GCN LAB PRODUCT REVIEW

Capturx is useful addition to digital pen world

Adapx_Capturx-digital-penPros: Easy to use, ingeniously simple design
Cons: Requires Microsoft Office OneNote 2007
Performance: A
Features: A-
Ease of Use: A
Value: A-
Price: $349; Government price: $340; additional paper notebooks are $21.95 each

While window-shopping at an office supply store yesterday, I noticed two long aisles of pens: ballpoint, felt-tipped, roller-tipped, soy-ink, retractable, gel-based, available in all colors and sizes. Who uses all these pens, I wondered. Hasn’t our technologically advanced society moved beyond the lowly pen?

Quite the contrary. Whole industries are still run on the centuries old pen-and-paper platform: Think architects, surveyors, battlefield medics and, to some extent, census takers. All still use pens and paper. The trick is in getting the humble ink pen to work with the rest of the world. This is where Adapx has made a quantum leap forward with its Capturx product.

Most of the digital pens I’ve worked with have been far too complicated. They often require a special kind of color printer or paper or a lot of fussing with a graphics program. I want to be able to write with a pen and have it register digitally, end of story. Capturx for Microsoft Office OneNote comes as close as anything I’ve seen to doing exactly this.

The sticking point is that you need a copy of OneNote 2007, Microsoft’s tablet software. You can buy a copy for around $100, but I downloaded a 60-day trial version from Microsoft for free.

The pen itself is nothing special: It's a generic black pen with some indicator lights on the sides and is a little smaller than a breadstick. It has an ordinary ballpoint tip that writes in real-world blue ink, and it comes with five refill tips. The pen’s docking station plugs into a laptop or other computing device via a USB connection. It takes three or four hours for the initial charging, but it stayed nearly fully charged after that for a week of testing.

Included in the price is a Capturx CD that installs software that works with Microsoft OneNote and also includes pen-management software. I installed everything in a few minutes onto a Hewlett-Packard Pavilion zd7000 laptop PC with a 2.8-GHz Pentium 4 processor and 512M of RAM running Microsoft Windows XP.

The thing I liked best about the Capturx system was the black leatherette-bound notebook that came with it. It looks just like an ordinary field journal or diary. But look closely at the pages and you’ll see they are faintly imprinted with a pale blue grid and tiny dots. This imprint becomes the map on which the pen records your motions against the paper, using the infrared sensors in the pen’s tip.

After I wrote in the journal with the pen’s ballpoint tip, I put it back in the docking station. You download what you’ve written into Microsoft OneNote by clicking on the pen-management icon and save what you’ve written as a “notebook” file.

The results were, in a word, awesome. Capturx lived up to its name by capturing every misshapen, scrawled letter and goofy doodle.

Once your writing is safely downloaded into OneNote, you can play around with it. You can translate your scribbling into readable text and perform searches on it. You can mark up your onscreen notes with a rainbow of digital pen colors. You can share your notes with other users, a real bonus in this world of telework.

You could even use the pen without the ink. Say you were behind enemy lines or interviewing a terrorist, and you didn’t want anyone to see what you were writing. I tried this by taping over the tip of the ink pen and writing in the notebook. Sure enough, after docking the pen, my “invisible” notes showed up perfectly in Office OneNote -- my secrets safe.

The leatherette journal is waterproof and designed to hold up in field work. I sprinkled a little tap water on one of the pages and wrote on it. The water beaded up on it and didn’t soak through the paper. When I pressed down onto the dampened page with the pen, it made a slight buzzing vibration when it hit the water. Not a big deal, I just like to be extra careful whenever I mix water and batteries. It still worked fine, with no difference in the image quality of the text.

Adapx offers the Capturx product in several other packages that I didn’t test here: one for Excel 2007; one that works with ESRI’s ArcGIS geographic information systems software; and one that works with Autodesk Design Review. The Army uses a modification of the Capturx tool that helps assess soldiers with traumatic brain injuries. Soldiers use the pen to connect a series of dots, and the Capturx product can capture the test and later replay it back to medical staff.

I found myself seriously considering lifting my six-month shopping moratorium and buying a full copy of Microsoft OneNote 2007 so that I could keep using this past the 60-day expiration date. In the depths of this recession, I’m actually considering spending some benjamins. I can think of few higher compliments.

Adapx, 877-232-7903, www.adapx.com

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