LiveScribe’s Pulse is the latest entrant in a gadget category whose history is pock-marked with flops: the smart pen. As with previous entrants, it’s a sort of Tablet PC without the PC–you write with Pulse on specially-marked paper, and can then transfer your handwritten notes in electronic-ink form to a computer, where they’re archivable and searchable. More intruiging, Pulse is also a high-quality voice recorder, and it synchronizes your notes with its audio recordings so you can, for instance, refer to what you wrote at a particular point during a lecture you recorded.
I have to admitting that while Pulse is by far the most practical smart pen to date and I’m rooting for it to find an audience, I’m still not sure if the whole category is worth pursuing. In theory, it’s easier to put a pen in your pocket than to tote a notebook, but the need for special paper eliminates some of the grab-and-go convenience that Pulse might otherwise have. And some of its tricks seem more amazing than practical: You can do things such as write a math problem and have it read the answer, or jot a word in English and have it read a translated version. Neat–but cell phones can achieve similar results, without requiring you to wrangle the pen and paper. Ultimately, I kind of wonder if Pulse should be marketed as a voice recorder that happens to have additional features, rather than a pen that happens to record voices.