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[Pen/Pencil Review] The Apen a4 Digital Pen System

Posted by reudaly on April 2, 2012 in Review, writing instruments |

This week’s pen review is a cross between high tech and low tech. And something I’ll been wanting to find for a while. A digital pen system that let’s me write on regular paper with a close to regular pen, and have it able to do handwriting recognition to turn to text.

This is the Apen a4, And so far, I think I like it. The system includes a battery powered pen that holds a mini ballpoint refill and a rechargeable recorder device that reads the position of the pan from a camera system between receiver and pen.

The written page view

The pen itself is plastic, a comfortable holding diameter, and long enough to the balance in my hand. The pen is 5.5″ capped and 6.25″ with the cap posted. The receiver clips to the top of the page and scans/captures as you write. You have to push the button on the rear ever to save each page. The literature says the receiver can hold up to 100 pages.

There is a learning curve, If you don’t push the button and start a new page, it just writes over what you’ve done, creating gibberish. So the button pushing is important. you also is can’t block the pen camera line of sight – so not great for lefties., or if you cover your writing with your other arm.

This is how the captured page looks before conversion

It will work with Windows, MAC, iPhone and iPad – you just can’t convert to data text on the iPhone and iPad, but it comes with connectors for both. As for text conversion, I’ve been seeing an 80% (or better) conversion accuracy rate for what I write coming across in translation accurately, and I write with a mishmash of print and cursive. And that sounds weird, but I don’t know how to word it better. That makes this digital pen system workable for me. Where others were not.

The unedited conversion from writing to text

You are limited to what kind of paper you can use, though. Since the recorder/receiver device clips to the top of a page, You have to use loose leaf, spiral, or sidebound notebooks. The clip isn’t big enough to go over the top of a legal pad.

I purchased my a4 through WOOT! for about half list price. But even at their retail price of about $130, I would consider it a decent investment. But if they come up on WOOT again-totally worth the investment. Especially if you love writing longhand but don’t want to do all that “chore typing”-this clean up takes less time. I may be in tech heaven.

Now to the numbers:

1. How does it work?1 – it works about as well as I can expect. I’m happy with the conversion rate to text. It’s better than the last digital pen system I tried to use, so that makes me happy. I’m very pleased with the technical aspects.
2. Grip and feel0.5 – I will knock this down a little because it’s simply molded plastic which means there’s no cushion for people with a tight grip on their pens. There’s a bump out just before the pen point for the camera system that might give some writers pause. But it’s decent enough.
3. Material1 they’ve done a good job in keeping the materials light. The last digital pen I used was bigger, bulkier and harder to use than this one. They’ve managed to get the mechanisms into a “normal” sized pen and keep it light.
4. Overall Design1 I could nitpick this, but I’m not. This is a well-designed system. The pen feels like a pen. The receiver/recorder isn’t too obtrusive on the page (though you can’t use a legal pad). They provide connectors, software, and a carrying case.
5. Price Point1 – This system retails for $130, which is right in line with systems like Livescribe, but is more economical in the long run in that you don’t have to buy special paper. But you don’t get the voice recording – and for me, these are just bonuses. I would rather be able to use regular paper and NOT voice record.

I give it a 4.5 out of 5 bronze pencils.

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