Historically, we’ve taken notes in two ways: with good old pen and paper, or with useful apps like Evernote running on our smartphones, tablets and computers. With the Livescribe 3 Smartpen, you get the best of both worlds: digital and physical copies of your notes with minimal additional effort.

Well, maybe it’s not the best of both worlds – but good parts of both at the very least.


The goal of the Livescribe 3 is simple: convert the hand-written notes you already take into a digital, shareable form right on the smartphone or tablet you already own. The way it does this is an elegant convergence of journaled dot paper, Bluetooth wireless technology, and intelligent camera tracking in the Livescribe 3 pen itself.

Notes you jot down on this special paper are analyzed on-the-fly by the free Livescribe+ app you’ll need installed on your device. Line-by-line as you write, your text and drawings are uploaded to the app with no additional effort, and are translated (to the best of the app’s ability) into digital text when applicable. This opens up the door for sending copies of your hand-written memos over email, or sending goofy sketches to buddies over text.

That is, if you don’t mind burning your more-costly dot paper on goofy sketches.

Now, the ability for the pen and app to digitally transcribe your notes is a great idea on paper (I’m sorry), but how well does it work in practice? Thankfully, it’s more often effective and accurate than not – that is, so long as you have mostly legible handwriting.

The conversion was largely accurate with a few expected exceptions, even with sloppy and sometimes unclear hand-writing like mine. The Livescribe 3 handles transcription of words, sentences and paragraphs very well, but don’t expect it to work as fluently for your math homework. It’s not so hot at interpreting algebraic symbols used in most mathematics. You can certainly still use it to keep log of your written Calculus notes, but the app won’t make it easily sharable in copy paste form like it will with simple text.

And for the texters out there, it works pretty well with emoticons and symbols too, aside from a few minor errors where it thinks my t’s are plusses, my < symbols are s’s and so on.

In terms of where and how you can share your notes, your options are the typical iOS fare: through text or iMessage, email, and on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. You can also AirDrop notes to people on your wireless network – great for a dorm room setup. You can tag notes for categorization, attach voice recordings and photos from your phone, and choose to translate from over 9 different languages. And you can do most all of it without setting the pen down.

For instance, you can start recording any oral notes you might like to attach to a specific section of notes simply by tapping the record button in the left bottom corner of the page. It’s as easy as tapping record, pausing when need be, and stopping when you’ve captured enough. The audio is attached right to the digital page in-app, and playable back at any time. It’s a wonderfully useful feature if you can’t keep up with a particularly speedy professor in class.

But the pen isn’t without its problems: I often found it difficult to get started very quickly, as the pen doesn’t always immediately connect, or doesn’t at all sometimes unless you quit and restart the app entirely. Thankfully, the light atop the pen turns blue when connected, letting you know you’re good to start writing.

What I found most impressive about the pen was that, even while I was having trouble getting my pen to connect one evening, I took some notes down anyway. I accidentally deleted the app from my phone, reinstalled it, and the pen connected instantly. I was about to retake the notes I’d jotted earlier, but realized they were already displaying in my digital notebook – seemingly transferred over even when I thought it wasn’t.

The Livescribe 3 comes in two pricey flavors: the $149.95 Standard Edition and the $199.95 Pro Edition. The standard edition includes the pen, a 50-sheet journal of dot paper, a micro-USB charging cable, and an ink cartridge. The Pro Edition nets you a leather smartpen portfolio, a 100-sheet hardback journal of dot paper, a charging cable, an ink cartridge, and a one-year membership to Evernote Premium.

You can snag a Livescribe 3 on a number of sites and stores like Amazon and Apple, but also directly from the company on the pen’s official website.

This is truly a smartpen, but it’s by no means the perfect note-taking solution. But while it has its setbacks, I can’t help but be charmed by the neatness of the thing. Even if I have little interest in sharing my notes with others, a crux in its design, there’s a novelty to having instantaneous backups of my hand-written notes on the spot.

And if they can upgrade the pen’s conversion ability over time through updates, I’ll be even more on board.