GCN Lab Review: Anoto penDocuments

Pros: Captures writing, drawings and signatures digitally with easy-to-use ball point pen and special format paper
Cons: Limited to using a color printer that meets certain requirements.
Performance: A-
Features: B+
Ease of use: A
Value: C
Price: $499

I always seem to want what I can’t have. What I really want in a digital pen is something that works as a regular pen, but that can also record input digitally. The Anoto penDocuments system comes as close as anything available to doing this, but I felt a bit hamstrung by the product’s requirements.

Anoto penDocuments comes with a slightly jumbo-sized ball-point pen that also has Bluetooth capabilities and an infrared camera that can digitally record whatever you write or draw. This is a real ball-point pen that writes with real ink, plus it comes with four ink refills.

The other piece of the system is the Anoto template, which prints a subtle pattern of black dots that can be read by the digital pen but are almost invisible to the eye. The pen reads the pattern and registers the coordinates of what and where the user writes. Whatever you write or draw with the pen on the Anoto-dot patterned paper is saved in the pen’s memory until you download it to a docking station, where it’s transferred via Bluetooth to your desktop or laptop PC or smart phone.

The tricky part is that the dots only work when you print them out on a color printer that meets certain requirements. Try it on a regular monochrome laser printer, like I did at first, and you’ll get an error message. For best quality, Anoto recommends eight OKI color printer models: C5450, C5900, C5950, C6150, C6100, C8800, C9600 and C9650. If you have one of these printers, you’re all set. Anoto says you can also use another make of color printer as long as it’s a color toner laser printer with an output resolution of 600 dpi or more, such as 1,200, 1,800 or 2400, and has a PostScript 3 driver or PS3 emulation. But if you do use a non-OKI printer, the print quality isn’t guaranteed.

You charge the docking station and pen by connecting it to your laptop via a USB connection. It took about two and a half hours to charge the battery for the first time.

Anoto also limits how many pages you can print with the Anoto pattern. The initial package lets you print 1,280 pages with the pattern, and then you must buy refills for a license to print an additional 6,144 pages.

And it works only with Adobe PDF documents. So documents in Word or PowerPoint will have to be saved as PDFs to work with the Anoto system.

The Anoto pen system would be useful if you need to collect a lot of signatures in both ink and digital formats, such as in a government office that processes forms. What I really want is a digital pen system that would work like a pen and save my data digitally from any kind of paper, no color printer or special license for templates required. Until that low-maintenance digital pen of my dreams is invented, Anoto penDocuments will have to suffice.

Anoto, 866-552-6686, www.anoto.com

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