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Review: DigiMemo L2 Electronic Memo Pad with OCR

Since I first made the decision to start building a publishing business, I have constantly looked for techniques and technology that would take my normal everyday methods of working and capture the information that I share. This information needs to be in a format that can be easily adapted to create new products. One early change I made was to buy a voice recorder and record conversations whenever I explain things to friends and co-workers. Now, instead of tutoring one person, I can have the audio transcribed into a tutorial to publish. I didn’t have a similar solution for capturing my handwritten notes

This past Christmas I got my hands on one of the coolest new tools for my information publishing business – the DigiMemo L2 by ACECAD.

In spite of the fact that I have a Palm Pilot, a laptop, a voice recorder, several desktop computers, and lots of other little technological gizmos, I still tend to do a lot of my work with good old-fashioned pen and paper. Some of my best ideas come this way and I can often rough out an idea faster than with any other method. The struggle I have is that I rarely type up my notes on the computer and, instead, I end up with notepads full of ideas and product outlines that get lost in the shuffle and forgotten. So, I’ve been on the lookout for some technology that gives me the experience and convenience of writing on paper with a pen, but digitizes the results quickly and easily so that my notes can be converted into the raw material for new books or articles for the web.

One early attempt to solve this dilemma involved scanning my notes into the computer and using OCR software (Optical Character Recognition) to convert the images into text that could be edited in a word processor. The process was cumbersome (which significantly reduces the chances that I’ll actually do it), the OCR software was expensive, and the resulting texts required so much editing to clean up the conversion mistakes (my handwriting is not very neat and OCR software seems to struggle deciphering it) that it just wasn’t worth the effort. I had no intention of trying to change the way I write to please the OCR software and it was faster and easier to just type the notes directly rather than edit the converted files. Not a good solution!

On a business trip last year I was reading the Skymall catalog that the airlines put in the seat-backs of the planes when I came across an ad for the DigiMemo L2. The ad promised that I would be able to write on normal paper using an ink pen and then this device would capture everything I wrote as a graphic. Once captured, the pages could then be quickly downloaded to my computer using an ordinary USB cable and converted to text using their OCR software. Essentially, the DigiMemo L2 digitizes as you write – no scanning required.

From that moment on, I wanted to get my hands on the DigiMemo to see if it would live up to the hype. I tore the ad from the catalog and stuck it to the refrigerator door as a Christmas gift ‘hint’ for my wife. We tend to spend our Christmas money traveling to visit family and keep our gifts to each other more modest, so this one was a combo Christmas/birthday gift – but, I got it! (The combo gift is one of the few benefits to having a birthday right after Christmas!)

So, after months of anticipation, did the DigiMemo L2 live up to the hype? In a word: Yes!

The DigiMemo device is basically a Wacom Tablet with a pad of paper between the pen and the tablet. The pen itself has a ball point cartridge which triggers a pressure sensing mechanism inside when you push down to write. The tablet records the strokes of the pen as you write and builds an image of the page in an internal memory bank. When you flip to a new sheet of paper, there is a button on the side of the tablet to flip to a ‘new digital page’ which starts a new recording.

One great feature of the device is that it does not need to be connected to a computer for you to use it. There is enough memory to store dozens of pages (and you can use an SD memory card to increase the storage space.) So, you can take the pad with you anywhere you would normally use a pen and paper. Then, you can quickly download the pages into your computer using the included software.

Having digital copies of my notes is great, but the real benefit to me is the ability to convert the pages into text. This was the real test of the value of this solution.

I purchased the optional OCR software (a trial version of the software is included, but it’s a ‘must have’ option for me, so I bought it with the DigiMemo.) Once you download the pages to your computer, you can send them to the OCR software for conversion. The conversion software can work with text only and also text with images (which will clean up your drawings.) Straight out of the box, the OCR software converted my chicken-scratch handwriting with about 90% accuracy. This is better than any other OCR software I have used. But, there were still corrections to be made and this was where I was most impressed with the whole system. The OCR software displays the image of your hand written page along side of the OCR results. This enables me to quickly read through the OCR texts and, when I come across something that doesn’t look right, glance over to the original to see the hand written text. A few quick strokes on the keyboard and I have a corrected page ready to save.

The DigiMemo L2 fits right in with my normal work flow and makes it easy to convert my writing into editable texts. Using the device requires very little change to my normal work methods which means that I will actually use this device. The only thing I can imagine being more convenient would be to have a personal scribe who follows me around taking notes and typing up everything I think and say (a man can have a dream, can’t he?)

One add-on that I did not get (but plan to add soon) is a portfolio case to hold the pad and pen. The pen is designed to clip onto the tablet when not in use, but is very easy to knock loose. Without the pen, the tablet is useless except as a very expensive clipboard. I also want a little extra protection for the whole thing. So, another $40 will get you a fancy portfolio style holder that zips shut and will keep everything in place and protected.

There are a few other cool little features on the DigiMemo L2. The most significant one is that it will serve as a drawing tablet for your computer when it is plugged in with the USB cable. If you don’t already have a graphics tablet, this is a nice little bonus feature.

The DigiMemo L2 has already proved its worth to me. I’ve been using it to capture notes for new reports, e-books, and web content. I take it with me everywhere I go and know that everything I write is captured and ready to use. It is an ideal solution for any writer who likes to work longhand and wants to avoid the time and expense of typing up notes.

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