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Logitech io: does this digital pen have the write stuff?

What's the first thing you do when a great idea strikes? If you're anything like me, you jot it down before it fades away. The Logitech io digital pen takes this process one step further by letting you digitally store random notes, to-dos, and even e-mails you've composed by hand.

How does it work. This slightly larger-than-normal ink pen is equipped with an optical sensor that tracks your writing and stores the handwritten notes so you can transfer them to your computer later.


You first train the pen to recognize your printing. This exercise takes about five minutes and consists of printing the alphabet a couple of times, along with numbers and common punctuation marks. The training also serves to walk you through the pen's learning curve, which is practically nil.

You compose your notes in a supplied spiral notebook. The notebook has special fields you fill in to categorize your notes by topic and designate them as e-mail, notes, to dos, or calendar entries. When you're done taking your notes, you check a "Done" box and place the pen in its synching cradle, which transfers the notes to your computer.

When you transfer notes to your machine, they're stored as .PEN files (more on this later) in a subdirectory of your My Documents folder. The io software names the files according to the date you composed your notes.

If you're using Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes for e-mail, you can designate a message as e-mail and the system automatically creates the e-mail message, addresses it, and places your note in the body. In my testing, when I sent e-mail to another Notes address, the graphic stayed embedded in the message body. When I sent the same message to a Web-based email account, the graphic came through as an .JPG attachment.


The pen's software installed without a hitch. The documentation says your machine should be running at least 64MB of RAM, but recommends 128MB--and so do I. My IBM ThinkPad and its 64MB of RAM have to chug away for anywhere from two to four minutes to transfer data from the pen.

The documentation says the pen will create up to 25 pages between charges and store up to 40 pages between transfers. The USB cradle serves as both synching cradle and charger. As soon as you pop the pen in the cradle for charging, it transfers the documents (assuming your workstation is running).

The .PEN flies launch to the io Reader, which lets you export your note as a .JPG or in Vector file format (figure 1). You should note these are graphics formats--because your notes are stored as a graphic, not as text. The character recognition capabilities I mentioned earlier are solely for the purposes of filling in topic info and addresses for notes and e-mails.


The .PEN files are easy to work with. I didn't have any problems exporting a note as a .JPG, a Vector graphic, nr as a graphic embedded in a Word document. If, when you originally composed your note, you didn't designate it as an e-mail, to-do, or calendar item, you can still do that from the io Reader. You can also also merge .PEN documents. I tested all these options and didn't run into any trouble.


The system requires preprinted paper available from companies such as Mead, 3M, Cambridge, and FranklinCovey. The retail package comes with a Cambridge spiral notebook with preprinted sheets for creating notes, to-dos, calendar entries, and e-mail messages. The package also comes with five ink cartridges. and the Logitech site are your best bet for ordering extra digital notebooks. Expect Io pay about US$25 for a 160-page notebook, or $34 for a three pack of 80 page notebooks. My local Office Depot didn't stuck digital notebooks at all. The ink cartridges aren't specific to the pen, so you won't run into problems there.

Almost perfect

Here, I'll reveal my bias: I love the idea behind this pen because it fits the way I work. I'm one of those writers who composes the first draft of every column in longhand before transcribing it by keyboard. Call me a luddite, but I'm more comfortable with a pen in my hand. In addition, I often find myself at tradeshows or meetings where hauling around and booting up a laptop can be cumbersome and intrusive. PDAs are easier to handle, but don't offer adequate notetaking facilities. (I've yet to try lot--a.k.a Graffiti 2 to see if it makes note-taking on a Palm any easier.)

The primary drawback to the Logitech io is that the character recognition is limited to categorization. The inability to translate the body of a note to text I can store and manipulate still leaves me transcribing my handwritten notes by keyboard.

To be fair to Logitech, this is a bit like criticizing the airline industry for using airplanes, when what I really want to do is teleport from city to city. Character recognition technology just isn't advanced enough.


So, all this begs the question: Who would find this pen useful? To answer, I have to focus on the true benefits of the current feature set, and those are its ability to share handwritten notes and transfer visual data, such as hand-drawn diagrams, to digital format.

If you don't need to share this kind of information, this pen probably isn't what you're looking for--although it will leave you eagerly anticipating upcoming versions that might translate the full body copy to text. Logitech wouldn't give me any timeline for the release of a pen with this feature other than to say that it wouldn't be this year.

After researching character recognition technology, I realized it isn't reasonable to expect any software to recognize free form script--that's the difference between character recognition and handwriting recognition (a much more difficult task).

I suspect Logitech is working on a pen that stores and recognizes printed letters, rather than allowing unconstrained script. When Logitech releases a digital pen that can store and translate the body copy--even printed copy to text, I would use it on a daily basis and, more importantly, pay good money for it.



(+) Easy to learn and use

(+) io Reader offers several options for working with .PEN files

(+) Hooks into e-mail client to automatically create and address messages

(-) Doesn't translate body copy to text

(-) System resource requirements


Logitech io


SIZE: Roughly the size and weight of a large highlighter.

BATTERY LIFE: 25 pages between charges


Curious about the capabilities of character recognition technology? Go to /11889 for more details.
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Title Annotation:Digital Pen; Logitech io
Author:Coleman, Christa L.
Publication:Mobile Business Advisor
Article Type:Product/Service Evaluation
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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