New-age business guru Tom Peters, author of the bestseller The Pursuit of WOW, says that today’s products must have a "WOW factor". That is, when people see them and use them their first reaction should be, "Wow!"
Well, Mr. Peters would be pleased to know that the C-Pen 800 ($199.95) from C-Technologies definitely has the WOW factor. In fact, every person I’ve shown this simple gadget to wants one immediately. And each has uttered either "Wow!", "Holy cow!" or "No way!" when I’ve demonstrated it for them.
So just what is a C-Pen? And exactly what does it do? Well, it’s really quite simple.
The C-Pen 800 looks, feels, and acts like a highlighter, albeit a slightly oversized highlighter. Except the text you pass it over is not highlighted in yellow, but read into the pen!
That’s right, it’s part scanner, part Storage device. You can scan and store names, address, phone numbers, movie times, and on and on, into your C-Pen. You can even save complete sections of a manual or book, up to 3,000 pages, for later viewing.
Did I hear a "No way!" out there?
Yes, way. But that’s not all. It can also communicate with your Palm organizer, your laptop or your desktop computer. Using infrared, you can transfer any text you’ve captured into a document on your computer or PDA. Just place the cursor where you want the text to be inserted into one of your Microsoft Excel or Word documents and beam it from the C-Pen. Or, you can go the opposite way. You can beam a file, or a complete name and address list, from your computer to your C-Pen.
Or, you can do both.
That’s right, with your C-Pen you can transfer a file from one computer to your C-Pen, and then transfer it from your C-Pen to a second computer. Talk about an interesting file transfer device! And no more searching for a floppy disk.
Any "Holy cows!" in the house?
Well then, did I mention that the C-Pen can write? It’s true, the C-Pen not only captures and transfers text, but it can also "write". C Write is a unique function within the C-Pen that enables you to "digitally write" without using a keyboard or notepad. The pen traces its own movement over a surface, recognizes the movement as a letter, number or symbol, and stores it as text in the C-Pen.
Alright, all together now, "Wow!"
And that’s just the beginning!
A look inside the C-Pen
The C-Pen 800 is the brainchild of C Technologies, a Scandinavian company formed in 1996. While C Technologies touts the C-Pen as a mobile information collector, it is in essence a small, lightweight computer, with a built-in digital camera and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software.
Believe it or not, at the heart of this little wonder is a 100-MHz Intel StrongARM processor. And while it uses its own C Tech-developed operating system called ARIPOS, it is indeed an open OS and available for third-party development. The C-Pen 800 comes with 512 kilobytes of RAM and 8 megabytes of flash memory, which is enough to hold both the C-Pen software and 3,000 pages of text. And ARIPOS uses an "Explorer-like" directory structure so you can easily store and manage your files.
The tiny digital camera can scan text ranging from 5 to 22 points, and in several languages. It snaps 50 pictures per second, which enables it to capture approximately 100 characters per second. And the OCR software quickly converts the scanned images to text and displays them on a two-line LCD screen. And all of this runs on a rechargable battery (2-3 weeks of normal use) and weighs only three ounces.
There are also several built-in applications including:
- C Address – a basic address book application, which you can use to store up to 200 names and addresses. And it’s Microsoft Outlook compatible.
- C Message – Send SMS text messages and faxes with your IR capable cellphone
- C Beam – Transfer notes, contacts, calendar events and files between your C-Pen and a PDA (which use the IrOBEX infrared protocol)
- C Calendar – Keep your appointments
- C Direct – Transfer scanned text into your PC
- C Write – Enter characters into your C-Pen by writing like it was a pen
- C Dictionary – Translate words with your C-Pen, which comes with one free two-way translation dictionary.
And C Technologies doesn’t plan to leave you in the cold when it upgrades its software. Future upgrades can be downloaded free of charge directly from the C Technologies web site and loaded straight onto your C-Pen.
So how did it work in BrightHand’s "real world" tests?
C-Pen in action
The first thing you notice about the C-Pen is its size. It’s small and light, only 3 ounces, and fits nicely in your hand.
You start it by depressing a button at the top. This button also acts as a scrolling wheel for navigating C-Pen’s menus and scrolling through text.
Once activated, you’ll see the C-Pen menu of options: C Address, Settings, Info, C Direct, and Notes.
C Address is the basic address book application mentioned earlier.
Settings let you select a Language (from Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Spanish, and Swedish) and set the Text Quality (normal or inverted).
Info contains helpful information including Getting Started and Troubleshooting.
And C Direct is the function you use when sending and receiving files from another computer.
Notes is where you’ll spend most of your time. You can create new notes, and edit and delete existing notes. You can even insert, delete, and modify letters within words in notes.
For my evaluation, I created a new note and scanned text that contained both serif (Times Roman) and sans serif (Arial) fonts, and used various sizes of type. No problem.
So I decided to try inverted (white-on-black) text. No problem.
Then I set the C-Pen for Spanish and scanned several paragraphs from a Spanish version of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book One Hundred Years of Solitude. Again, no problem.
Finally I tested it on some unusual, stylized fonts. Not bad. A few incorrect letters here and there but overall it was extremely accurate.
Now the C-Pen might take a little practice for some people. You’ve got to maintain contact with the surface, and you’ve got to avoid straying into the text on the lines above and below the line you are scanning. But this isn’t too difficult to master. And reswiping is certainly quicker than keying.
I also tested the editing features and, while it works as expected, I’d highly recommend beaming the file to your computer and editing it there for anything more than a few minor changes.
Beaming a file to a desktop computer, using the C Direct application, was also quite simple. And once you get the hang of it it becomes very similar to reading a file from a floppy disk.
And beaming to and from a Palm organizer (I used a Handspring Visor Prism for my tests) was completely seamless.
The only feature I didn’t fully test was C Write. But you can be assured that I will in the near future.
One final thing, the C-Pen is "lefty-friendly." You can easily set it for a left-handed person, and the display flips. Also, it enables you to scan text from right to left and, in my testing, it converted it perfectly! Very impressive.
Well, what can you say about a device like this except, "Wow!"
The C-Pen 800 has certainly achieved a permanent place in Brighthand’s technology arsenal.
However, the C-Pen is already seeing competition from companies such as Siemens and Wizcom Technologies. But, rest assured, C-Technologies seems to have a winner and are highly focused. Our bet is on them.
So how do we rate the C-Pen?
Well, let’s just give it a big "WOW!"