While we do effectively live “in the future,” some days it can feel like we’re no more advanced now than we were 60 years ago. We still have to go to the store to buy food instead of having it materialize in little cubbyholes at the command of “Tea. Earl Grey.” Your car can’t fly, and, despite advances, we’re still not able to surf the Net with our brains. Heck, even just sitting in class or in a meeting, you still have to take notes by hand—and if you miss something important, well, that’s that. Try to write faster next time.

But one company is aiming to bring us into the future and revolutionize note-taking at the same time!

▼Note-taking as it is today (if you’re in Japan).notes3

Livescribe is a tech company specializing in “smartpens,” which, unfortunately, aren’t pens that will take tests for you. Maybe next decade. Instead, the pens enhance your note-taking by digitizing everything you write and recording audio. By themselves, those two features are neat—it’s pretty crazy to see your notes appear on-screen exactly as scribbled across the page. But that’s not all it does!

On Monday, Excite Bit, the Japanese technology news site, debuted a review of the newest version of the smartpen, explaining one of the more magical aspects of this device. Not only does the pen capture your writing and audio, they explained, but it will also play back the audio recorded at the exact moment something was written.

▼Check out the video below for a demonstration.
(You can skip from about 0:16 to 0:40.)

This saves you from having to skip back and forth, searching for the exact right moment in the recording—you can simply tap something you’ve written and the pen will start playing the corresponding audio!

At least, that’s the theory. But we’ve all seen grand new technology utterly fail, right? So how did Excite Bit find it?

Well, after turning on the TV and radio to make the room nice and noisy, their reporter set out to take some notes. Talking to himself, he scribbled some words on the page. Playing back the audio from the beginning, he said he was able to hear everything sharp and clear—even the TV and radio. So, the microphone and speaker work as advertised, though we think there might be some concern that the speaker will pick up too much sound. We’re wondering if the background noise will overwhelm the speaker’s voice.

Next, the writer pressed the pen against the page, touching the point where he’d began speaking. Amazingly enough, his own voice rolled out of the pen’s speaker clear and distinct. And, sure enough, the audio corresponded time-wise exactly to his notes. As far as the Excite Bit tech writer was concerned, the future has arrived!


Another futuristic point he mentioned was its wifi capabilities. This is actually the third generation of Livescribe’s smartpens—previous versions required a USB cable to transfer data to a computer. With the newest version, though, you can upload data directly from your pen to EverNote.

So, how does this nifty little device work? Apparently, the pen is equipped with an infrared camera which “reads” the dots on specially printed paper, allowing it to “know” where it is on the page. It’s also the smartpen’s biggest downside—without the special dotted paper, the pen has no idea where it is on the page. That means that without it, while you can still record audio, your handwritten notes won’t get digitized. On the other hand, the special paper has “controls” on the top and bottom of the page. By pressing the tip of the pen against the printed controls, you can have the pen perform different functions.

All-in-all, it’s a pretty cool piece of technology. Especially in Japan, where classroom note-taking is practically an art form. While there are numerous note-taking methods the world over, it never ceases to amaze how well-formatted and cleanly written most Japanese students’ notes are. Just imagine combining these with a smartpen!

▼The formatting for these notes is better than some magazines. notes

▼Are you sure you wrote these by hand?

While it does require special paper to use, we can’t help wanting some of these smartpens! They would make taking notes on Mr. Sato‘s next adventure much easier.

Sources: Excite Bit, Livescribe
Image sources: Livescribe, Zkaiblog (School notes)

▼Check out Livescribe’s smartpen commercial to learn more about its features.