Many note takers today face a choice of either lugging a laptop everywhere or writing everything down by hand and then manually entering their notes into a computer.
Meanwhile, if you’re a compulsive doodler or graphic artist, many of your best works may be buried somewhere in the margins of an old notebook.
Iogear’s Mobile Digital Scribe (US$130) represents an innovative alternative for note takers and sketchers alike: an ink pen with a digital component.
The Digital Scribe comes with a receiver, and it saves everything you write to plain paper as a digital file.
When you plug the receiver into a Windows PC, the device lets you upload your handwritten notes and convert them into text documents via the bundled My Script Notes 2.1 Lite optical character recognition(OCR) software. (The OCR software and note-management installation CDs included with the pen don’t work on Mac OS X, so Mac users are out of luck.)
You can use the Mobile Digital Scribe while the receiver is not connected to your PC, to take notes on the fly, and then upload what you’ve written when you’re back at your computer. Or you can use it while the receiver is connected to your computer, watching on-screen as it captures your hand-written notes or drawings in real-time. Another option when the Mobile Digital Scribe is connected to your PC is to swap in the included inkless cartridge and use the pen as a stylus mouse.
The receiver, about the size of an old pager, connects to your computer via an included USB cable. It saves up to 50 notes at a time; three small clips on the back of the receiver are useful for attaching it to the piece of paper or notepad you’re writing on. You also get a convenient cardboard carrying case where you can park the receiver and the pen.
The pen itself uses standard ink cartridges–another convenience. The end of the pen unscrews to house two small SR41 watch batteries (included with the unit). The battery in the receiver isn’t removable; you charge it by connecting it to your PC.
To use the pen I simply clipped the receiver to a standard piece of paper and started writing. It was both easy and fun. Every time the pen’s tip meets the paper, the receiver senses the pressure on the tip. In my tests it captured everything I wrote without a glitch, as long as I was pressing down.
The Mobile Digital Scribe package does have one significant weakness: the bundled OCR software.
My Script Notes 2.1 Lite did a less-than-stellar job of converting handwritten notes to text documents. After I uploaded my digitized handwritten notes and launched the My Script app, the converted text usually came out garbled and scattered with inappropriate paragraph breaks.
But since this is a problem with bundled software that users install on their PC, the conversion problems may improve with subsequent iterations of My Script Notes. I never encountered a problem with the pen or the receiver itself, just with the OCR software.
An annoying aspect of using the Mobile Digital Scribe is that you have to remember to press the receiver’s lone button every time you move on to another page. In the real world, switching to a new sheet of paper is a clear indication that you’ve finished with the preceding sheet; but in the digital realm, you can easily end up writing over the notes you’ve already taken unless you hit the button on the receiver to signal to the device that you’re turning the page. And of course the overwriting confuses the beleaguered OCR software even more.
Using the pen as a stylus mouse was straightforward. I connected the receiver to my PC via USB, hit the receiver’s lone button to switch to mouse mode, placed the receiver where the top of my mouse pad would normally be, and started using the pen as a mouse.
The single, flush mouse button on the side of the pen worked well; I hardly noticed the button while using the device as a pen, so it didn’t interfere with my writing.
The mouse cursor was very responsive to the pen’s movements, and the brief but clear documentation included with the Mobile Digital Scribe explains how to right-click and perform other standard mouse gestures with the pen.
The pen will have limited appeal to true digital artists because it isn’t a pressure-sensitive device like a drawing tablet. Though it saves what you sketch, it won’t help you with shading or finer details. Still, for creating rough sketches and for saving doodles in digital format, it’s a nifty little device.
At $130, the Iogear Mobile Digital Scribe may be a bit too pricey for casual buyers, which is a shame; it’s fun to use–and at times, almost a magical experience.
Seeing the things that you write on a normal piece of paper appear on your computer screen is more gratifying–and mind-boggling–than it may sound.