Pulse SmartPen a fun, useful $150 gift for students

Although I write about technology I won't say I'm a gadget junkie, but when I saw this item, I admit to feeling a bit covetous. The Pulse SmartPen is indeed a gadget by Oakland, Calif.-based company Livescribe Inc., founded by the same man who also started LeapFrog. Sure, you say, but $150 to $200 for a pen?!?

It's not just any pen. It's a regular-sized pen that digitally captures audio and syncs it with handwriting. The 2GB to 4GB pen is equipped with a tiny camera at the tip, that when used with cheap but special paper, can play back what was recorded even in different speeds by tapping the pen on any part of your notes.

Yes, it's a pen that remembers what you write and -- better yet -- tells you what someone was saying as the notes were being written. The computerized pen has around 400 hours of audio playback for note-taking during long meetings or classes.

At least one city is even having "pencasts" of city meetings posted online. The pen comes with a USB station to download audio and even notes so others can point-and-click on the interactive notes to hear the digital recording.

The pen, which started with a test run at Best Buy aimed solely at college students, has now sold more than 300,000. The surprising sales numbers caused Best Buy to sell it nationwide and other chains like Target and Staples are also selling the SmartPens. It also has begun to attract applications for the pen, including translation devices and formatting handwriting to text.

One critical review on Amazon.com stated that the pen didn't perform as well in a lecture hall environment -- too much ambient noise -- and he found having to upload notes to the Livescribe site to share with others annoying. Others said they had no problems in noisy offices or meeting rooms.

I know $150 sounds like a lot for a digital recorder, but its capabilities make it much more than that. Still, it's probably for the college student or professional who really enjoys the latest in gadgetry.

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