Digital Pens

In some ways, this is a fork of the thread, Integrating Moleskine & other paper-based notes. Was at a store today and saw the Fly Fusion pen and LiveScribe’s Pulse smartpen. And googling around, I found Iogear’s Digital Scribe.

Fly Fusion:
Pros: Can turn handwriting and drawings into digital text and images. Plays MP3s (but I already have an iPod for that). Has more apps (and the Journal and Music Studio ones are really calling out to me).
Cons: Needs special dotted paper, can’t record audio.

LiveScribe Pulse:
Pros: Records audio. Paper Replay means finding points in the audio very quickly.
Cons: Can’t turn handwriting into digital text. Needs special dotted paper. PDF template of special paper not available yet. Can’t play MP3s (but I have the iPod for that).

Pros: Can be used with any kind of paper.
Cons: Receiver must be hooked into a computer (via USB) for the handwriting and drawings to be digitized.

When I saw the Fly Fusion and Pulse, I thought, “Special paper? Ew. Gimme a composition book anyday.” As for the Iogear, ick, the point of carrying around a notebook is to not have to deal with a laptop’s startup time. The weight and size of a notebook are also issues but less so with netbooks hitting between 2 – 3 lbs. Anyways, one looks awkward writing into a notepad for extended periods of time when a computer is there, waiting to be typed on. I wouldn’t sit at a library or café like that.

So I’m torn between the Fly Fusion and Pulse. For drawing, it seems like they tie. However, for note-taking for college classes, the Pulse is a better product while for writing short stories, the Fly Fusion is better.

Of course none of these have Mac software. LiveScribe has been promising a Mac version for a while now but they’ve also been promising a PDF template for their special paper. I have VMWare’s Fusion and a license for Windows XP so running the software shouldn’t be a problem. But, well, it’s Windows.

I think that for me, the winner will be the first one either to come out with Mac software or sell their dotted papers in composition books. They both have US Letter sized notebooks but I rather move around with a bag smaller than a messenger bag. LiveScribe has notebooks in US Half Letter but those are too small to comfortably write in for extended periods. Comp books and B5 notebooks are a good compromise. Anyways, someday, there will be a winner. Someday.

I’ve tried one or two of these.

In addition to those you mention, there are the Logitech Io2 pen, the AceCad pad, and the Pegasus system, and I’m sure there are others.

Of these, the AceCad was most reliable, and the Pegasus most usefully mobile. But, for me, all of them had at least two disadvantages. First, the pens were too fat for extended comfortable handwriting (see the Io 2). And second, handwriting-to-digital-text conversion turned out to be a so far unacceptably imperfect technology (at least for my handwriting). One day, probably, that technology will work (as voice-recognition is starting to do). But not yet.

Maybe they’re fine if you just want to use the digital part for storage of sketches or handwriting, but not if you want to do any more.

David Pogue did a review of a few of these pens that do not require a special tablet in a recent NYT article.

If they really worked, I would have finally found my ideal means for writing oudtoor. But my tests with both a scanned page interpreted by Adobe Acrobat, and Max OS X’s own handwriting recognition engine, makes me feel that either these systems are not yet ready, or I’m not ready for them. Maybe the lack of an Italan mode is an additional problem for me. In any case, I feel I will not go anywhere with things like this:

If anybody can tell of a real experience with these tools, I would be very grateful, since I don’t want to think there is no way to use them.



Makes me appreciate my little green friend even more… (note that despite the last paragraph I can connect it to OS X)

Oooh, thanks for the link. Yay, that big stack of comp books I bought on sale — hey, at 50¢ each, they were a steal — won’t go to waste after all. The ZPen one looks very convenient with automatic new page recognition. I was gonna comment that the Iogear one might be a better value to me since I use Photoshop a lot but then I realize that, ooops, I have the Mac version and there are no apps in Windows that I use a tablet for.

I’m leaning towards the ZPen but it seems they both have sucky character recognition.

After all it took me to find one, I never had the heart of selling my MP130. But I was never able to make it recognize my handwriting. The lack of an Italian dictionary, and of the ability of reading Italian shaped characters, makes it very difficult to use any kind of handwriting on the Mac in these lands.

You bet - I would love to understand how you managed to do this!


Oooh, I remember wanting one of those. The first Newtons had sucky recognition but I always wondered, what if they delayed the Newton and debuted with the second one instead.

But by the time I could afford a PDA, Palm Pilots were the hot thing. They were great for little things like calendars and addresses. But writing on them was icky — writing one letter at a time in one small rectangle and having to relearn how to write on top of did not feel natural at all — so I still carried around notebooks. Oh, and the stylus always gets lost somehow. At least with pens and pencils, if you lose one, there’s usually a store of some kind within a mile that will sell some.

Anyways, there are few digital substitutions for paper and pen. Though, that doesn’t mean that I have to stop looking.

Adding a small app allows you to write on the whole of the palm screen. As for writing one letter at a time, I have to do that when writing on paper funnily enough. Admittedly, learning the graffiti was difficult for about the first fifteen minutes.

What I really like about my palm (and I still have an old m515) is the portable keyboard which folds up as small as the palm. That, along with docs to go, which allows me to write rtf documents, make for a decent word processor. With a small amount of apple scripting my documents are automatically imported into scrivener every time I connect. 8)

Sigh. I had the Handspring/Palm Treo 90, with a foldable infra-red keyboard and the WordSmith word processor. The word processor was great. Shame I could never learn how to type on that thing withouth touching 70% of wrong characters, or adjust the keyboard/palm combo in a comfortably way.

The Samsung Q1 seems better, but still positioning it correctly is a big hassle to me (but I could only play with one at the shop, not use it intensively). Also, it is too big to fit in my pocket, and “trasnparent” portability is what I’m looking for mostly.


Yeah, there are only a few languages that are supported, unfortunately. I mostly hear about english, german, and japanese versions. I think there are a couple more but not many.

I think the MP130 has newton OS version 2, which means a program called NCX will do the job. It looks a lot like the old NCU, but runs natively on OS X. I combined that with a USB/serial converter since I have a MP2100 with the custom interconnect port. If the 130 has a regular round serial port you’d use a different USB/serial converter. (Not all work, but I’ve heard that keyspan is the one to get.)

Really? I don’t, I write a whole word before picking up my pen. Cursive is much faster than printing :slight_smile:

Yeah, even with a 22-hour battery life (use, not standby), the newton does still require batteries. Paper doesn’t.

On the other hand, you can keep a whole lot more stuff on a newton without increasing the weight… :wink:

Since I must use Windows anyway (under Parallels Desktop) I’m thinking to just write on the field with a common pen and a notebook of fine paper, and then dictate my notes to Dragon Naturally Speaking. Looking at the videos on the internet, it seems it is rather accurate. Any experience, anyone?

Reading aloud my notes should not consume more time than scanning handwritten notes. And reading notes is a good exercise to return on them later.


When I’ve used Dragon under Parallels, I’ve found that it starts out very accurate and then becomes less so. Sort of as if it has trouble keeping up after a while. Possible solutions are to give the Parallels virtual machine more memory, and to stop dictating and save periodically. I don’t use the software enough to have spent any time troubleshooting, though.


OK, I’ve done it. Bought Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Standard for Win, installed it on my MacBook Pro, done a little training.

Then, today in the evening, with a notebook of white paper and my preferred roller pen on the passenger seat, I pointed my car toward the mountains, to look for some fresher air and a place to sit and write. While the gasoline was lowering at a dangerous rate, I continued to be attracted by a refuge from whose windows I can look down at the small village I spent so much of my early youth in. The white road began, the red light in my car cockpit continued to light. But I arrived there. Inside, gas lamps where already lit. From the windows, I could look at a couple regions and to the lights of my small village down the valley at sunset.

After eating excellent lenticchie, wood-oven baked bread and pecorino, I wrote a tale. Something I’ve done so rarely during the latest years. I was rediscovering, together with the lenticchie with mountain spices of the Rifugio del Fargno, the old, delicious taste of writing by hand. It was not only the tip of my fingers that was giving commands to a machine to write a story. They were my hands, and my arms, and my shoulders, and maybe my belly, to directly touch the paper where words were forming one after the other.

When I went out, I had to lay down in the grass looking at the stars, so near to my face over that soft roof. I started to follow the lines of the Milky Way, to look at the few constellations I could identify, to think that Jupiter was really shining there for good luck. I was so happy, that I was probably starting to fly over the fields.

Suddenly, I was at the cockpit driving down as a mad. At home, it took me a little less than half an hour to dictate my four-pages tale, and ten minutes were needed for further editing. I and the program were both still not trained, and it was still waiting to be fully dominated. And I refuse to use the headset. However, it did its work. I have big notebooks full of untranscribed stories, poems and sparse ideas, and have never got the time to put them on file. Now, I know I have a way to re-transcribe them in a quick, non boring or fatiguing way.



That is a lovely story and a wonderful solution to transcribing handwriting. I just set up MacSpeech (the still-teething Mac version of Dragon) for a friend and was astonished at how good speech recognition has become. It never occurred to me that you could use it to just speak your notes!


I’m awaiting for the Italian version of Dictation. However, its price seems to me still a bit too high when compared to Dragon (a cleverly programmed app, that makes living on Windows as easy as it can). But maybe it is worth the price.


I was just wondering how bobueland would react to reading your last but one post.

Having emasculated; vilified and castigated the copywriter responsible for the rubbish trotted out as an advertisement for a sink top. I reckon hed be saying, "Now! Thats the way it, should, be done!"

That post of yours, not only qualifies as an utterly charming and beautifully written piece. It also has to be the best advert for a product, I`ve seen in a long long time :wink:

I`m waiting for the next one you write!! :smiley:
Take care

I’ve been looking at these pens, but haven’t made the plunge yet. Somewhere in my researching, I did find where the special paper can usually be printed out, so you’re not out a lot of money (unless you want to be). One site had downloadable templates, as I recall.

My solution (such as it is) is to just write with my fountain pens on that day’s paper of choice (usually either Clairefontaine or Levenger’s) and then scan in the pages at the end of the day. I have the Fujitsu ScanSnap S510M and it’s a gem! Quick and single or double sided scan. I’ll add in some tags for the PDF rather than transcribe the whole thing. The tags, along with a descriptive title, have so far made them easy to locate.

I’d love the handwriting recognition, but I think it’s a long way out yet. While I can print if I have to (and legibly!) I much prefer longhand and with my fountain pens enjoy the actual process of writing rather than just “having written.” :slight_smile:

Still, a good digital pen would save the scan step, but I’ve fine with my setup until something great comes along.

Edited to add: I’ve never been able to write fiction in longhand, at least not more than a page or two before my fingers itch to type, so when I talk about writing above, it’s notes about my story, preliminary sketches, research notes, that sort of thing. So tags that are searchable in Spotlight are all that I need to find the info again.


I confirm there are some problems with Dragon - at least under Parallels. From time to time, it stops working, saying that it has reached the maximum number of words it can memorize. Very odd. I must restart, and reopen my document again.

While this doesn’t seem to do harm to my file, it is very annoying. But I admit I’m still enjoying dictating, and at the moment these oddities are not very frequent. At least, they are no worse than all the oddities I always meet when working under Windows.