Cross your t's and dot your i's—digitally

The Cross pen, that ultimate analog tool, has gone digital.

Cross Pen Computing Group designed the CrossPad XP to take handwritten notes and
transfer them to a PC. It looks like a black clipboard, except for a tiny LCD window at
the bottom, and it loads standard 6- by 9-inch yellow memo pads.

Hidden inside the included Cross pen is a radio transmitter. As you write on the pad,
the pen transmits its changing location. An indicator confirms that the pad is recording.

I did not have to exert extra pressure to record my writing digitally. The pen
transmitter kept track of its whereabouts well, although occasionally it missed light pen

If you can see your writing on paper, the pad generally will record it. Except for the
digital cap on top of the pen, there is no clue about the transmitter inside.

A bit of housekeeping is necessary because the memo pad has no electronic link. You
must tell the CrossPad each time you flip a page by tapping a tiny indented hole.

Tapping the hole causes the page to be saved, and you can begin writing on a new one.
Forget to tap the hole, and you overwrite whatever was on the digital page even though you
are working on a fresh sheet of paper.

The pad displays the number of the page it thinks you are writing on. If you take care
to number pages, it’s easy to go back and make new annotations on old pages. This
quickly becomes second nature.

My one complaint came in uploading the copy, which Cross calls digital ink. You do so
by plugging the CrossPad into the serial port of a computer running Microsoft Windows 9x.
Our test PC ran Windows 98. The plug had a CrossPad logo on one side with an arrow, and I
assumed it should face up. But in fact the XP logo on the other side was supposed to face

The instructions did specify this, and no harm was done, but why is the plug designed
to look as if it goes in upside-down? When I oriented it correctly, the digital ink still
would not upload. I had to go into Win98’s advanced port settings and manually set
the first-in, first-out buffers to a lower value.

FIFO buffers come factory-set for maximum port performance, and users normally would
change them only in case of communications glitches. I’ve never had to change them
before. Most users would not even know they are there, buried five levels below the system

The CrossPad’s character recognition was a mixed bag. When I circled a word on the
pad, the uploaded version highlighted the word. But it did not recognize the same word
written a bit lower down the page.

According to the vendor, the pad will work for six months on a single set of batteries,
and the pen will run up to a year. Overall, the CrossPad handles basic note-taking and
uploading well, and its battery life was generous.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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