When I am at a one-to-one meeting with a networking contact, I often take notes. My memory isn’t bad, necessarily, but when someone starts rattling off a list of people in their target market, I usually can only remember one or two. The problem is that in the heat of the conversation, taking notes still only allows me to grab two or three points, usually requiring that I ask for repetition. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could replay that part of the conversation later rather than interrupt them now?

The Livescribe Echo smart pen does exactly that. Using special paper and a built-in audio recorder, the pen allows you to take notes which can then be transferred to your computer and records the speaker at the same time. The neat thing is that you can later just tap your pen on a section of the notes and it will start playing the audio that it was recording when you were writing those notes.

This feature is particularly useful in lecture-style presentations or in client meetings when you want to capture everything that’s going on without interrupting to retrieve something that you might have missed. The microphone and speaker on the pen are just good enough to record and play back the other person speaking. It does pick up all of the ambient noise in the area, though, too. You can even usually hear the sounds of the pen writing. I don’t view this as a problem as, really, the recording is just for information purposes, not for creating a perfect audio copy suitable for burning to CD.

While the technology is fairly sophisticated, the real challenge to using the Echo is more of a social one. Especially in a one-to-one setting, you really have to ask the other person’s permission to use the pen’s audio recording function. Most people won’t say no, but it may make a lot of them uncomfortable — at least until they forget that it’s recording.

The other minor problem is that sometimes the ambient noise can get to be a real problem. The recording option becomes largely useless in a loud restaurant at lunchtime. Fortunately, even if you aren’t using the recording feature, the pen will still record your handwritten notes which you can then upload to the computer.

My final assessment? The pen is really cool. The social issue is the challenge, but as technology like this continues to expand into the marketplace, people will become more and more comfortable having their words recorded for posterity.