Livescribe Sky Wi-Fi Smartpen (Part 1)

5/13/2013 3:07:19 PM

For a new-born company which is just 5 years old and focuses on a relatively narrow market niche, Livescribe develops with an admirably fast pace. Its smartpens which help digitizing smartly the handwritten comments and notes draw many attentions from a million users. However, the fact that these customers enjoy writing their notes traditionally by hand does not mean that they are obsessed by technology progress. In reality, many people among them are waiting for a new feature: a total wireless workflow, which will allows them to write their notes with a smartpen and then without any dock or syncing – their scribbles suddenly appear in cloud and or mobile devices.

The Livescribe Sky smartpen

The Livescribe Sky smartpen

As you must have known by now, that is the gap that the new Sky pen is trying to fill. It first operates very similarly to their predecessors, Pulse and Echo: it contains a camera and microphone, which allows capturing handwritten notes and time-linked audio files. (There are choices for you between 2GB, 4GB and 8GB for the built-in storage). There next things that happen, however, are very different. You use “buttons” printed in the exclusive stationery of Livescribe, with the pen’s OLED screen, to choose local Wi-Fi network, enter the password and synch directly to Evernote. Then the mainstream online noting platform takes care of every other thing, automatically load the documents and audios to cloud by using time stamp, making it available in any device which runs applications or web interfaces of Evernote. Moreover, the note can be easily search with the help of the optical character recognition (ORC) of your handwriting.

If there is any inconvenience for the users to get their requirements, it absolutely is that they are expected to pay for it. The Sky’s basic model has the same price tag as Echo’s launched price, $170, but the older pen’s internal storage is doubled the new one, and at the present, Echo can even be discounted. Moreover, the 4GB and 8GB Sky pen have the prices of $200 and $250 respectively, which means that it is just rational if you really do not enjoy writing or typing on screen. Even when assuming that you absolutely like the pen and ink solution, is a $170 pen worth its price? Just keep reading to determine.


As ever, that customized stationery, which is crossed by small marks allowing the pen’s camera to identify its position on the page and then operate its miracles, starts everything of the Livescribe experience. There is no pressure sensor inside the pen, so it will not properly attract sketchbook artists or threaten the Wacom Inkling – but recording ideas rather than art is the actual reason for its design.

The customized stationery

The customized stationery

The stationery is accompanied by the printed buttons working with the screen’s OLED display to help you navigating the settings and synch to available networks. In general, besides some synching issues described in the software part below, this method of control is very intuitive – the pen always knows which button you mean to tap.

You can print your own stationery by any normal inkjet, but the available ones in the market have good quality and desirable – especially when you choose one of the premium options. Unfortunately, the 2GB pen which is evaluated here just comes with the only one 50-page “Starter” notepad. It seems to be insufficient and skimpy considering with its high cost. You do not get anything better with the $200 4GB model of Sky, either but actually the whole meaning of this smartpen’s idea is benefiting from the cloud storage, so you should not bother with the larger capacity anyways.

Everything that you get in the box is a spare nib and some pen caps, with a normal USB cable to charge the pen from a spare port on your PC. We really expected the charging dock coming with the pen in the box, but this is just another missing opportunity to make the pen as luxury as its $170 price tag. Even though you are not hesitant to pay more, such dock is still not available now.

There is also a huge omission which is the additional $20 fee, not included in the original price, to own what is called the 3D earphones and benefit the full power of this device. There is indeed a normal 3.5mm earphone jack which makes the pen compatible with the popular earphones from third parties, but it is not the complete story. For instance, if you plug the iPhone earphone in, you will be able to record the ambient noise without mixing with the scratching sound of the pen (which affects recordings made by internal microphone), but you cannot use it to record phone calls. The exclusive 3D earphone has this essential advantage: due to the position of the stereo microphones, it seems to be exceptional in recoding two sides of the meeting via phones without using the external speakers. The Pulse comes with just such earphones, but if you need a note in a phone meeting, just think about paying that extra money.

The 3D headset

The 3D headset

In terms of the over-sized quill, its diameter is about 14mm at the point where you regularly hold, and it feels like holding the chunky marker with a slightly rubbery coating. It is relatively easy enough to hold if your hand is big, and we used it to annotate 10 pages without recognizing any concern. But it should be noted that a small-hand person is just able to write a couple of pages before starting to grate.

Just a quick overview about the battery life, if you remember to switch the pen off and deactivate Wi-Fi when it is not necessary, the pen can suffer for weeks. Our pen still has 30% capacity after 10 days of using. During this period, we used it to annotate roughly 20 pages of notes and recorded a one-hour audio across many different meetings.

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