What it is
The Dane-Elec Z-Pen is a $29 pen with receiver that lets you take notes on paper while it records a digital image of what you’re writing.
How it works
You simply clip the receiver to the top of your notepad, then write with the pen/transmitter. When you want to load the image you’ve created, stick the receiver into your USB drive. Use the included software (Windows only) and you will see an amazingly accurate rendering of what you’ve written on your notepad. The included handwriting recognition software (Windows only) works as well as or better than any in common use today.
Whom it good for
Anyone who wants to takes notes on paper and turn them into text on a computer. If that’s what you’re looking for, you have very few options, but luckily your best option is also the cheapest by far. The only close competitor is the SolidTek DigiMemo, but it is a heavy and larger-than-normal notepad, you’ll need to buy separate software if you want to do the handwriting-to-text conversion and it costs around $130. If you don’t need a paper copy of your notes, you could get an iPad (even the first generation one), but be aware that handwriting recognition is not perfect and it can be difficult to reconstruct what you meant as you make corrections later if you don’t have a paper copy of what you wrote.
This device has a low rating on Amazon because of several issues. These helpful hints will allow you to avoid the frustrations that led to the low reviews:
- The included rechargeable battery might be bad. Be prepared to unscrew the four little screws in the back of the receiver and install your own rechargeable AAA battery. When the receiver is plugged into your computer’s USB port, the computer will try to recharge the battery, so you must put in a rechargeable battery because a regular battery might explode.
- Be sure to open the back of the pen and remove the tab of plastic from the hearing-aid batteries inside.
- The mini ballpoint refill might be dry or almost dry, so you might as well make sure you have replacements on hand.
- The pen’s transmitter is the clear plastic near the tip. It must communicate with the receiver, so make sure you don’t block it. Don’t hold the pen too close to the tip, and don’t put your other hand between the transmitter and the pen.
- When you open the clip and close it again, it tells the receiver than you’re starting another page. So you need to make sure to open that clip and close it again when you start another page, or you’ll end up with a digital image of one page on top of another.
- If you buy a Z-pen and have problems with it, don’t drive yourself crazy trying to troubleshoot it. With these tips, it will either work or it won’t. If it doesn’t work, it’s a bad unit; just exchange it.
- The handwriting recognition works very well out of the box with no training. Just use the standard strokes you were taught in elementary school and remember that if a human being wouldn’t be able to decipher your handwriting, a computer won’t be able to either.
Despite the extensive potential problems, once you’ve navigated your way around them, this is an incredibly sophisticated and useful device. You’ll be amazed by the digital images: they look exactly like what you’ve drawn on paper. The handwriting recognition is as good an anything on the market today. Most surpising of all, the cost is practically negligible at $29.