When you’re recording anybody else, or recording a telephone call, you’re supposed to wear the Pulse’s earbuds, which contain microphones. When you play the recording back, you get an enhanced 3-D spatial audio experience.
Unfortunately, these earbud-mikes are big, hard and uncomfortable. My first set didn’t even work, and had to be replaced.
I found software bugs at every turn — on the pen, in the Windows software and on the Web site. The company promises to fix them promptly.
Beyond the basics, the Pulse is also jaw-clenchingly hard to learn. This itty-bitty thing actually has menus and submenus; you’re supposed to tap the points of a cross (it appears on every page of the pads, or you can draw it yourself) to move through the menu hierarchy. But the pen’s screen can display only one line of text at a time. So not only does every operation take a million fussy little taps, but you have to keep the menu structure in your head, which is fairly hopeless.
You’ll also have a devil of a time understanding some of the concepts, like the difference between a “session” and a “page” or a “notebook” and a “series.” From the user’s guide: “Every page 4 of every Blue Series 1 LiveScribe notebook will contain the same dots. If you write on page 4 of your included Blue Series 1 notebook, it will appear in LiveScribe Desktop as page 4 of Blue Series 1 notebook. If you write on page 4 in a different Blue Series 1 notebook, it will also appear as page 4 of Blue Series 1 notebook in LiveScribe Desktop.” Yikes.
Of course, you’ll never see that paragraph unless you stumble across the Pulse user guide, which is unlikely. It’s not in the box, not on a CD — it’s hiding online. Only one line of fine print on the Getting Started leaflet hints at its existence.
Now, you may wonder how paper computing will take off when its principal weapon exhibits so many 1.0 start-up stumbles. And if you’re like most people, you might regard the Pulse pen as a technology in search of a purpose — or a purchase that will wind up, forgotten, in the back of your gadget drawer.
But if you’re in the Pulse’s target audience — people who regularly take handwritten notes during lectures, classes, meetings, presentations or even concerts — you have a lot to look forward to. Even if the Pulse never becomes more than a one-trick pony, it’s a heckuva good trick. And for society’s long-suffering subset of note takers, at least, it may be the first convincing evidence that the pen has finally gone digital.
David Pogue is a columnist for the New York Times and contributor to CNBC. He can be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.