Livescribe Sky Pen Reviewed
Sometimes a pen is mightier than a tablet.
  • Livescribe
  • $169.00 and up. Refurbished pens are also available for much less.

by James Oppenheim.

Have you ever been in class or in a meeting, studiously taking notes when suddenly, it felt as if the person talking rattled off ten points, but you only got the first five? Or, perhaps you got them all, but now, you can't read your own handwriting. Wouldn't it be great if you could go back later, magically touch the paper where you got lost, and hear exactly what you missed? That is precisely the magic that the Sky WiFi Smartpen offers.

Here's how it works:

Like the previous devices from Livescribe, this one works as part of a system that includes the pen and special notebooks. When used together they bring handwriting into the twenty-first century. Everything you write in the notebooks is also recorded "digitally" in the pen's on-board memory. Better still, not only the words and drawing are stored; the pen also works as a voice recorder.

That alone would make this a pretty cool all-in-one gadget, but not a magical one.

The magic starts when you realize that you can view all your notes on your computer and on many connected devices. Not only can you see everything you wrote, but you can watch your notes unfold on the screen, animated and synced to the voice recordings. It all seems rather miraculous (see, Daniel 5:5-26), even more so because everything is transmitted from your pen to the Cloud and back again to your devices completely wirelessly. The Sky fits in a WiFi transmitter into a pen no larger than the previous wired version. Amazing. In fact, you only need a cable to charge the pen.

One thing that concerned me is whether a student could get a full day of recording on a single charge. Imagine, for instance, if you had six hours of class, but your pen only worked for three. In fact, battery life should easily get you through a day's classes.

The Livescribe system now seamlesly integrates into the very popular Evernote software. I've been using Evernote as my go-to notepad for years because it helps me organize my writing and at the same time make it accessible wherever I am on my computer, iPhone or tablet. Livescribe has all but ditched their old proprietary software in favor of Evernote. That means you can review your notes - and your recordings too - virtually anywhere on any device that can run Evernote.

Impressive, but things don't stop there. Let's say you want to send your note to someone via email who doesn't have a Sky pen, or Evernote either for that matter. No problem. Livescribe now works with HTML5, so it can all be viewed in a standard, modern browser.

As with previous iterations, the Sky pen doesn't work with just any notebook; you need special notebooks. However, to its credit, Livescribe's aren't much more expensive than standard notebooks. A 150 sheet three subject notebook costs $8.95. It does mean you need to have one handy when you want to take notes; write your million dollar idea on the back of a napkin and you're still going to need the napkin. This makes using the Sky a bit more of a premeditated affair. To make it somewhat easier to keep everything you need in one place they have a variety of cases.

As with your tablet or smartphone, pricing is largely a matter of how much memory you need. The least expensive model ($169 retail) can hold as much as 200 hours of recording and thousands of pages of notes. It should be more than adequate for most students. For a bit more ($199) they double the memory, though if you're thinking of going with the four gig version, consider buying the deluxe set for $249 as it includes an 8 gig pen, but a portfolio that holds the pen and notebook, and a 1 year subscription to Evernote Premium ($45 value) and exclusive Livescribe plan for Evernote, with 500MB of additional monthly upload capacity for smartpen notes and audio. Clearly, if you're going to be using the pen enough to justify the mid-level model, you're going to want the additional features and on-line space that you get with the Pro package.

Budget conscious shoppers (and who doesn't that include these days?) should note that at the on-line store they also sell refurbished pens for as low as $99!

The best gadgets help us to do important things better, and they do it with a bit of magic. Judged by that criteria the new Sky WiFi Smartpen is one of the best gadgets of the year. Simply put, if you have a high school or college age student in your life, or if you or your loved one needs to take notes from a class or work, this gadget should be on your short list for the holidays. is a project of Acme Computing Inc. Products reviewed are usually provided by the manufactures. Except where specifically stated no other consideration has been provided by the manufacturers. Copyright 1999-2012 Acme Computing Inc.