ACECAD DigiMemo A501 digital notepad
Real paper, a real pen, linked to a computer
Review It's been given loads of different names, but my favourite is 'Gerard's syndrome', named after a chap I used to work with. This office-bound ailment is the pest of many an over-worked office type, who spends so much time in meetings, feverishly scribbling down notes, that they never have time to write them all up or action any of the points raised, writes Charlie Brewer.
Until now, a few technology companies have offered partial solution to this problem, including handwriting recognition systems and text-scanning pens, but the folk at ACECAD have combined a number of these to produce a practical solution, the DigiMemo A501.
The A501 resembles a thick clipboard, 30.9cm long and 20.9cm wide, and 560g in weight, with an A5 writing area. The idea is simple: a pad of A5 paper is placed onto the clipboard - or "portable digital pad", as ACECAD refers to it - and then a special electronic pen is used to write on it. The pen has a ballpoint nib, so it's exactly the same experience as scratching away with you Biro in your ring-bound office jotter. The pen records every stroke of the pen digitally.
Every time you finish a page you simply turn over a new one and press the down-arrow key to the left of the pad. This action generates a new digital page in the A501's 8MB memory, so everything you write is kept separated to reflect the contents on the paper pages. If you want to go back to add or amend what you've written, simply toggle through the pages on the little digital display and then carry on writing on the page in question. If a page becomes surplus to requirements then the paper version can be torn from the pad and the digital version erased from the notepad by using the X key. And that's about it. Once you've completed you meeting notes/doodles/magnum opus, all you do is plug a USB cable into the top of the pad and run the bundled DigiMemo Manager software. Your jottings then appear on your PC.
The pad takes four AAA batteries, which will last approximately 100 hours, and reside under the silver section at the head of the pad. Lurking beneath this cover is also a place to insert a Compact Flash memory card to expand the devices memory up to 4GB should the need take you. As stated, the internal memory is only 8MB. No indication as to how many pages of text this will store is given but it's certainly more than two! The pen takes a single SR626SW (or IEC-SR66) battery and the bottom right of the pad also contains two spare nibs for the ballpoint, but replacements can be bought over the counter.
Once your writing is on the PC you can use the DigiMemo Manager application to open the pages, edit them in interesting and diverse ways, including stitching multiple pages together to create an ACECAD e-book, which is saved as a proprietary .dnd file. The pages can be cut and pasted into Microsoft word or alternatively e-mailed as .dnd, .dhw (ACECAD's page format) or .jpg files, depending on the software on the recipient computer.
Left-handers may suffer as trailing-hands accidentally activate the buttons on the left-hand side of the pad, but these are recessed and did require a fair amount of pressure to activate. The internal memory seems stingy but there is room for expansion. The display window does only have three number spaces for digital pages, so if you max up the memory you will still only have 999 unique page location possibilities on the CF memory.
The first attempt to convert my handwriting was a spectacular failure but I was writing at speed and my scrawl is sloppy, so I think more blame on me. That said, at a cost of £100 per unit, the A501 is a little too expensive to be rolled out to everyone, which highlight the file compatibility issues.
Overall, I like it. The A501 is the sort of product that would make the working lives of a dozen people I spend the majority of my working week with easier. It's quick to set up, easy to use and the conversion process, with the wind blowing on the right sort of handwriting, will mean that you can have a flawless version of you meeting notes in a matter of minutes rather than hours.
The other great advantage is its portability. At 560g it's a much more attractive option than even the slimmest of notebook PCs. The A501 makes no bones about wanting to replace your computer -0 it's just there to lend a hand when you're away from your PC. Although £100 does by you a lot of standard stationary...
|ACECAD DigiMemo A501|
|Pros||Expandable memory; plenty of extras supplied in box; it works.|
|Cons||Not ideally designed for lefthanders; slightly mean internal memory; all files are stored in ACECAD proprietary file format; cost.|
|More info||The ACECAD A501 site