote Premium. The Livescribe+ app is a free download.

Livescribe says the first-gen Echo (£119.99-£19.99) is still its best-selling smartpen in the UK, and is aimed at companies and higher-education users in particular. The second-gen wi-fi version (£159.99-£224.99) is targeted at people who have their own wi-fi networks, and particularly Evernote users. The third-gen pen is intended as a companion device to iOS 7 users, particularly because trying to do handwriting on an iPad is an unpleasant experience.

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Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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  • Great alternative to stylus

    I always found myself searching for an alternative to using paper notes: they are messy, hard to reorganize/sort and also hard to share. I first went for the solution of getting a stylus to go with an iPad. Although i'm quite impressed with a stylus capability it is still quite inconvenient to write with and is far from replacing a real pen.

    Then i tried this Livescribe 3 Smartpen. And i'm pleased to say i finally found a great way of digitizing my notes! I can write very naturally and import it directly on my iPad! I look forward to see how it'll change all my note-taking but i can already recommend without any hesitation trying this one, didn't see any better alternative so far.

    Also the price is slightly steep but you can get 15% off using this link!
  • Products and Documents for the Echo and Pulse smart pens

    I personally prefer the Echo series of the smart pen. Granted, the wireless ability is not there, but the sheer number of applications and documents that are available, thanks to the third party developer program that Livescribe ran in 2010-2011, outweigh the benefits of the wireless.
    I have actually developed a number of documents for the Livescribe Echo smartpen. This includes a Daily and Weekly planner, Meeting Minutes, Project Planners, Student Notes, and other specialized documents. These are available on my website: for download for Letter-sized prints.
    As of this writing, I am in the testing phase for various planner documents for A5 and A4 sized paper as well. These should be hosted once the testing is complete.
    • If it's not for Mac - it's not ready for prime time

      Independent writers, creatives and self employed folks (like myself) have a real need for this sort of thing. Since we make our own schedules etc, we really need a planner of this sort more than we need "shared" or team leader controlled documents. I hope Evernote or Livescribe picks up on the large amount of revenue they are missing by not developing a Planner for Livescribe WiFi pens.
      I see this or a similar post leading to your site every time I search for "Livescribe Planner". I am always disappointed to find out it's the same one, not for Mac but compliments on successful tagging.