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The biggest drawback to the pen is its tiny screen. It’s not that hard to control this “pen computer” _ you write things, and it responds. But it has a really hard time communicating anything back, since its screen shows less than 25 characters at time, in monochrome. It can also talk to you through its little speaker, but that’s not a medium that can convey the complexity of a Web page. Even a phone screen can communicate a lot more.

The other big shortcoming is that the pen needs to be physically connected to your computer to send email, upload notes or control your cursor. A short-range wireless link like Bluetooth would be neat, but might not be fast enough to transfer notes. Wi-Fi would be better, but getting a pen to work well with Wi-Fi would be a big challenge, both in terms of the user interface and battery life.

I like the Livescribe pens and find them useful. But as computers, they are a dead end. They’re just not flexible enough to be general-purpose devices, like tablets. An iPad that worked well with pen input would make me drop the Echo. Apple’s competitors already have rudimentary pen-based tablets out, and who knows, maybe the iPad 3 will have some surprises for us.


Peter Svensson can be reached at