Smartpens are wonderful things, but most of them come with a caveat. Livescribe’s pens require special paper. Equil and others lean on a clip-on base unit to record their pens’ movements. Over on Kickstarter, there’s an innovative new smartpen that stands on its own. It doesn’t need a wireless receiver. You don’t have to buy notebooks from the company that makes it. Heck, you don’t even need a notebook to write in or ink to write with. All you need is Phree.
Its creators wanted to come up with a device that could jot notes down on anything: your Moleskine, a whiteboard, your hand, the neighbor’s hairless cat. It’s a terrific tool for creatives, too, letting you retouch photos and paint or sketch digitally with a high degree of precision. Phree is also shaped a bit like a carpenter’s pencil — making it comfortable to hold and dispelling any worry you might have about it rolling off a roof should you use it to jot down the dimensions of your next shingling job.
How does it work? Lasers. Phree’s creators developed the world’s smallest laser interferometer and crammed it into the tip of their pen. It blasts the laser at the surface you’re writing on and catches what bounces back. Phree turns that into input (whether it’s handwriting, doodles, or just movements) that it then beams to a Bluetooth-connected device.
Phree is more than just a high-tech writing implement, though. It has a few other impressive tricks up its sleeve. You can pair it with a PC, tablet, or phone and use the pen as pointing device. It can also function as a wireless handset for phone calls, and its integrated touchscreen will even display incoming text messages — which you can then reply to simply by scribbling your response on a surface. There’s even potential to use Phree and your handwriting as a biometric security measure.
Presumably a lot of people out there have been eagerly awaiting something like Phree, because the Kickstarter campaign is already a huge success. More than 1,400 early bird pens are already spoken for, but you can still snag one of your own by pledging $168. That’s about $40 more than the Livescribe 3 or Logitech IO2, but Phree packs in plenty of additional functionality for those extra dollars you’re spending.