Logitech IO Review
Update 2004-08-04: over the past few months I have
received reports that IO supplies (pen refills, paper, & notebooks) have become
increasingly difficult to purchase. Two pieces of information might be
helpful to those looking for supplies:
Recently I had an opportunity to evaluate Logitech's IO personal digital pen device. This is a pen that captures a digital image of what you write, through use special paper and electronics embedded in the pen. Some years ago I abandoned my paper log book and switched to an Apple Newton, and ever since the Newton stopped being a viable platform I have been searching for an alternative that is better than the laptop I use in its place (at the time of writing this review, it's a Dell D400). For reviews of other solutions I have evaluated, see my HP Tablet PC and my CrossPad reviews.
The technology behind the IO is not Logitech's creation, it is the invention of a Swedish company, Anoto. The basic idea behind the IO is that a structured pattern of dots is pre-printed on paper, a camera embedded in the pen and an image processor watches the dots and use them to track the pen's progress as you write. Each dot's position in relation to its neighbours is unique, and so the IO can precisely determine its position on the page as it watches the dots pass across its lens. Note: for a complete background workup on the technology see Wired Magazine's excellent article of September 2001.
The IO device comes packaged with the following:
My first impression of the pen is that it would be too large to comfortably used; however, surprisingly, the pen is quite usable and its size doesn't present any usability issues. That said, a primary design flaw is that the pen's cap doesn't fit on the back-end of the pen; which leaves you with no convenient place to store the cap while using the pen.
I used the pen to take notes and draw pictures. I also tried using some of the special forms packaged with the IO. The pen does an excellent job capturing in pictorial form (i.e., digital ink) an exact, high resolution image of your writing/drawing. Those images can be quickly exported to MS Word or image files for portable long-term storage. If the pen is being used with a form containing fields, then actions may be stored along with the digital ink image.
When you remove the cap from the pen, the IO turns itself on. When it's ready to use (1 or 2 seconds), the IO gently vibrates (a pulse). When writing in a free-form area of a page, the pen captures your writing without any distractions (although a small green LED is lit to reassure you that the pen is powered-on). If you make mark in a coded-checkbox, the IO pulse-vibrates briefly to acknowledge that it has recognized the checkbox.
This pulse-vibrate method of user feedback is excellent: it doesn't disturb other people sitting next to you, but you---the IO user---receive definite feedback regarding the status of your writing with the IO pen.
An email can be sent using the pen through use of one of the forms: you print in a field called "Subject", and those letters are automatically recognised and become the subject line of the email; you print in a field called "To", and the text is recognised and becomes the email's addressee(s); and you write, print, or draw in the large text area of the form and that digital ink is pasted into the email as an image.
The checkboxes mentioned, above, are a key element of the pen's use:
Similar to the CrossPad, the IO pen creates a serial log of all its data, as you use the pen (see my CrossPad review for details). The software on the PC/Mac reads that log and interprets the data as a stream; so, if you forget to tick the "Completed Page" checkbox you could end up with text overwriting itself on the page.
The pen works as advertised, but it fails to satisfy my desire to be a replacement solution for a paper log book because it's infrastructure isn't portable; to download the pen's contents into your laptop when you are away from your office you must carry the dock with you.
Since the IO's camera is always on the watch for the special dots printed on Anoto paper, using the pen to write on normal paper will sometimes cause you to lose the pen's contents. Also, unnecessary use of the pen needlessly drains the battery, and since it can only be charged through its dock, you may find yourself without use of the pen when you need it.
One of the advantages of my current logbook solution, using a small laptop PC, is that my notes are in a searchable form. Switching to the IO would mean that most of notes would now be stored in image form and not be searchable. This is a considerable barrier---for me---to adopting the IO.
Given the pen's current implementation, in my estimation it is only suitable for either specialised vertical applications with custom coded software and forms, or for those who rarely travel and who also have no current practice of note-taking in text-document form.