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Monday, December 7, 2009

Digital Note Taker Pen

I got myself the"gadget of the month" from the local hard-discount shop and started to play with Medion Digital Note Taker (MD 86149).

This 2nd generation model is similar to what appeared under the IOGear brand about 2 years ago but it became cheaper enough today to trigger an impulsive buy (€59.99).



By opposition to the much more expensive (but cool) LiveScribe pen, which allows a wider range of interaction, the Mobile Note Taker doesn't require you to buy special pre-printed paper. All you need to carry with you is the pen, and a tiny receiver that will hook on the top or one of the corners of your usual notepad.

The first intended usage (referred to as off-line mode) is to record whatever you write while away from your computer, then download it by plugging the mini-usb cable to the receiver when back home. Then you can simply archive your notes as is, or extract your drawings and process your writing trough an OCR.
The box says that you can save up to 100 pages of notes and the manual claims about 80 pages. This probably comes from the size difference between A4 and Letter (slightly longer) formats these different evaluations where based on.

The second usage (referred to as on-line mode) allows you to directly interact with your computer with the receiver plugged-in. You have then two possible modes to use your pen as a mouse, or as a ... pen. It offer a more convenient use than the tiny Wacom Volito for instance, as long as you can live without the pressure sensitivity as Note Taker doesn't have it. However, the touch and feel is much more natural and the final result, especially for handwriting looks far more natural to me.


The box contains: 1 pen, 1 received, 1 usb cable, 1 unique ink refill (not a spare refill, it has to be inserted into the empty pen), 1 pouch, 2 CD-ROM and 2 x SR41 button cells for the pen (the receiver recharges using the USB cable).

The hardware is immediately recognized on XP/Vista and 7 upon connecting and would work as a mouse, (after pressing the pen button once) before even installing any software.

The software included  is called Note Taker 3.3 and will be used mainly to retrieve and store your off-line notes.
There is a second one on a mini-cd with called MyScript Note Lite from VisionObjects. It is not more than a demo version of the already old MyScript Note.  The Lite version is very limited and also outdated, so, instead of installing it, you should download the trial version of the actual equivalent: MyScript Studio Note Edition.
I gave it a try, and compared to the disappointing MyScript Note, this MyScript Studio gave surprisingly good results at the challenging task of recognizing my own writing!


The firmware... yes, the device is firmware-upgradeable although it is not mentioned in the manual. However the version from Medion is the most recent 1.81 as reported by the firmware updated utility downloaded from Pegatech where they provide the v.1.76, so there's no need to flash at this point.



In conclusion, this is a nice gadget. Unless you've got already Windows Vista or 7 and Office 2007,  it may require some additional spending like MyScript Studio to unleash its full potential. My primary use will be as a replacement of my Wacom tablet and, in line with that idea, I plan to keep the ink refill when it goes empty, it will save me from wasting paper when using it in mouse mode!


Pros:
- Easy to setup
- Does job as expected
- Does not require dedicated preprinted paper
- M21 standard ink refills. (Specific iNote refill found for €1.6 on eBay)

Cons:
- limited manual
- ugly software
- not pressure-sensitive
- getting OCR to work reliably is a long process


Other pens similar to Medion Digital Note Taker MD86149:
- Pegasus Digital Pen M210 (this is the original manufacturer)
- IOGear Cordless Mobile Digital Scribe
- Apcom E-pens APPEG-030 Mobile Notes
- iNote Digital pen on eBay

- others

Similar technology applied to interactive whiteboards.

Additional Resources: Documentation, software and SDK can be found at Pegatech.com 
see also: dedicated Google group, and blog.

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