We’ve known about LiveScribe’s Smartpen for a while, but we were finally able to try it out for ourselves at DEMO 08. Guiding us through was Byron Connell, the chief marketing officer, pictured at the right. At just 1.3 ounces, the pen is very light. Its thickness, somewhere between a regular pen and a highlighter, makes it easy to hold for extended periods of time. There’s a small OLED display along the top part of the pen’s barrel that displays time, battery life, and a number of other features. It also comes with a magnetic USB dock that doubles as a recharging station. In order to use the pen, users need to write on LiveScribe’s special paper, which has millions of microdots in the background. A small camera in the pen, just below the pen point, looks at the dots at a rate of 72 frames per second, and records what it sees. The camera doesn’t look at your pen strokes, per se, but scans a 6-by-6 grid of dots (about 1.8 mm square), and records that to the pen. The pen has a built-in microphone about halfway up that is effective for close-up interviews. In our brief test, it did a decent job of eliminating background noise. There’s also a standard headphone jack in the top of the pen. The company includes a set of earbuds which have microphones embedded in them; these are used for creating stereo recordings, and are intended for use in large lecture halls, or in places where a source is moving around. These, too, did a good job of recording audio and playing it back in stereo. But anyone can use a pen and a voice recorder. What will make the SmartPen a fun tool for journalists and stenos is that it can sync the recording to what’s being written. At the bottom of each page are a number of audio control “buttons,” such as Record, Play, and Pause. In order to start a synched recording, a user presses the Record button, and starts writing on the page. After he’s finished, he presses the Stop button. By clicking on the words written on the page, the pen will play back the recording, automatically advancing the recording to the point that correlates to the written words. LiveScribe also has handwriting recognition, which is used in a variety of ways. The first allows you to translate words on the fly. Write “hello” in English, and the Spanish translation appears in the OLED screen on the pen. A company rep said that a Spanish to English translator would be the first to market, but others would be available after that. In fact, during their presentation, they translated a few words from English to Mandarin. Also, in the front of each notebook sold by LiveScribe is a printed version of a calculator. By pressing the pen on the numbers and operators, you can get the pen to calculate figures. Press “1 + 2,” for example, and the OLED will display “1+2=3.” Similarly, you can write out equations on the pages, and the answer will appear on the pen’s display. Paper notebooks cost $5 each, but LiveScribe said that it will allow users to download and print pages on their own printers. According to the company, the 1GB version ($149) of the pen will be able to store 100 hours of audio and 16,000 pages of digital notes, and the 2GB model will be able to store twice that amount. Just taking notes, the pen’s battery can last for about 18 hours without a recharge, and 6 to 7 hours when recording audio. Pages with text and audio can also be downloaded to a PC, where they can be shared and searched. Handwriting recognition software allows users to search their scribblings for keywords, something that will come as welcome relief to those who like to write by hand. The pages can also be uploaded to LiveScribe’s Web site, where users will have 250 MB of storage to start, and where the files can be transcribed for a fee–depending on how messy your handwriting is, of course. Knowing the quality of my chickenscratch, I might stick to transcribing myself, but I’m looking forward to putting it through its paces when we get one to review.