- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

Taking handwritten notes and more important, not losing them has become easier with the Logitech io Personal Digital Pen ($199 at www.logitech.com or other computer retailers).
The cigar-shaped device consists of a mixed bag of high- and low-tech elements, including a standard ball-point writing instrument with embedded digital camera, ink cartridge, processor, memory chip, battery and USB communication unit. All that technology inside the pen makes it a bit clunky to handle, but considering that it captures a digital copy of everything written, the size issue quickly will be forgotten.
The pen's optical sensor, or camera, can grab up to 40 pages of handwritten images from notes to e-mail messages, from sketches to presentation outlines, from to-do lists to calendar appointments. Literally anything the user writes, draws or sketches is captured digitally and stored in the pen's memory.
Once the user returns to the computer, the device is simply inserted into the USB port-connected cradle (where the pen also recharges), and the information instantly downloads to the desktop, where it can be used. The pen works with a variety of software applications, including Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes and 3M Post-it Notes, as well as Franklin Covey Digital Planner pages.
What gives the pen its magic is as much the Anoto (www.anoto.com) digital paper used to record the notes as the technology within the instrument. Digital paper looks and feels just like the pulp found in spiral-bound notebooks used by the typical student. The visible difference is the activity boxes along the bottom of each page.
If the task, for example, requires writing an e-mail, the user takes pen in hand and simply fills in the subject line and e-mail address where indicated, composes the correspondence, then checks the e-mail and done boxes.
The paper has a microscopic grid of dots the pen uses to record. As the user writes, the pen's digital camera takes more than 50 snapshots per second of the dots and how the writer is connecting them, transferring those pen strokes into a gray-scale image not unlike a high-tech version of the children's connect-the-dots game. Extra Anoto digital notepaper is available in a three-pack of 160-page notebooks ($24.99) from the Logitech Web site and other retailers.
Once back at the desk, the user sets the pen into the cradle, triggering software to retrieve the saved messages from the pen's memory, opening them onto the computer screen. The documents appear on the screen as images, or art elements, and they are exact duplicates of what was written or drawn by the user on the digital paper.
Setting up the pen is fairly simple, requiring an easy software download and plugging in the cradle. The user also must complete a tutorial exercise that requires the manual printing of the alphabet and numbers, along with common symbols, such as the "at" character, to familiarize the device with the user's handwriting.
Providing a bit of flexibility to the pen is its ability to be used with digital paper in various formats the aforementioned spiral-bound notebook or with Post-it Notes that will be created when the user downloads the Post-it Notes software from the io Pen disc. Anoto Post-it Note paper is available in a three-pack of pads with 50 pages each ($14.99) from the Logitech Web site and other retailers.
One obvious frustration with the pen, however, is that the electronic documents created are "snapshots" of what has been written, so altering a document easily correcting misspellings, for example cannot be done once it downloads without robust optical character-recognition software and a word-processing program.
The io Pen from Logitech includes the cradle with AC adapter, software disc, one 160-page Mead Cambridge Notebook and one pocketbook of Post-it Notes. It works with Windows 98, Me, 2000, or XP compatible PC operating systems with at least a Pentium II 233MHz or higher processor, 64MB of memory, 300MB of free disk space, a USB port and Internet access.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).


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