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Sony Ericsson Chatpen CHA-30

  • Editors' rating
    7.7 Very good

Pros

  • Emails directly from digital paper
  • Bluetooth connectivity to mobile phone

Cons

  • No USB connection to PC
  • monthly subscription required
  • bulky

Although Sony Ericsson’s Chatpen CHA-30 is rounder than the similarly Anoto-based Nokia SU-1B Digital Pen and less comfortable to hold than the equally rotund Logitech io Personal Digital Pen, it makes up for these drawbacks with its impressive connectivity. A notable difference between the Chatpen and Logitech's and Nokia's devices is that the Chatpen has no USB connection. The charger fits in the end opposite the nib and all data transfers are wireless, via Bluetooth.

In pairing mode the Chatpen’s two LEDs flash red, green and orange waiting to register the pin code on your Bluetooth phone. Once the pen is paired, you notice the phone handset relaying handwritten messages as tasks are performed. The speed of the whole process is impressive, the email process being swiftly displayed in mini-screens on your handset.

In the space of about ten seconds the phone checks that the email address matches an email address on your phone and allows you to correct mistakes. Once you're satisfied, you click ‘yes’ and there's a flurry of activity as the phone logs in and sends the data.

At this point, an Anoto server in Sweden authenticates the process and within seconds you get a confirmation the email has been sent. It can take as little as 20 seconds from completing the handwritten note to it arriving in an email inbox.

The ability to instantly email pages of notes without going via a PC comes at a price. ‘Unlimited email’ from the Chatpen means signing up for the Anoto subscription service, which currently costs £8 a month including helpdesk support. The subscription manager lets you create automated signatures with your contact details.

Subscription costs are bound to deter some people, but the Chatpen is proving popular among enterprise users who use custom-designed forms. An example is a Scottish drain inspection company that has a team of operatives armed with Chatpens, who are able in a single tick not only to email those who need to know about the status of the drains in question, but can update databases remotely merely by ticking a box on their customised forms.

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A minor criticism is that, beneath your text signature details, there appears a two-word default marketing message declaring 'Write on!'. This is likely to detract from your email; fortunately, a request to the helpdesk can get it removed.

Also included is an Anoto-developed desktop program for the Chatpen called ‘Paper Look-up Service for PC’ (PLS for PC). It simulates the exact behaviour of the mobile phone when communicating with the digital pen and the service software. You can in theory switch between emailing via Bluetooth through your mobile phone or your PC. However, we were unable to pair the Chatpen with a Widcomm Bluetooth adapter. Techical support recommended getting a compatible adapter, but USB connection would have been simpler.

Chatpen images are created in SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) format, and if the recipient downloads an SVG viewer they can see an animated replay of the page being filled at 100 frames a second. Regular email programs will display the static version of handwritten Chatpen emails.

We found the Chatpen useful during meetings, as you can discreetly email colleagues about developments while appearing to innocently make notes. The pen's LEDs change colour during emailing, but that's unlikely to give the game away until more people work out this device's impressive capabilities.

If you or your company value digital-pen-based communication, the Chatpen is the device to go for.

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