The concept is simple, even if the technology behind it is complicated: You write with a pen on paper, plug the pen into a computer, and have everything you’ve written converted into digital text. That’s the idea behind Adapx’s Capturx pen-and-software packages, and it actually works very well.
Adapx’s Penx digital pen and Capturx plug-in for Microsoft OneNote isn’t the first digital-pen package we’ve reviewed, but it may be the most useful of the devices thus far.
That’s no knock on LiveScribe’s excellent Pulse pen, which is similar in its technology. The Adapx system, like the LiveScribe pen, uses an infrared sensor in the tip of the pen, as well as special paper with microscopic dot patterns, to “remember” what you’ve written. Once you connect either of these pens to a PC with a USB dock, you can download your notes to your hard drive.
They’re both phenomenal and innovative products, but here’s where the Adapx version might have more far-reaching appeal: Adapx’s pen ties in with already mass-marketed software, such as Microsoft OneNote and Microsoft Excel, meaning your handwritten notes can be imported and converted to text for use with those programs. LiveScribe’s pen, on the other hand, is equipped with a microphone; it’s more for recording audio from lectures or interviews that is electronically “tied” to your handwritten notes.
LiveScribe is a great product for students and journalists, and it’s also compatible with Mac OS X. The Adapx system works only on Windows machines (XP SP2 and Vista SP1), but it’s equally beneficial for a wider range of workers–anyone from a field medic to a legal records-keeper, to emergency response teams, to an architect, to anyone who simply prefers to write with a pen and paper. Though there’s only one version of the pen itself, different software packages bundled with the pen fit different job-centric needs.
It isn’t cheap, though. The Capturx OneNote package, bundled with the Penx pen, a USB docking cradle/charger, five ink-cartridge refills, and a weatherproof notebook, goes for $350; additional or replacement notebooks cost $22. The OneNote package is the one most geared to commercial use and the one tested for this review. (More on the other packages in a minute.)
The Penx pen is about the size of a dry-erase board marker; it plugs into the included USB dock for recharging and downloading your handwritten notes. The pen also has built-in Bluetooth capabilities, although they don’t interact with the OneNote package at the moment. Adapx says Bluetooth-compatible packages will be available in the near future.
Before the pen can interact with your PC, you need to run the included CD that installs two main components: a plug-in for Microsoft OneNote, and pen-management software that pops up from the dock whenever the pen is connected. Microsoft OneNote 2007 is required for the system to work, and it isn’t included with the package itself. OneNote is standard on most Windows tablet PCs, and costs $100 by itself. Ideally, the Capturx system would work with the more-commonplace Microsoft Word, but the OneNote integration is superb.
Once the Capturx software is installed and the pen is connected, it works extremely well. You’re able to view your handwritten notes–and even search their contents for keywords–as well as convert your handwriting to plain text.
I haven’t seen optical character recognition software that works without a hitch, but the writing-to-text conversion in this package is as smooth as I’ve ever seen. I experienced about a 90 percent success rate with my handwritten notes, but there were still a few things to get used to: The software inserted line breaks after every handwritten line of text (a word wrap setting would have been nice), and crossing out words as you write them in the notebook doesn’t actually delete the digital equivalent.
Still, the writing-to-text conversion is an incredible time-saver and the secret sauce for this package. Fixing those line breaks and touching up the text manually is infinitely faster than transcribing everything from handwritten notes.
Besides the OneNote plug-in, a few other suites are available. The Adapx Forms for Microsoft Excel package, which lets users print Excel spreadsheets with special dot patterns that can convert hand-completed forms to digital text, is priced for enterprise use depending on volume. Of the two additional Capturx packages, one is for Autodesk Design Review (a computer-assisted design suite for architects and engineers); the other is for ArcGIS (a digital mapping and geographical information systems suite).
The Capturx for Excel, Capturx for Autodesk, and Capturx for ArcGIS packages don’t require special notebooks or paper; instead, the software includes a plug-in that lets you print to your own dot-pattern paper.
At $350, the OneNote bundle is pricey, but very useful. Not only does the Adapx system allow users to leave their laptops at home, it creates automated digital records in scenarios where manual transcription has been a necessity (hospitals, inspection forms, housing applications, and industrial logs, just to name a few). If Adapx integrates the pen with even more mainstream software in the future, your laptop might never leave the house again.