Apen A2 Smart Pen Review

Over the past year we have endeavored to reduce the amount of paper we use and store. This push for a paperless existence began during the preparation for last summer’s ill-fated sailing trip as a way to have all the records we could possible need/want on-board the boat without requiring a barge for the filing cabinets. It has continued as a convince to have the records both easily accessible, methodically sorted, all with the smallest footprint possible. So far the endeavor is working as we both still only require one filing drawer between the two of us as opposed to the four we were quickly approaching before the change.

As part of the paperless document storage endeavor, and since both of us are once again in school, we decided to try to do something about all those class notes that seem to pile up and get bound for later reference. This is where we thought a smart pen might help. After lengthy research there seem to currently be two options, either the Livescribe or the Apen. Both record the pen’s movement across the page and record this as an image that can be downloaded to a computer later.

The review of the Apen A2 Smart Pen in short:

  • The clip can only grab up to about 10 sheets of paper, no notepads
  • For the pen to sense if you are writing it must be firmly pressed into the paper
  • Nothing must get between the pen and sensor for it be able to record the position
  • The software for Mac computers is very limited and falls far short of advertised
  • Customer support seems to be non-existent after trying to contact them through their website

We choose the Apen A2 because, unlike the Livescribe pen, it does not require special paper to record your movements. Instead a little sensor is clipped to the top of the page of paper and everything is recorded relative to it. This saves having to buy special paper and allows you to write on any scrap of paper you might want to–in theory. However, it is important that that sensor not move while you are writing on a page so one would expect a large versatile clip, it is not. While it can grip 1-10 sheets of paper well, it does not fit onto standard notepads of paper at all. You are forced to tear the sheets out as you use them. This means you need another surface to write on or else after clipping the sensor on the page and placing that page back on the notepad you loose the top inch of the page for the sensor and the bottom inch of the page because it falls off the bottom of the notepad due to the sensor at the top.

The first few tests with the pen were a great success. It recorded what we wanted and seemed to do a reasonable job of it, at least after some trial and error. The instructions state that nothing can get between the pen and sensor. This sounds so easy in concept and is so hard in reality. To hold a loose page that you are writing on, the logical place to put your other hand is directly in the way. It takes a good deal of practice not to do this we have both found.

An example of Emily's notes

Feeling like it might all work, Emily went off to conduct some surveys for her upcoming project armed with the new smart pen. She returned triumphant, getting more people to take the survey than expected, and with the results carefully stored by the pen. Luckily, she kept the paper copy of what she had written as well as the pen’s results were terrible. It appears she does not normally press hard enough to fully engage the write sensor in the pen for the entire word. I have not had as much of a problem with this.

An example of Jed's notes

The pen is advertised as working with both Windows and Mac computers. Ten years ago I would have approached carefully, expecting to be misled on the Mac claims. But a decade full of advances, the rise of Apple, and the resources now available to the programmers have removed these concerns. Bad mistake with Apen. While the pen does have a very small program that manages to download the tiff images from the device, the rest of the marketing claims are false. The installer adds a few other programs to your computer but these do not want to interface with the smart pen. There is no way that I have found to either allow you to use the pen as a mouse or directly record straight to the computer, both proclaimed as possible multiple times on the package and documentation.

So figuring I must have been doing something wrong I did the next logical thing, try to contact the company. And tried again. And again. Luckily for me I haven’t had to pay postage to do this, but otherwise it has been a waste of time as there have been no responses from Apen. And it seems there never will.

In conclusion, if you like the idea of a company that doesn’t support its product, doesn’t provide the advertised software, and can only provide a clip that holds ten pages at once, then the Apen A2 is for you. If your expectations are higher, then look elsewhere.

2 Responses to “Apen A2 Smart Pen Review”

  1. on 24 Feb 2011 at 11:54 pmBill

    I really see the logic in your argument but I think you’ve painted your strokes

  2. on 25 Feb 2011 at 5:11 pmJed

    The images are straight off the pen, no modifications.

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