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Customer Review

on 15 January 2012
I bought this pen in a recent Lightning Sale. It was an impulse purchase - it looked fun, I could see how it might be useful. By way of comparison, before purchasing I also looked at the Livescribe Echo pens. Broadly, these have the advantages over the Staedtler pen of being self-contained (no base unit to clip to the page), of being able to record audio, and of apps including Evernote. Drawbacks are the heavier weight of the pen, a bulky design that some reviewers found uncomfortable to use over longer periods, and the need for proprietary paper. The Staedtler pen, on the other hand, is light, comfortable to use, uses off-the-shelf ballpen refills, and works on any kind of paper.

I am going to focus mainly on how this pen works with Microsoft programs in this review, partly in answer to the earlier reviewer who couldn't see how to get it to work, and partly because it's not totally obvious, and may be useful to other people, and might save you some time in figuring it out.

The pen works directly with Microsoft programs such as the Office apps, including Word and Outlook. I am using Office 2010 and Windows 7 64-bit, but as the instruction manual that comes with the pen refers to Vista and Word 2007, it should work with those too. Windows supports the pen as a generic input device. A couple of tips (these are basically in the manual, but it's not that clear):

1. Try plugging the base unit into a usb port of your computer before installing any of the bundled software. Windows will automatically recognise it and install the necessary software, as with any other USB plug-n-play device. Windows installs the pen as an input device, and supplies new tabs and toolbars in Office applications.

2. Open an Office app, eg Word. You may already have a new tab called "Ink Tools" with a sub-heading of "Pens". If not, just tap the pen on the paper in front of the base unit, and the new tab should appear. The pen is now being treated like a mouse, and you can use it for input just as you would a mouse, including eg, tapping on menus, selecting things, highlighting, drawing on the screen/page etc. You can input handwritten text directly into Office documents, although mastering control of where the pointer is in the document or on the screen may need a little practice. Handwritten text may also look a bit like it would if you were using a mouse to write with... I think getting as slick with editing documents as is shown in the promo video on the Staedtler site is likely to take some practice. On the other hand, anyone used to using a graphics tablet or similar input device would immediately be at home with it. The interface of this pen with Microsoft programs essentially gives you a tablet style input device without the tablet.

3. Also newly installed, and with a default positioning of off to the side of the screen, is a new toolbar. On my laptop it is barely visible, appearing as a thin grey sliver (colour may depend on your desktop style) at centre screen on the extreme left. Tapping the edge of it with the mouse (or the pen, if you've got that far with getting the hang of it) you now have a box that can be used to enter handwriting that is converted to typed text as you write. This box can be used to add typed text to Word documents, to emails in Outlook, or text to other Office programs. Eg, you could handwrite your email but have it sent as typed text. (I'm not saying that's useful, necessarily, just trying to give an idea of how it can work).

3. Note that the pen works as a mouse with Windows in general, not just with Office, so you can use it on the desktop, and within Windows menus etc.

4. The help info for the new toolbar is short and probably worth a brief read to get an overview on how to use it (it's the question mark icon with a pen across it in the right hand corner of the new toolbar). A small learning curve, but it is pretty easy to get the idea.

I have yet to explore the MyScript Studio Notes or the Staedtler Mobile Notetaker software in depth, but at first try they seem easy to use.

I have to agree with other reviewers, the handwriting recognition is extremely good. I have mainly tried it with Office, and it is streets ahead of what I was expecting, from last trying out such software some years ago. Even in very testing conditions - appallingly bad scrawling written whilst lying down with a piece of paper resting on a magazine balanced on my midriff, the base unit clipped on precariously, none of it lying flat, and my laptop propped against my knees - it produced very good results, which is a tribute to both the hardware and the software.

Overall I think this pen has the potential to be a very useful device. It is very straightforward to use with the supplied note-taking and handwriting recognition software. Using it with Windows and Office programs might entail a short learning period if, like me, you are not used to using tablet style inputs, but I can see a lot of both practical and fun uses for it once one gets the hang of it.
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