When we reviewed the Livescribe Echo Smartpen, we praised it for its ease of use, practicality and wealth of apps. Livescribe aims to improve on the Echo with its Sky WiFi Smartpen, which now syncs wirelessly so that your written brainstorms immediately and audio notes get uploaded to your Evernote account. Is Livescribe's newest business and student-friendly pen truly mightier?
How it works
As long as the pen is on and you're writing on Livescribe's Dot Paper, the Sky and the paper work as a team to capture both audio (if you're recording) as well as your penstrokes. The audio and your scribbles are synced together, so that if you press the pen to something you've already written, it will play back the audio recorded at that point.
Unlike previous versions of the Livescribe pen, if the Sky is connected to a Wi-Fi network, then both your notes and recordings will be uploaded to your free Web-based Evernote account. All you have to do is hit "Sync Now," which is located on the inside cover of the Starter Notebook that came with our review unit. We wish "Sync Now" buttons were on every page so that we didn't have to keep flipping back and forth between the inside of the cover and the page on which we wanted to write .
At 6.2 x 0.8 inches and 1.3 ounces, the Sky is the same size as the Echo. The front of the pen is curved and the back is flat in the center, which makes it easy to grip. The glossy body is gray on the bottom half and black on top. The front has a 96 x 18 pixel OLED display, which was the same size on the Echo. The speaker, microphone and power button also are all located on the front as well, while a Livescribe logo sits directly above the power button.
The bottom of the pen, where the ink cartridge is located, has an unattractive gap which makes the pen look like it's missing a piece. However, the gap is necessary because it allows the Sky's camera to record what you're writing.
The top of the Sky WiFi has a microUSB port for both charging and local syncing. There's also a 3.5mm audio jack next to it. Livescribe sells a pair of earbuds with recording capability for $19.95. However, we wish this accessory were included, as it was with the Pulse.
Note-taking and Audio Playback
Writing and recording notes with the Sky WiFi is pretty simple. If you just want to save a digital copy of your scratchings, just turn the Sky on and start writing on Livescribe's dot paper. If you want to record audio while writing, just tap the Record button on the bottom of the dot paper with the tip of your pen. To stop or pause recording, tap those corresponding buttons on the bottom of the page.
You can play your notes back in a few ways. If you recorded audio while writing, tap on any part of those notes with the pen and the Sky will start playing back what it recorded when you were scribbling down that particular section of text. You can also view your handwritten notes and listen to your recordings by installing a local version of Evernote and syncing your pen's data with it via USB, or by logging into your Web-based Evernote account.
To connect the Sky to a network, flip to the inside cover of the included Starter Notebook and tap Wi-Fi Off/On under Wi-Fi Settings. Then, tap Scan for Networks. Available Wi-Fi network names will then appear on the pen's OLED display; tap the up or down arrows under Find your Network on the notebook to scroll to the name of the desired network. If that network requires you to enter a password, use the keyboard in the area labeled Wi-Fi Setup on the notebook.
From then on, as long as you're connected to a Wi-Fi network, all of your handwritten notes and audio recordings will be uploaded to your Evernote account by pressing Sync Now.
The inside of the Starter Notebook also has buttons labeled Facebook, Dropbox, Google Drive and Me (email), but if you tap those buttons with the Sky, its screen will read "Coming soon." According to the company, these are capabilities that will be enabled sometime next year.
The Sky comes with 500MB of storage on Evernote, which automatically groups your notes into a few categories. "All Personal Notes" stores both handwritten notes along with audio recordings. "WiFi Starter Notebook 1" holds your handwritten notes and names the folder according to what Livescribe paper product you used to write your note(s) on. "Livescribe Recordings" stores your audio recordings. Your recordings can be accessed on any platform Evernote is compatible with, including Mac, PC, Android and iOS.
When we wanted to play back an audio recording on our PC, we selected it and then double-clicked on the file that appeared on the right side of the screen. This opened a new page that automatically played the recording, though we wish it opened the audio in a new tab instead of forcing us to click Back to return to our Evernote account page.
Handwritten notes appear in two colors: green and black. Notes in black do not have audio recordings associated with them, while notes in green do. To play back a note's recorded audio, click on a note that has a recording attached to it and Evernote will open a new page and play the recording in full automatically.
Green text is animated, so your penstrokes will be recreated as the playback progresses. If you click on the beginning of a note, Evernote will play back the audio back again in full and repeat the animation along with it. If you click on any other part of that note, the audio playback and animation will start from roughly that point.
Like on the Web account, Evernote for iOS groups your notes into a similar folder structure. You can listen to audio associated with your writings by tapping on green text, but instead of playing the recording automatically, Evernote gives you two options: Open Link and View Image. View Image simply displays the note, and Open Link reopens the same note on another page. Here, if you tap the note that has an audio recording paired with it, Evernote will then begin to play the audio you recorded when you wrote that particular note. We found this to be counterintuitive and we wish the audio would just play automatically by tapping on the text.
While Livescribe's app store will remain active and works with previous generations of Livescribe pens (the Pulse and the Echo), it won't work with the Sky. This is disappointing, especially considering that the app roster sports some interesting choices, including games such as "Hangman" and "Sudoku" along with foreign language phrases for travelers and more. Unfortunately, Livescribe doesn't have plans to change this anytime soon.
The Sky WiFi Smartpen comes in three capacities; 2GB, 4GB and 8GB. The company claims that the 2GB can store up to 200 hours of audio, while the 4GB can hold 400 hours and the 8GB has space for 800 hours. The 2GB retails for $149.95, while the 4GB and 8GB go for $199.95 and $249.95, respectively. Each pen ships with two ink cartridges, two caps, a microUSB cable, a Livescribe Starter Dot Paper Notebook, 500GB of Evernote storage and software that's compatible with Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.
The 8GB version also includes one year of Evernote Premium, which doubles your maximum account of storage from 500MB to 1GB, lets you view past versions of notes, gives you offline notebook access for Android or iOS and more. The 8GB Sky also ships with the black Smartpen Portfolio, which can store the Starter Notebook along with any Livescribe Pen. After your free year of Evernote Premium expires, you can opt to continue for either $5 per month or $45 per year.
Remember that the pen itself represents only one part of the equation; in order to tap into its full potential, you need to use it in tandem with the company's dot paper. Livescribe's notebooks come in a variety of forms and prices. Some include three- subject 8.5 x 11-inch college ruled notebooks for $8.95. Two packs of 5.5 x 8.25-inch notebooks cost $24.95. There are even Livescribe Sticky Notes, which ship with three 75-page 3 x 3-inch pads and three 75-page 3 x 5-inch pads for $12.95 altogether. You can also print out the company's dot paper for free.
Note that certain Livescribe paper products, including journals, notepads and notebooks, are numbered 1 through 4. Livescribe's site warns you to refrain from using two identically numbered products because the pen will recognize any identically numbered product as the same one.
With the Sky WiFi Smartpen, Livescribe took a terrific product and took one big step forward. Adding Wi-Fi makes the Sky an even better study buddy and business sidekick than past versions. The fact that Livescribe's app library works with the older models but not with the Sky is disappointing, but trumped by its wireless features. If you frequently handwrite your notes and record lectures or meetings, the Livescribe Sky WiFi Smartpen is the next best thing to having your own stenographer.