I seldom (read never in this venue) endorse paid products, but something has come to mind (not to mention to hand) that shifts the balance for at least this once. It is the Livescribe Echo Smartpen. While the price is a bit high for a ball-point pen, it is quite a deal for a pen that can do so much more than take notes.
I got the mid-range version of the Echo Smartpen because I didn’t know if I would really use it, or if it would perform as advertised. I am not disappointed with or with the capacity (4 gigabytes – over 400 hours of recording. The more expensive model has 8GB and boasts over 800 hours of recording).
Recording? Yep. The pen will record a lecture as you take notes. The microphone and playback built into the pen are excellent quality. But wait, you say, couldn’t you get that much recording, or more on a regular digital recorder? Possibly, but in the case of the Echo Smartpen, the notes you make are directly linked to the audio that is being simultaneously recorded. In fact, you can go back to your paper notes and touch the tip of the pen to any part of the notes to get the full audio replayed.
And that is just a part of what this pen does. You can upload your notes to a special desktop app for your computer (PC or Mac), and later search for information dynamically. Once notes are uploaded you can remove them from the pen and release the space in the device. That means, for me at least, that 4gb is plenty of room.
The pen also supports any number of apps, some free, and very few more than a few dollars in cost. These apps include specialized dictionaries, useful utilities, and even games. One of the apps that comes with the pen allows you to draw an eight-note piano on a page, and then play it with the pen tip, including several different instruments and several rhythm tracks.
For me, as a writer, I find the pen invaluable when it comes to brainstorming new story or novel ideas. I can make brief notes while waxing rhetorical about the idea and lose none of my ideas. You just gotta love that.
So, should you rush out and buy one of these? I did, but I’m Mr. Gadget Guy. I’d say go to Livescribe‘s site and watch the very brief videos that show how the pen works before springing for one. I’m glad I bought mine, and I’ve used it every day since I got it.