Logitech io Personal Digital Pen


posted 7/10/2003 by John Yan
other articles by John Yan
One of the things I really don't enjoy is taking down notes on paper. As a computer user, I would rather use some sort of digital device to record my thoughts. What if there was an easy way to transfer your notes and scribbles on paper into an electronic format without having to use a scanner and having the portability to carry it anywhere. Logitech has an answer to that question and it comes in the form of the Logitech io Personal Digital Pen.

The Logitech io Personal Digital Pen is a pen that records all that you write on special paper and transfers the contents when the pen is put back into the recharging cradle. As you can see in the pictures, the pen is considerably larger than regular ball point pens. Contained within the pen are a rechargeable battery, storage, and a small camera. On the side are two LED symbols that let you know if you're running low on power or storage. The pen is a little large, about the size of a highlighter. The thickness of the pen will probably get to some people. For a comparison, hold a large highlighter for a while and write with it. The io Personal Digital Pen is better contoured to fit a hand though. You can even hold the pen upside down or sideways. Orientation of the pen doesn't matter and the page will be captured exactly to digital form.

A recharging cradle lets you easily download all the information that's stored on the pen to your computer. It plugs into your computer via a USB port and you'll also need an outlet for the power brick to plug into. I would've liked it better if Logitech found a way to change the large brick plug to a normal sized plug. Power bricks on the plug have always annoyed me to no end.

Installation was simple but you are required to install the .NET framework on your computer for the software. Interesting that Logitech would require .NET so there must be an API that the software uses in .NET. Once the software is installed, you plug the pen into the cradled attached to a USB port, which will allow for the final drivers to be installed once the OS detects the pen.

You'll start out training the pen to recognize your handwriting. Training is quick though as it's only used to recognize letters in special areas. You'll be asked to write various letters and symbols twice and download the information to your computer. After that, the pen should be able to recognize those letters when you write them in the designated boxes. Should I say as I will get to more of how well this feature is implemented.

The pen has enough storage for 40 pages of writing. The manual states that the charge on the pen will last around 25 pages. 25 pages should be plenty for a few classes although I can think of some freshmen weed out classes where it was nothing but 40 minutes of continuous note taking.

To change a refill on the pen, there’s a small hole on the cap clip that you use as leverage on the ink cartridge. Using slight pressure, you can pull the cartridge out and insert a new one. Refills can be purchased anywhere as long as it’s carbon free. My contact suggested that I take the pen’s cartridge to a dealer to get the correct size refill.

The pen doesn't work on everyday normal paper of course. You'll need special notebooks that contain very small dots and hot spots for the pen to capture your writing. As you write, the optical sensor captures your movements and stores them in memory. On the sample notebook that was given to me, the bottom area contains a few special areas. One area lets you write a subject while another allows you to write in an email address. Three checkboxes can tell the software on your computer what application to bring up when accessing the page. For example, if the e-mail box is checked the Logitech software will put the subject into the subject field of the email and fill in the e-mail address for you while converting the document to jpg and automatically attaching it to the e-mail. If you don't need any editing of the message you can just click send and off it goes to the designated party. Pretty simple if I must say.

All your scribbles on the paper are converted to a jpg image complete with blue coloring for the blue ink in the pen. There is no hand writing to text conversion but read on to see how it does on the certain areas that are designated for this. When you do check a hot spot to tell the pen you are done with a certain page or that this page is being written for email, the io Personal Digital Pen vibrates ever so slightly to signal to you that the command has been recognized.

One of the things I really like about the system is that I could switch between various pages and the pen would know exactly which one I am on. And if I already had a sheet that I wrote on in my computer system, the pen would append any changes to it when I went back and wrote on the same sheet again. Pretty slick if you ask me.

While doing the training at the beginning helps the pen recognize your writing in the subject field or to field, the pen had some trouble with recognizing some of the characters I was writing consistently. Granted I don't have the best handwriting around but the pen sometimes had trouble distinguishing me writing a D and a P. Even with the slightest tail on the vertical part of the D, it would sometimes put in a P. There are plenty of other areas that are not mistake free and I had to correct the address of the e-mail that the program filled incorrectly. It was a little inconvenient but certainly not a product killer. As I mentioned earlier there is no conversion from handwriting to text. I don't think the software in its current state could accurately reflect what was handwritten to typed text. (Images of Nelson on the Simpsons writing in his Newton "Beat up Martin" which transformed to text that said "Eat up Martha" comes to mind.) But software coming out in the fall will have the feature implemented.

Cost wise, the pen's pretty expensive coming in at $199 but you do get some Post it notes and a sample notebook along with some pen refills. I've seen the digital paper at a few of my local office supply stores and they run about $8 for an 80 sheet notebook. It's certainly a lot more expensive than regular notebooks so you can't really be wasting paper by scribbling love notes or making paper airplanes out of them. While there are Tablet PCs out now where you can scribble onto the screen and save your notes, the machines are a lot more expensive than the pen system and you don’t have to worry about dropping the notebook or spilling water on it as you would a laptop.

The software is being upgraded with some new features soon. From my contact, the new software includes a new user interface of easy navigation of your handwritten documents, keyword search capabilities for the body of the text, editing and conversion to alpha - numeric text. The handwriting conversion portion of the software is free for 30 days with an option to purchase. It’ll be due out in the fall and will be a free download to existing pen users.

It’s not a bad system and I can think of some uses for it in various professional fields. Once the new software comes out, it might be more attractive to more users as the new software adds a lot of needed features that I think are vital to its general acceptance. That is if the software works as advertised of course. The current hand writing recognition does need some work but overall it’s an interesting concept and one that could take off. I applaud Logitech for trying to come out with an innovative device and hope that they keep improving the software in the future.

It's certainly a lot less expensive than a Tablet PC. The pen is pretty big and will take a little bit to get used to. It's an interesting concept and the software is maturing.