Livescribe finally jots notes on Android

If you’re still someone in love with the pen and were tempted to try a digital replacement, Livescribe has finally arrived for Android. Finally.

The gadget that proved the pen was still totally relevant has gone and received an update making it usable for more than just the iPad generation, and essentially making a digital writing tool platform agnostic, so to speak.

There’s still work to be done if Livescribe wants to own that title — paging Windows anyone? — but the update Livescribe is now making to its smartpen is a good start, opening up to more than just iOS, with the app now available on Android and working with smartphones and tablets.

That said, Livescribe has come a long way from the days when its pens had to be wired to the computer to synchronise what you had written, and we still have a few of these lying around.

Previous Livescribe models had to be docked and synched.


Back then, the smartpen’s neato little concept was that it would use a combination of a camera capable of reading the carbon imprint made by the pen, specialised dot paper that told the pen where you were writing thanks to some uber small dots, and a microphone built into the barrel of the writing tool that would be able to match up what you were listening to — say a lecture — to what you were writing.

Later on when you were done scribbling your notes down, you could come back and not just see your notes, but also tap portions of the writing to hear what you heard when you jotted down that note, relying on your scribbles as a sort of marker for what was being heard.

Better, you could plug the pen into a computer and get what was called a “pencast”, watching your scribbles come to life almost as if they were animated, complete with what the microphone picked up being played in the background as it happened.

It was almost as if someone had digitised the pen.

But then came the smartphone and tablet revolution, and Livescribe wasn’t quite ready, trying to find the middle ground with a WiFi enabled pen. It didn’t quite work, and so the company went back to the drawing board.

The Livescribe Smartpen 3 was the first time Livescribe built a pen specifically focused on tablets and smartphones.
The Livescribe Smartpen 3 was the first time Livescribe built a pen specifically focused on tablets and smartphones.

In 2013, though, it built a solution for people living in the mobile world that still wanted a pen: the Livescribe 3, a pen that relied on Bluetooth to send the scribbles on the Livescribe dot paper back to an iPhone or iPad in real time, with the notes stored there, whether you had your phone or tablet out or not.

Provided they were paired, when you flicked the pen on — which you had to do in order to get the pen out — the pen would send its data to your tablet, digitising your notes in a flash.

There was a catch, however: you had to be a part of the Apple ecosystem.

Even though Livescribe relied on Bluetooth LE, a technology more devices than just Apple’s had at the time, Livescribe only made the Smartpen 3 work with iOS, disappointing those of us with Android or Windows Phone.

Now, almost two years later, Livescribe is ready with a solution, because it finally works on Android.


“Android support is a huge milestone for the Livescribe 3 smartpen,” said Gilles Bouchard, CEO of Livescribe.

“The Livescribe 3 has proven that handwriting with real ink on real paper is even more useful when paired with the mobile devices we use every day. Studies show that writing things down helps people understand and remember the discussion better, and a digital copy of your notes is even more important when you’re on the go.”

From now, you’ll be able to go find any of the generation 3 Livescribe smartpens and connect the thing to an Android smartphone or tablet, with the software recording your pen notes as it happens.

On the hardware side, it’s still very much the same principle, with a camera capturing what you do on micro-dot paper, just like it was before, so you’ll still need some of that if you want the pen to actually work. With that, it’s not the same sort of concept as what we saw on HP’s pen solution, the Duet, which only needed a pad to work to the left of the tablet.


In fact, in HP’s Duet, you could use any paper, it just had to be on a specific side. That said, you needed the tablet because it relied on a special pen, and that tablet does come with a steeper cost of $ 649 which didn’t come with the pad and case for $69, compared to the $199 price of the Livescribe 3 smartpen.

Different solutions, obviously, and neither is without its extra costs, because while the Duet requires a pad to sit in a specific location (and usually of a specific size), the Livescribe requires dot paper. This can be easily found in stores across Australia, but the pen will only recognise what you’re doing when you’re writing or drawing on dot paper.

Fortunately, some paper is included, and depending on the version you buy — $199 for the basic edition, $265 for the pro edition — you may even get a leather-bound workbook to write down in.

Yes, you’ll still need dot paper to make the Livescribe 3 Smartpen work.


Testing it this week, the Livescribe 3 is very quick to send notes from real life to a phone, and now that we’re not required to have an Apple device nearby, means we can store the notes using a regular Android phone, handy if you prefer to scribble with a hand rather than type on your computer.

There are quite a few people out there sitting in this boat right now, with a pen being the preferred way of writing things down, and this seems well suited to them. In these situations, Livescribe’s Bluetooth capable Smartpen seems like a neat idea provided the notes you’re taking happen to be on the Livescribe dot paper, because without it, those notes won’t be digital at all.

If that’s your shopping list, no worries, because you probably don’t want it, just make sure that you have some dot paper ready when it’s more than something random.