The Echo Smartpen from Livescribe

I have been using the Echo Smartpen for the past week and to say the least I am very impressed with the second generation pen from Livescribe. Livescribe evidently listened to customer feedback and made a more ergonomic offering with this release. With its new shape and design the pen feels much more comfortable in my hand. Adding the soft rubberized grip gives the pen a good feel when writing. With the new design the pen will not be able to roll of your desk as was the case with the Pulse pen. The Echo Smartpen is now available with 4 GB ($169) or 8 GB($199) of memory which would allow you to store and incredible amount of audio notes and apps which are available from the Livescribe Online Store. The 8GB Echo Smartpen is capable of storing over 800 hours of audio depending on the quality of the audio recorded. In any case the Echo Smartpen can store a huge amount of audio.

So what do you get when you purchase the Echo Smartpen? In the box you get the Echo Smartpen, a mini USB cable, one digital A5 Starter pad, two pen tip covers, and some Quick Start guides. To get started using the Echo you will first need to download the Livescribe Desktop software from the Livescribe website and register your pen. By registering your Echo Smartpen and setting up an account you will be given space on the Livescribe server to store your penscasts. More about pencasts later in this review. Once you have downloaded and installed the software you are ready to start using the Echo Smartpen. Now the fun begins, just touch the Record button on the bottom of the dot paper and everything you write is synchronized with what was said at the time. The quality of the recording is very good but on some occasions you do here some pen tip noise as you are writing on the paper. To listen to what you recorded you can use the Paper Reply feature by tapping the text with the pen tip on the dot paper to hear the recording. That part is almost magical!

The Echo Smartpen does not ship with the 3D noise cancellation ear buds as the previous model did, which I found to be very useful when recording in large lecture halls. Once you have written on the dot paper you can download the notes to your computer using the mini USB cable that plugs directly into the top of the pen. Changing to the mini USB cable I think is a move in the right direction and makes it easier for those that travel to carry it in their bag for fast syncing. The OLED display gives you visual feedback letting you know that the Echo Smartpen is transferring data to the Livescribe Desktop software. Once the process is done the Livescribe Desktop software provides you with a message that the transfer is complete. The process is straight forward and easy to do.

There have been lots of changes to the Livescribe Desktop software that bears mentioning. One of the new features which I believe will be used a great deal is the ability to create custom notebooks from selected pages you have downloaded. This works very similarly to how you can create Play Lists in iTunes. Simply create a Custom Notebook and drag pages into it. This gives you the ability to group pages of your notes as you see fit so that you can quickly access them. Having the ability to search through your notes to find specific information is one of the most powerful aspects of this system. Of course if you like you can listen to any of your pages played right from the desktop.

Sharing your files in different formats is one of the strengths of the Livescribe digital pen system. Educators will be able to export saved notes as a Pencast, PDF, orImage file. If you decide to save your notes as a Pencast anyone who has the Livescribe Desktop software will be able to view and listen to the recording. You can if you like also just download the audio portion of your pages which gives you another way to share information that was recorded. What I am really excited about is the announcement that I will be able to share my recordings as a PDF pencast that will be able to viewed using the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. I am told that this feature will be available sometime in the Fall. Likewise, Livescribe is working on an app for the iPad that will let me view my pencasts on the Apple iPad to be released later this summer. For those of you who missed my post about hand writing recognition and the Echo Smartpen click here to see how easy it is to convert your handwriting to editable text. It is really exciting to think about all of the possibilities for extending learning in the classroom with the Livescribe Echo Smartpen.

For those of you who may not be familiar with pencasts - this has got to be one of Livescribe's real strengths from and educational perspective. Over the past year educators have posted thousands of pencasts on all different subjects for others to access and view. With a Echo Smartpen a teacher can quickly record and model how to solve an algebraic problem for example that can be accessed from the web. Creating a pencast is as easy as writing and recording your voice and then uploading it to your Livescribe account. Once you upload your pencast to your account you can embed it on your website or link directly to it. You have full control of the file and who has access to it right from within the Livescribe Desktop software application. Just imagine the possibilities as a teacher being able to model a process and having your students watch you do a problem step by step. As more schools move to Learning Management Systems having a tool like the Echo Smartpen will become indispensable for creating digital content is straight forward and natural way. You can view a pencast that I did on how to solve for x below.

Solving for X
brought to you by Livescribe

The Livescribe ecosystem has really developed since the Pulse pen was released and with the release the Echo Smartpen, Livescribe continues to develop a very strong platform for pen computing that opens the doors for all kinds of possibilities. Look for another post on using apps with your Echo Smartpen and for ideas on how to use this technology in the classroom. For those of you that are using Livescribe smartpens I would invite your comments.

Mindjet MindManager 9 Giveaway

On the heels of the release of Mindjet MindManager 9, I am very excited to announce that I will be giving away 5 fully licensed copies of Mindjet MindManager 9. MindManager 9 is fast, fluid and now has integrated Gantt Chart & Resource Planning capabilities built right into the application.

So here is an incredible opportunity to land a free copy of Mindjet MindManager 9. Ok so what is the hook? To enter the Mindjet MindManager 9 GiveAway all you need to do is be a Guest Blogger and share how you are using mind mapping in your business or educational setting. If you would like you could create a screencast or video and demonstrate how mind mapping has had an impact on the work that you do. It is really that easy. Each winner will be highlighted on my blog which is a great way to give you and your company or school great exposure. To enter the contest please click here. If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment! Good luck!

MyScript for Livescribe Plug-in

When I demonstrate the Livescribe Smartpens as part of my assistive technology presentations, the first question I usually get is: "Can I convert my handwritten notes into editable text"? And I answer, "Yes, you can!" In this screencast I will share with you how you can use MyScript for Livescribe from VisionObjets to do the conversion. In order to do the handwriting recognition you will need to install and purchase MyScript for Livescribe. Once you download your handwriting from your digital pen to the Livescribe Desktop software you can then Right click on the page and share the contents with the application MyScript for Livescribe. Watch the video to see just how easy it is to go from handwriting to editable text.

Dragon Dictation 2.0 Released for the iPad

One of the truly marvelous apps for the iPad has to be Dragon Dictate from Nuance. I have been using Dragon Dictate since I got my iPad and it is hard to believe how accurate it is for transcribing your voice to text. What is more amazing is that there is no need to do any training of the sort. Using cloud based processing Nuance is able to capture your voice file process it in the cloud and return your transcription back to the application in seconds. If you have not tried it out on your iPad, iPod Touch or iPhone you should definitely download it and give it a try- the price is right. Right now the app is free! Nuance just released version 2.0 of Dragon Dictate which now lets you quickly send your text to Facebook and Twitter from a small drop-down palette in the program. I tried out this feature just yesterday evening and it works like a charm.

Tools like Dragon Dictate open up all kinds of possibilities for students with learning disabilities and as I work with more and more students with writing disabilities I now have my iPad available to see how well it can work for them. I recently worked with a 6th grader who happened to be using an iPhone and we installed Dragon Dictate to see how well it would work. The beauty of Dragon Dictate is that there is no training involved. The student opened up Dragon Dictate on his iPhone and began to dictate and within seconds text appeared on the screen. I was amazed how accurate it was for this particular student. I have tried it with other students where the transcription was not that accurate. So if you have access to an iPhone or iPad give it a try when you are assessing students and see what happens. I would be interested in your experiences using Dragon Dictate 2.0 with the students you work with. It is incredible to think how far this technology has come in such a short amount of time and how we can harness this technology for the students we work with with learning disabilities.

Rethinking Your WorkFlow with the iPad

I have been using the iPad for the past 6 weeks or so and learning the ins and outs of this innovative and portable tool. I have noticed over the past couple of weeks that I am beginning to think differently about how I access, create and store my information. While not exactly a "digital native" I still prefer to read paper based books and magazines but I see myself beginning to shift as I load more and more of my PDF's into iBook and read them at my leisure. I keep my iPad in my bureau next to the bed and have access to it whenever I need it. I have recently begun to read the PDF's that I have loaded and love the fact that many of them have embedded URL's which link to the internet for more information. Being able to zoom in on the text has been really fantastic and makes it a lot easier for me to read the text. The iPad screen is nice and bright and makes reading a really enjoyable experience. Just this past week I received a notice to renew my subscription to PC Magazine and I was offered a two year digital subscription for about 63 cents an issue. Having an iPad made this an easy decision to make and as I subscribe to other magazines I can see the trend to move all my subscriptions to the digital format. Prior to having the iPad I would not have thought twice about purchasing a digital subscription to a magazine. I have found over the years that reading on a Mac or PC is cumbersome and I would often print out longer documents. However, with the iPad this is a real game changer for me, as I look to move more of my magazine subscriptions to a digital format.

The software companies that understand the essence of the iPad know that users want the total experience of being able to access their documents and synchronize information in the cloud.
Over the past couple of weeks I come to learn the value of being able to store information and synchronize my data. I have been using iThoughtHD a mind mapping app on my iPad to do more of my work and really enjoy the ability to be able to export my mind maps to in many common mind mapping formats that I can access from my desktop mind mapping applications. The integration is seamless and really delivers the user extra value. The same can be said for ToDo for iPad, a task management app that seamlessly integrates with Toodledo on the web withthe touch of an synchronize icon. Moving forward I can see developers are beginning to think about the integration from the desktop computer to the web that can then be accessed with an iPad.

Just this past week MindMeister released MindMeister for the iPad which synchronizes with their cloud based mind mapping application. It is exciting to how companies are beginning to build iPad applications that either act as a go between or as a way to synchronize the information that lives in different applications. As an example FileMaker, this week released FileMaker Go, a iPad and iPhone app that allows users on the go to query and modify their databases that were created on the desktop with FileMaker Pro. I can remember back to the days when FileMaker released a version of FileMaker for the Palm platform that gave you similar functionality. It is certainly exciting to see all of these developments and makes you rethink your work-flow and how you will harness the information you need- wherever and whenever. I would be interested in learning how tools like the iPad are making you rethink your work-flow. Please post your comments below- it would be great to get your thoughts on this topic.

Livescribe Launches the Echo Smartpen

At the ISTE 2010 Conference I had a chance to sit down with Jim Marggraff, CEO of Livescribe and talk about the the status of the Smartpen Ecosystem. Jim was very excited to meet with me and to share Livescribe's newest offering the Echo Smartpen which will be released today. The Echo Smartpen will over time add some exciting new features and expand on the number of applications that can run on the digital pen. Jim was very excited to see how educators have embraced the Livescribe products and noted the shear number of pencasts that are now available. With the move to portable computing, Jim was very excited to share with me the new design of the Echo Smartpen and to talk to me about how pencasts can be shared going forward. There have been some updates to the Livescribe Desktop software that will make it easy to customize notebooks and to export audio and pen strokes. Likewise, we should see the availability to view pencasts on the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch making this a compelling learning tool. With the new Echo Smartpen design it will be even easier to download our digital ink and charge, now that it uses a mini USB connector on the top of the pen. I was rather impressed with all of the new features and the move to integrate the features to make the Livescribe solution even more powerful as a computing platform. Watch the Livescribe website for new announcements and updates. Look for a complete review of the Echo Smartpen within the next couple of weeks on my blog.

Mindjet Announced MindManager, Version 9 for Windows launches on August 10



Last night, Mindjet made an important announcement!


That’s right. MindManager, version 9, is coming! It’ll actually be here before you know it — August 10th to be exact.

And, more importantly, we’ve packed this release with capabilities that you’ve been asking for!

MindManager 9 is built around the following three major themes:

  1. Accomplish more, faster: If you’re using MindManager to get your work done, and we’ve made it easier to bring relevant information into your maps with less effort. This will let you maintain perspective, work in context without having to constantly switch apps looking for the information you need to complete your work. For instance, you can tap into Outlook’s wealth of emails, tasks, notes, etc.. and bring in any or all of that information into your maps. Our new Outlook integration is built upon either pre-defined or simple-to-create queries that synchronize information with MindManager. You’ll setup your Outlook branch once and it’ll continue to refresh and present up-to-date content without any additional effort on your part. What will you do with that info? Make better plans, strategies and decisions!
  2. Planning for everyone: We recognize that many professional project managers use MindManager for developing plans. But we asked the question, what about the rest of us? The marketers, developers, HR managers, etc… We need planning tools that let us build out quick lists of the things we need to get done in order to make any plan a reality. MindManager does just that. In MindManager, Version 9, we let you build out a plan and then, instantly, visualize it in our new integrated project schedule (Gantt chart). We also provide guidance by highlighting where trouble spots exist (e.g. if someone is assigned too many tasks to complete on any given day).
  3. Communicate more effectively: We’re also excited about a brand new way to present your mapped concepts, strategies and plans. With the new MindManager slide show, you can create slides from any topic within your map. Unlike other presentation software apps which let you ‘broadcast’ your message, MindManager’s slides are still interactive, letting you collaborate instead of simply present ideas. Capture feedback, track new action items, and evolve your content while delivering your presentation.

Beyond these major improvements, we’ve also made many improvements including:

  • Enhanced usability and interface improvements
  • Significantly faster performance
  • Integration with Microsoft Office 2010
  • Improved integrations with Office applications
  • Brand new galleries of images, icons, and map templates
  • And much, much more…

Stay tuned for more news as we get closer to August 10th!

Context Summarizer on the iPad

I have been working with Context Discovery's web based summarization tool (Summarizer) for the past couple of months and today I had a chance to test it out on my iPad. Context Discovery has transformed their summarization tool and now it works in the cloud summarizing websites by simply entering in a URL. Once the URL is processed- Summarizer will go out to the website and identify the most important key words and pull out the most important content that is ready for you to view. On the left you can get a glimpse of what it looks like on the iPad. I was very excited to see that Context Summarizer worked flawlessly on the iPad and processed the request very quickly. Once the contents was processed I proceeded to click on the MindManger Export and within seconds iThoughtsHD, my resident mind mapping application on my iPad opened the contents and displayed the mind map. It is nice to know that I can now use Context Summarizer and iThoughtsHD on my iPad to summarize the contents of web sites.

The iPad Recliner from LapWorks

As much as I enjoy my iPad it does get a little heavy when you are holding it too long. Inevitably you will need to prop it up and what better way to do that, than with the iPad Recliner from LapWorks. The iPad Recliner is in a silver and black design to compliment your iPad. I have used other LapWorks products over the years and have come to like their functionality, design and construction. This is the case for the iPad Recliner, which lets you place your iPad on an incline in any number of positions and angles very quickly. The iPad Recliner can hold your iPad in the Portrait or Landscape mode and has a cushioned rest area to insure that your iPad does not move on the iPad Recliner. I found the iPad Recliner very easy to adjust, with just one screw - it is easy to change the angle of the incline when viewing your iPad.

While I have gotten used to using the virtual on-screen keyboard, when I know I will be doing a lot of typing I will take out my iPad Recliner and place my iPad in the landscape mode and use my Bluetooth keyboard to type. This provides meet with the perfect working setup that lets me comfortably view my iPad as I am typing on the keyboard. The iPad Recliner also makes for a great ebook reader when you want to have your hands free of holding the device. In any case, whether you are surfing the web, typing or reading an ebook the iPad Recliner is a perfect companion for your iPad. The iPad Recliner is the perfect companion for your iPad and I for one keep it on my desk to access when using my iPad. So check out the iPad Recliner!

Reflections on Traveling with the iPad WiFi

I have had my iPad WiFi for about a month now and have enjoyed using the Ipad WiFi for getting my email, surfing the web and of course playing Scrabble. In preparation for attending the ISTE 2010 Conference I decided to see what it would be like to travel with the iPad instead of my netbook which is what I usually do. While the virtual on-screen keyboard is alright for entering web sites and the such, I decided to take my Apple Bluetooth keyboard just in case. For one thing the iPad weighs almost nothing and there is not the need to take a lot of the other accessories that I would normally have taken with me. It is a rather small package and is really great for travel. It is so light you sometime forget that you are actually carrying a computer.

Once I checked into my hotel room in Denver, I quickly fired up the iPad and registered to use the hotel Internet which dare I say was $10 dollars a night for in room use. In any case I was able to quickly get up and running and could easily access my email and check out my favorite websites. While I was traveling I need to access Moodle to enter my students grades and to monitor the discussion board. The Moodle site worked well with the iPad and I was able to do everything I need to do enter my students grades. Since our college uses another web based application to enter the students final grades I needed to log into their system to enter the students final grades. I had bookmarked the secure site prior to my travels and was able to quickly log in and enter all of my students grades without a hitch. My college does use a fair amount of Flash on their website for navigation which makes it a little more of a challenge to use with the iPad.

During my stay I used a number of iPad apps with the Bluetooth keyboard which worked very well. I did some mind mapping using iThoughtsHD which right now is my favorite mind mapping application on the iPad. I suspect that all of the mainstream developers of mind mapping software will shortly have their own mind mapping app running on the iPad. I was able to use Pages to do some word processing and used Skype on the iPad to talk to my friends and family.

On my way home I sat in the Denver Airport and logged into their free WiFi hotspot and checked my mail before taking off. All told, I had a very positive experience using the iPad WiFi during my trip and realize just how powerful the iPad can be as an all around tablet computer. The iPad does make you think a little differently about your workflow and using cloud services like, Evernote and Dropbox really helps you to maximize the quality of your experience when using the iPad. So just in case you have second thoughts of whether to take your iPad on the road - go ahead and give it a try, you will be glad you did!