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

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.

Related stories: