For a lot of people, there's no substitute for taking notes with a pen and piece of paper. You can draw, annotate, write, and organize your information in a real notebook. The problem comes when you want to get some of that information into a computer, at which time you usually have to transcribe your handwritten notes and then try to recreate your drawings or scan them. Well, the Equil Smartpen 2 (US$169, pre-order on Indiegogo) wants to change all that by giving you a comfortable ballpoint pen that captures all of your writing and sketching on plain paper, moving it to either a Mac app (Equil Note, free) or one of several free iOS apps (Equil Note HD for iPad, Equil Note for iPhone, Equil Sketch HD for iPad, and Equil Sketch for iPhone.
The Equil Smartpen 2 reminds me of some pens that I've received as handout promotional items ... and I mean that in a good way. It's triangular in shape, wider than your usual "stick ballpoint pen", and has a good feel to it. The point where your fingers hold the pen is made of a translucent white plastic that tapers down to the pressure sensitive tip, while the rest of the body is made of a white plastic.
Looking close up at the pen, you notice several things that clue you to the fact that this is not just a plastic pen. There's a small grey rectangular button on one side, and near the top you'll find a glowing white LED and a pair of charging contacts.
The entire pen fits into what's called a "Charging Cradle and Convenience Case" that holds not only the charger for the device, but the receiver for the pen. That receiver is a small 3-inch long rectangular box that slides out like a drawer from the charging cradle. Folding around the triangular charging cradle is a magnetically-secured cover similar to Apple's Smart Covers. There's even a pop-out cap for the pen, which should help the pens last longer as they won't dry out.
It's a very attractive package. Equil will be selling the devices singly or in two-packs; we received a two-pack (two pens) for the review.
For me, the real test of the Equil Smartpen 2 was going to be on how well it worked. I've tried a lot of "smart pens" over the years, and to be honest I was pretty skeptical about how well this device would capture text and sketches.
My first test was with my iMac, which is running OS X Yosemite beta. Upon pulling the little receiver out of the charging cradle, I noticed a previously hidden switch for setting modes. It has three positions: one marked with the Bluetooth symbol for shutting off Bluetooth and just capturing pen motion with the pen alone, one marked "Other" for Mac OS X, Windows, and Android, and another marked iOS.
The receiver is clipped to the top of the page of whatever you're writing on. If you happen to be using something like a Field Notes notebook or Moleskine, you can just clip it to the page, write and draw, turn the page, and clip it onto the top of that page. That receiver is able to determine the bounds of the page and tells you when you're getting too close to the top or the bottom by flashing a red light. I believe it's using some sort of infrared connection with the pen, as there is a function in the Mac app to determine if you're getting either radio frequency or infrared interference.