Dane-Elec ZPen Review & Competition

These days, more and more gadgets are being released to try and help make life easier. People and businesses are moving away from using paper based products, and everything is digitised. But for those of us that sit around in meetings day in, day out, a pen and paper is absolutely essential if you want to make a decent amount of notes as to what is going on. And you can guarantee someone else is going to want copies as well! The task of writing up those written notes is probably one of the mosted hated out there. Students who attend lectures sit with laptops in front of them instead of keeping a pen and paper because writing up the notes afterwards is a royal pain.

There are several companies out there that have cottoned on to this fact, and have released "Digitising Pens" that record movements on a piece of paper and help you record electronic copies of your notes - and the DaneElec Z-Pen is the latest in this range of gadgets. Neowin has been lucky enough to secure a unit for review.

The first thing to note is the decent price. A quick look on Google's shopping page shows that the average retail price is around £75 in the UK. The device comes with a 1GB USB Receiver, which contains your notes, and the relevant software to read them and convert them in to written format automatically for you, and a pen which can take normal shop-bought pen refills. You are also able to use the receiver as standard USB Storage. Little documentation is provided in the box apart from a quick-start sheet, however full PDF documentation is held on the USB Receiver that you can view at your leisure.

The technology itself is fairly simple - the receiver clips on to the top of the notepad you're working on, and it records the motions of your pen as you push down on the piece of paper. And the Z-Pen does this flawlessly. As you'll see from the shots shown later on - the pen records everything written down without a problem and it looks great on screen.

Plugging the receiver in to your computer allows you access to various items of software to view or convert, and at this first stage I'm afraid to say that enough thought wasn't really given to the process. Installing the conversion software asks you to navigate through the DaneElec interface, click a button, and then double click a Setup.EXE program in a folder that gets opened in Windows Explorer. For must users this won't be a problem, but for someone who's not overly tech savvy it can cause great confusion. You also have to register the conversion software online to use it for more than 14 days. I really don't understand why this is necessary, and just introduces an un-necessary and potentially confusing step for the non tech-savvy.

It's also worth noting that the receiver has a re-chargable battery, which you are required to keep attached to your computer for 6 HOURS before you use it for the first time, and a great deal of emphasis is placed on this in all the literature that comes with the product.

Viewing notes is very simple, but unfortunately the conversion software falls very short. It converted a simple test very easily but for those of us with not so perfect handwriting, the software makes a lot of very simple mistakes. This could quite easily be solved in a later upgrade, or even by using seperately available software.

But, once you get used to these nuances, it can make your life an awful lot easier. Provided you take your time to write your notes fairly neatly - the software converts it in to editable text very easily - and what spelling mistakes DO exist are usually picked up by Microsoft Word's built in dictionary and corrected for you without too much issue.

You need to exert a decent amount of pressure for the pen to function correctly however. Light pen strokes can occasionally be ignored as the pen only transmits data when the tip is depressed. If you write very lightly, or want to use it to digitise a drawing - this can be quite difficult to come to grips with.

Overall, the pen does pretty well with what it aims to do, and for the price you can't complain. But for busy business people or students who want accurately digitised and converted notes - there are better products available. If you're willing to take the time to write neatly, then the Z-Pen is an amazing tool that can make your life quicker and easier.

Neowin is also lucky enough to be able to offer... COMPETITION TIME!!

If you would like the chance to win the Zpen used in this review simply comment on the review of the Zpen to be entered into the free prize draw. A winner will be drawn at random on Monday 21st July 2008.

View: ZPen Package
Screenshot: ZPen Note Viewer
Screenshot: ZPen Software Bundle Interface
Screenshot: Quick test of handwriting conversion
Screenshot: Bigger test of handwriting conversion

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