There is a follow up to this review which gives an update on documentation and the new features. I also did a new test to check how hard the pen has to be pressed before it works. Find this follow up here.
Review of: DigiMemo A501
Manufacturer’s web site: http://www.acecad.com.tw
Description: Digital notepad that makes it possible to drawn on paper and at the same time record the drawing in digital format.
The A501 is a digital notepad that allows you to draw on normal paper and while doing so it will record all information and you can later import this into the PC software (Check ACECAD’s website for Linux and Mac software) and manipulate it using the software.
I often do notes in connection with programming, blogging & game design ideas and thought it would be handy to have them on the PC. This would make it easier to share the notes with friends to hear their opinion. Of course I could always scan the notes in but this is much smoother. I paid 129 CHF for the A501 which equals to 103 USD/80 EUR. This is the most expensive notepad that I ever bought, but then again this one is different.
I got a spare pen and a 512 MB Compact Flash card at the same time.
Before ordering the A501 I was considering the A401 which is an A4 one (A501 is A5) difference was also 32 MB instead of 8 MB. I had a feeling the A4 one would be too big, as the pad is larger than the paper; around 8 cm at top and 2.5 at the bottom and 3cm at each side. Actually, comparing with a normal A4 paper sheet they are almost equal in size. When I did receive the A501 I was shocked, the box was SO big… I doubled checked yes, said A501 and not A401.
If you check the manufacture web side then you will find no A401 or A501 but instead the A402 and A502. They are not on sale here in Switzerland yet, so that’s why I went with the A501. As far as I can tell the only difference is 32 MB vs 8MB for the A501/A502.
The A501 supports 100% normal paper, max 12mm height for a notepad; one was included in the box. To be able to record the drawing a special pen is needed; this pen does work as a normal one also. Both pad and pen requires batteries and they where also included. It also came with manual which for me was in German and the CD with the software was in English. Getting German documentation is normal here in Switzerland so I will not complain. The A501 also came with a USB cable (I read in another review that it does not use the standard USB mini-plug, I’m not able to verify that at the moment, will do later and update this review) and also a paper clip.
The pen can be placed at the bottom of the notepad; which will be okay as long as I just use the notepad here at home but if I put it in a bag then I don’t find it secure enough, so I rather have it in a pocket. The paper clip is for when you need to draw on single sheets of paper; which I did not test.
There is a display that shows what page is selected and if there have been drawn on it. It will also give warnings when 90% of the storage is used and when full.
Using the notepad
The A501 was very easy to get working, insert the batteries (got to be put correct or it all dies). Then turn it on and you are ready to draw. There is a few buttons on the pad:
- Power on/off
- Next page
- Previous page
- Next Free page
So to get started with writing/drawing you turn it on and press “next free page” and you can use the pen as a normal pen. I read other reviews where they wrote that they had problems with getting all data recorded, the pen have to be hold straight and pressed a bit. Nice thing is that the display shows when it receives info from the pen, so if you don’t see this symbol then the pen should be pressed harder on the paper. I never had this problem while using the notepad.
So while you are drawing/writing it will record all movements and store it. It can hold up to 999 pages assuming you have enough space. The test drawing I did (see picture) used 32 KB, so the internal memory would be able to hold 255 of them. The 512 MB CF card would be able to handle more than 16.000 of them, so you might ask why I bought 512 MB since it is WAY more than enough. Well, it was the smallest I could find. One note, if you buy a CF card then it MUST be from SanDisk and max 512 MB otherwise they do not guarantee it will work.
One very nice feature when using a CF card is that no card reader/writer is needed, just leave the CF card in the A501, connect the USB cable and two removable drives will appear in Windows; one for the 8MB internal memory and one for the CF card.
The A501 is of course heavier than a normal notepad. It weights almost 700g with paper, which is pretty much if you compare to the weight of just the A5 paper which is around 160g. For quick notes you can hold it but I found that if I do a lot of drawing/writing then it was easiest to use when it was laying on a table, so perfect for taking notes at a conference or meeting.
The A501 came with a CD with the software. I installed the software and felt it was working fine but I then checked their web site and found version 2.2. Shocking the version on the CD was 1.0. So I strongly suggest that you download the latest software. Just a pity that they don’t have updated manual for the software also, saw it now features “online writing” and “conversion”. I just don’t have any idea what it is and how it is used.
It is nice that the A501 does not require any drives (At least not with Windows XP), once connected by USB it will appear as a removable drive. So you can also copy other files to this “drive” if you want to bring your other files with you, not that they can be used on the A501 of course.
The software allows you to import the files generated using the A501, when you save from the software it will use another format (also their own format). When I did this first time I was surprised to see that it had the horizontal lines from the paper included. This can be enabled/disabled (not in version 1.0); it is possible to import a background also. I would here have liked to have different predefined backgrounds, such as squares.
The imported digital page can be manipulated in different ways, you can select an area and change the color, highlight text and change the thickness of the pen used. You can erase parts, move them around and even scale parts. It is also possible to define text areas where you can enter text directly using the Windows fonts. You can also export the image to GIF, PNG, BMP and JPEG. I noticed that the resolution is higher with version 2.0 of the software. BMP files are too large to be used really; my test page used 9 MB. It is also possible print and email the page. When printing the background can be included or it can use a blank background. When emailing the page it is possible to select if the page should be attached as JPG or ACECAD’s own e-book format. They automatic add a text line to the email with a URL to where there the software can be downloaded.
One thing missing is OCR, so the software can not recognize the handwritten text. So you will not be able to load the data into Word and continue editing. I did find one program for it ‘MyScript Notes’; I will give the trial version a try and if it is any good then expect a review of it later. My feeling is that it will fail with my handwriting; just as most people do!
Result of a test page
I did a drawing especially for this review and here are the various versions/stages. Hope people will not mind my bad handwrite.
Click the images to see the high resolution image:
|Saved as image with background lines.
|Saved as image without background lines.
- Easy to setup, just a 10 minutes job; worth reading the manual.
- Software works fine and offers a nice set of features to manipulate the text.
- Easy to use.
- No need for a card reader/writer when using a CF card.
- A bit heavy to hold but works fine on a table.
- Lack of documentation for updated software but the basic usage is documented.
- No OCR support in software; the software MyScript Notes does support the format used by DigiMemo but is rather expensive.
- My handwriting still looks very bad…
I will be using the notepad for all future notes that I do and will archiving all notes digitally. No more mess with notes laying all over without a system. Will also be very useful for meetings and conferences; where I can do all notes and then clean them up later and re-order them. I can recommend the A501 for people who do lots of notes which should be kept in an organized way.