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Kool Tools:

Volume Number: 25
Issue Number: 05
Column Tag: Kool Tools

Kool Tools: Pulse Smartpen and Livescribe Desktop

by Dennis Sellers

LiveScribe ( debuted its self-titled, Mac-compatible software for the Pulse smartpen at January's Macworld Conference & Expo, where it won a Best of Show award from MacTech and Macsimum News. It's a specialized product with a bit of a learning curve, but, for a certain group of users, it could be invaluable.

Livescribe's Pulse smartpen captures handwriting and simultaneously records audio and synchronizes it to the writing so you don't have to miss a word you hear, write or speak. Students, medical professionals and others may find this dual purposing a timesaving and efficient way to improve their workflow.

Not only can you record, but, after recording, you can tap on your notes to replay what was recorded from the exact moment you started writing.

With the Livescribe Desktop software, notes and audio recordings can then be transferred to a Mac, where they can be digitally stored, searched, or shared. A short demo of the Livescribe Desktop software is available at The Livescribe Desktop software for Mac will be available as a free download at on February 17.

The Livescribe/Pulse combination comes with a training notebook, which you'll have to work through to use the technology efficiently. The notebook is filled with icons that you tap with the Pulse smartpen to activate features and walk you through those features.

First, you must set the time and date on the smartpen. That's important because files you create with your smartpen are named using the time and date they're created.

You should note that the Pulse smartpen requires Livescribe dot paper. This paper is standard paper but with printed microdots on its surface. These dots are nearly invisible to the human eye. However, the smartpen can see these dots and uses them to know which page you are writing on and the exact location on that page. The smartpen can even see these dots through the ink you write on your pages.

Livescribe dot paper products sometimes re-use dot pattern. As a general rule, you shouldn't use Livescribe dot paper products with the same dot pattern at the same time. This prevents a problem that can happen when viewing your notebooks in Livescribe Desktop: when you write in two notebooks with the same pattern, your notes from the second notebook will be superimposed on your notes from the first notebook when you view them in Livescribe Desktop.

When you power on the Pulse smartpen and begin writing on Livescribe paper, the smartpen captures and stores the notes you write. The Pulse makes use of the Nav Plus, a paper-based, five-way navigator that enables you to navigate through the smartpen Main Menu and application menus.

To capture your writing, the smartpen uses its built-in infrared camera to take digital snapshots of the dot pattern as the tip moves over the paper as you write.

When recording audio using the Paper Replay application, the smartpen links the recorded audio to your notes based on the dot pattern on the page. With this information, the smartpen can play back the audio that was recorded at the exact time you were writing your notes.

While your smartpen is paused, it will continue to capture a copy of your digital notes. Any notes that you write after you tap pause are linked to the audio that occurred the moment before you tapped Pause. When you tap on notes that were written while paused, your smartpen will play back the recording from the moment just before you tapped Pause.

There are several ways to control the playback of an audio file on your smartpen and quickly locate any section of the audio file. You can also adjust the playback speed. However, audio that's played back either sped up or slowed down is no longer in stereo. Audio plays in mono until it's returned to normal speed. The Pulse smartpen also support Bookmarks, which allow you to flag a section of audio and later jump to it.

You can add bookmarks while you're recording or later when you are listening to your audio session. After you've added bookmarks to an audio session, you can scan through the bookmarks using the Previous and Next bookmark buttons.

If you want to record audio but can't or don't want to write on Livescribe dot paper, you can create a "paperless" Paper Replay session. To create a paperless session, begin recording audio and don't take any notes. The new paperless session will appear in the Paper Replay session list.

The Pulse also supports background recording, which lets you launch and run another Pulse smartpen application while you're using the Paper Replay application. Paper Replay will continue recording in the background, but no ink is linked to any audio, because the new application you launched is receiving the input from your pen strokes.

You can use the Audio quality setting to change the compression rate of the recorded AAC audio -- the higher the audio quality, the lower the compression rate. As a result, files recorded with the highest audio quality setting will be larger files that require more storage space. These settings can't be changed during recording. Always select the appropriate audio quality setting prior to recording.

Additionally, you can change the smartpen microphone sensitivity for different recording situations. Again, these settings can't be changed while recording, so always select the appropriate microphone setting before beginning a recording. The microphone will stay set at the last setting you chose, so make sure you set it back to Automatic after each use.

The Pulse set sports a calculator that's located on the inside covers of your notebook performs basic math functions, as well as many scientific, financial, and statistical functions. Quick Commands let you write a one-line command with your Pulse smartpen and get an immediate response on your smartpen display.

With the Translator Demo, you can translate a small set of words and the numbers zero to nine from English into Spanish, Swedish, Arabic, or Mandarin. By writing a word in English in your notebook, you can see and hear correct translation from your Pulse smartpen. It's a clever feature, but the number of words is very limited.

The Livescribe Desktop has existed as a Windows solution for a while before a Mac version was released. But now that it's here, it has some features available only for Mac users. Mac users can export and share their notes as PDF files locally from Livescribe Desktop. They can export audio files (in AAC format) separately from notes so they can play them back in iTunes. And they can change the on-screen ink color of their digital notes.

You connect the Pulse to your Mac via an USB cradle. The cradle also charges the pen.

The Pulse smartpen is available in two models. Priced at US $149, the 1GB model provides storage for over 100 hours of recorded audio. At $199, the 2GB model doubles the storage capacity.

Dennis Sellers is a long time journalist. He started in the newspaper business, but has been in the online journalism business for the past 15 years. He's the editor/publisher of Macsimum News (


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