Tried & Tested

Tried and Tested: IRISnotes 1.0 digital pen

2 Dec 2009 by AndrewGough

IRISnotes 1.0Technology company I.R.I.S. has brought out the IRISnotes 1.0 digital pen. For those of you who are wondering what a digital pen is, let me enlighten you. As far as I.R.I.S. is concerned, it is a fully functioning pen (depending on which nib is inserted) that tracks the motion of the nib and stores handwritten text as an image. Simple. That image is stored on a base unit clipped to the top of the notepad, which conveniently is the same piece of hardware which tracks the pen. The IRISnotes base unit can store a whopping 100 pages of A4, or rather the digital equivalent. Once the base unit is connected to the PC, or Mac, software bundled with the pen allows the images to be uploaded, and even cleverer, converted into a standard, digital text format through optical character recognition (OCR).

But the pen has an additional function, and in my opinion a more exciting one. It can be used in ‘mouse mode’, giving it a capability very similar to a graphics tablet’s stylus, minus the tablet itself. Anyone who likes to muck around with graphic design, or digital illustration, will know that tablets are pretty expensive, however the IRISnotes basic kit can be picked up cheaply online, with the more recent executive edition costing considerably more. (The executive edition has support for 26 languages, plus enhanced recognition and note handling software.)

That was the low-down on the technology, but how did it work out practically? I have to admit I was sceptical at first, there have been attempts at this sort of thing in the past and they haven’t worked well. However the technology in this pen is impressive. I say that because the images of your writing that it produces are pretty much spot on, as in what was physically written matched the digitised version. I can only conclude that the tracking technology is highly accurate, or at least enough to impress me and most others.

Installation of the software is incredibly straightforward, and once on the computer is easy to use. Once uploaded, a ‘convert text’ button does just that, and very well if you write clearly. Of course there were a few mistakes caused by scrawled handwriting, it is still a computer after all and you have to write legibly. But, the program can recognise handwritten text to an impressive degree, and it’s near on 100% accurate if you forgo joined up handwriting in favour of a clearer, neater style.

But even if you do decide to stick with your doctor’s scrawl, IRISnotes 1.0 comes with an extra piece of hand writing recognition software that learns your particular style. I gave this a go and it’s pretty arduous. The programme asks you to copy out a few hundred words of text so it can compare and learn, which makes sense, but it’s a bit of a bother and if I wasn’t reviewing the pen I would have given up. Figuring out how to use the recognition program was pretty tricky too, the less technically minded would struggle, but then I doubt anyone who wasn’t that way inclined would have the pen in the first place. Out of curiosity I soldiered on, and after about half an hour I’d created a recognition profile of my very own. I put it to the test, and there was a marked improvement in what the software recognised, but not enough for the effort. I would say if you’re going to use this pen, write legibly and don’t expect it to convert cursive scrawl with 100% accuracy.

As for mouse mode, it was fiddly at first but after about ten minutes I could use the pen as a stylus with relative ease and accuracy, and I could use it for most tasks. Hovering with the pen moves the mouse, one depression of the nib is the same as a left-button mouse click. Right click is achieved by holding the pen down. And don’t worry about drawing all over your mouse mat, because the kit comes with a stylus-type nib with no ink. In mouse mode the pen can also write to Microsoft Word and indeed any application where writing is involved, even emails. I virtual note pad hovering close to the mouse cursor allows letters to be written out with the pen, then converted and inserted. This was more of an added extra though, it was far quicker just to type out words on the keyboard.

This clever piece of kit did provide an interesting talking point in the office, and indeed when I took it out on jobs. Some may see it as a toy or a novelty, but it would be perfect for someone taking the minutes of a meeting, or indeed any situation where someone takes notes. The mouse mode proved useful for graphics, though comparisons with full-blown and vastly more expensive tablets are unfair.

Pros  

•    A clever toy with benefits for note-takers

•    A cheap alternative to a graphics tablet.

•    Easy to use with quick results if handwriting is clear.

•    Comes with batteries and replacement ink nibs.

Cons  

•    The special handwriting recognition software is cumbersome.

Price £139.54 from irislink.com but can be picked up for less through UK resellers.

Contact irislink.com

Andrew Gough

In January, I.R.I.S. is giving away three sets of the IRISnotes Executive 1.0 digital pen worth £199 each to Business Traveller readers.

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