- Pen feels good in the hand
- information is easily transferred to a PC
- handwriting is efficiently converted to editable text
- Requires expensive digital paper
- pen has limited memory and battery capacity
- special procedures are required when writing and drawing
We first looked at Logitech's io Personal Digital Pen back in November 2003. The company has recently revamped its offering into a new version called the io2 Digital Writing System, which comprises the pen itself, digital paper, software and the means to transfer data captured with the pen to your PC. With direct capture of handwritten data to Tablet PCs still failing to generate huge enthusiasm, a product such as the io2 Digital Writing System could be an affordable alternative -- but does it do the job well enough?
The digital pen itself has been slimmed down for this new model, but it remains considerably larger than a regular pen (it's about the size of a big felt-tip marker). Even so, it feels relatively comfortable in the hand, being lightweight (37.4g with cap) and well balanced. The outward facing edge has two LEDs, one indicating the status of its internal battery the other the amount of available memory. The USB cradle, which is used to charge the pen and transfer data to your computer, folds down to make it relatively small and portable, while a USB extension cable helps you find the best position for the cradle on your desk. The pen uses ballpoint pen ink on both digital paper and ordinary paper, and the product box contains five spare ink refills. There are also five coloured tabs you can insert into the top of the pen to help distinguish it from others in an office, three types of digital paper and a CD containing desktop applications.
The io2 Digital Writing System only captures digital data if you write onto special paper. The product box contains and A4 pad, a Post-it note pad and a few sheets of Filofax paper. This paper has a grid of very small dots printed on it, and it's these that the pen uses to capture your writing digitally. Pages are divided into sections. For example, on the A4 notepad there are check boxes to mark pages as emails, notes or ‘other’ content; an area where you can identify a page by subject or keyword; and a check box that tells the software you've finished working on the page. In addition, when you start a new notepad or switch between notepads, you must check a box on the front page marked 'new notepad'. This helps the software organise your digitised pages properly.
We were impressed with the efficiency with which the io2 Digital Writing System worked in practice. We had no trouble writing with the pen, and transferring documents to the desktop software via the docking cradle was also straightforward. Handwritten notes were converted into editable text reasonably efficiently, even without software training; you can also select sections of a page for conversion if you don't need the whole thing as editable text. The Logitech io2 Software links with other applications on your system, allowing you to easily create an email with the currently selected document as an attachment, and create calendar and to-do entries that link to the currently selected document. The list of supported applications includes Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora, Windows Journal (Tablet PC) and Lotus Notes. Although the ability to capture handwriting digitally has appeal, there are some serious constraints to consider. For a start, if you want your handwriting to convert to text successfully, you'll need to keep it fairly neat -- a typical GP's scrawl won't do. You’ll also need a ready supply of digital paper, which is pretty expensive: Logitech sells a Post-it notes block for £3.99 and a Filofax digital notepaper pack for £3.99, while an 80-page A4 notebook costs £4.99. You’ll need to be disciplined about your use of the digital pads: carry the one(s) you're likely to need, and remember to note when you start a new pad or return to an old one if you want to keep your digital data in good order. You’ll also need to keep your digital pen charged (a single charge is good for about 25 pages of text or three hours' use) and remember to use it when writing on digital paper. Finally, regular downloading will be crucial so as to keep within the pen’s 40-page memory capacity.