My pen is magic. The Livescribe pen is an audio recorder and a pen all wrapped into one. It synchronizes your handwriting with the audio it records. So if you go back and tap the tip of the pen anywhere in your notes, it plays the audio it recorded at that point.
Wait, it gets cooler. After you’re done, you hook the pen up to your computer and your handwritten notes appear in the Livescribe Desktop software, available for both PC and Mac. You can flip through pages and click on your notes to hear the audio. The newest model has Wi-Fi, so your notes can go straight to the internet.
The pen only works on special paper, covered with a pattern of tiny dots. The dots are so small and close together, they look like a faint greyish tint on the paper. As the pen moves across the page, a camera tucked up behind the ink cartridge watches the pattern of dots down on the page. From that pattern of dots, the pen keeps track of its position–across all of the different pages in all of the different notebooks Livescribe makes. Even with all that technology inside, the pen is weighted well, so it feels normal to write with.
The pen’s controls—record and stop, volume and so on—are printed on the paper. There’s even a scientific calculator. Not that I’ve ever needed to calculate a cosine in the field. But I could if I wanted to.
The notebooks are snazzy, but they’re also one of the downsides. The pen only works with Livescribe’s notebooks. The ones I use, 200-page 8.5×5.6″ fake-leather-bound journals, cost $25 for a pair. Livescribe also makes 8.5×11″ spiral notebooks and a smaller notepad–but, alas, no reporter’s notebook. The pens aren’t free, either; they cost $120 to $200 new, and LiveScribe also sells “refurbished” pens for as low as $70.
I’ve used the pen and journals for all kinds of reporting in the field. They went with me to chase humpback whales off of Maui and Cape Cod. We’ve been to the rainforest in Panama and, less thrillingly, to multiple convention centers for conferences. The pen’s battery has occasionally run out after a full day of recording, so I carry a second one as a backup. (And I usually have a regular notebook and a pen, too, just in case.) They recharge through a USB cable.
I find the pen particularly useful for checking quotes. Before, my options were either to hope that I got the words right when scribbling by hand or to take notes while recording on a separate device, then skip through the whole recording trying to find the right quote. Now I just click on the words and I hear them. Magic!