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Scanner Pen

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  • Scanner Pen

    Whenever I read a book, I always find interesting quotes and concepts that I want to remember. But I hate scribbling notes.

    Well, it turns out that scanner/OCR technology has improved enough that you can get a pretty good scan from a pen-sized device. There are at least four companies that make them: Wizcomtech, C-Pen, Planon and IRIS.

    Unfortunately, all of them are a little outdated. None claims to work on a Mac, and none have Bluetooth. Some still use a serial port, which means you'll need a (probably dodgy) USB-to-serial adapter.

    The C-Pen had one really neat feature: you could "write" with it as well as scan. That would be great for capturing notes along with your book quotes. Unfortunately, they've discontinued their battery-powered models; all that's left is the version that has to stay tethered to your computer while in use. Likewise, IRIS and Planon must be plugged in. Also, the Planon is made for scanning a full line at a time (the scanner's on the side edge of the pen), which is a neat idea but makes it useless for books, since they don't lay flat.

    So that left a choice of one: Wizcom. Their web site is a few years out of date, but they actually came out with a new pen this year called the InfoScan3Lite. It doesn't have some of the features of their older pens, like image scanning, table scanning, or text-to-speech. But what it does have is a touch screen (with a tap keyboard and stylus), a genuine built-in USB port (no adapter needed), and a really nice UI.

    It works pretty well. It sometimes gets a few characters wrong, but you can either correct them with the built-in tap keyboard, or you can just wait till you get over to the computer. It's kinda slow; you have to wait for each line to scan and recognize before you can scan the next. It can do about one line every five seconds. But there's a trick: instead of lifting the pen and looking at the screen, you can just wait for the red LED at the tip to turn back on. When it's on, you're ready for the next line.

    I've only had it for a week, but so far, I like it. It's a neat toy, and if you're the kind of person that needs shiny toys to get you to do things, this pen's for you.
    Last edited by Jay Levitt; 12-20-2007, 06:17 PM. Reason: fix url

  • #2

    Thanks Jay. I'll be getting one as soon as I get my Kindle all paid for :-} (trust me, you're going to wish you had one too)


    • #3
      Excellent summary, Jay. Thank you. I think this exemplifies that, IMHO, the technology isn't ready yet. I've taken a different approach, which is a hybrid based on what I'm reading. Elements:

      o A single electronic capture tool. I store URL, title, and text extracts and/or my summary. This is less automated than I like, but I'm slowing improving it. More here:,

      o If the reading is short (e.g., one page) articles such as blog posts: I capture what's meaningful while reading
      o If a longer article (e.g., 3-10 pages): I print, put in a Read/Review folder, and read opportunistically. I usually mark it up with a pen, then enter later during processing. (I sometimes have to stretch the two minute rule.)

      o If the reading is book-length, I apply a one-hour scan/absorb approach using voice notes, which I pay to have transcribed. More here:,

      Great topic. I think reading is one of the top practices to create personal value, and I honestly don't yet do enough if it


      • #4
        Originally posted by cornell View Post
        Excellent summary, Jay. Thank you. I think this exemplifies that, IMHO, the technology isn't ready yet.
        Yeah, it's definitely not soup yet - and it may never be, if cameras continue on their path to ubiquity. With enough resolution, why not just take a picture of the page and OCR it later?

        I mostly needed a toy to encourage remembering what I read, so it was perfect for me

        Love your blog! I like the idea about paid transcribing; I've thought about that, and I think that's (partly) what Jott ends up doing too.


        • #5
          Agree with photo of document and more

          My new Casio Exilim Z1080 has document, business card, and projection screen mode. Document mode provides a wonderful high-contrast image.
          The screen mode identifies borders, corrects keystone problems, and crops the image - all quickly and easily enough to allow me to snap photos of key slides in shows.

          Haven't tried to OCR the images yet. Don't know which Mac app would do that, but I like the idea.