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I have recently found a wonderful tool that could actually take the place of my yellow highlighter. The C-Pen 800C doesn’t use ink — it scans any text that catches my fancy so I can store it or transfer it to my PC. The C-Pen 800C has several helpful functions, but its main task is to be used as a “pen scanner” — it is literally a portable scanner that is only slightly more bulky than those fat yellow highlighters. The C-Pen might just become the next indispensable productivity tool that you need to own. HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH? In fact, the only comment that I might throw against the C-Pen is that it does too much! Packed inside this 3 ounce, 5.5 inch-long pen are about eight different applications including a calendar, address book, full-fledged dictionary and message center. But as mentioned above, the primary function of the C-Pen is to scan text. The C-Pen 800C actually houses a small computer complete with an Intel-based processor. At the smaller end, there is a tiny digital camera used for scanning. You actually swipe the C-Pen over a line of text just as you would with a regular highlighter. As you do so, the C-Pen uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to convert the scanned images into readable text. The majority of the C-Pen 800C face is taken up by a small four-line screen where you can actually read and even edit your scanned text. This basic function is controlled by the C-Read software inside the pen. The C-Address and C-Calendar functions explain themselves. A nifty little function on the pen is C-Dictionary, which allows you to scan a word and retrieve a definition instantly. Several language packages can be downloaded for the dictionary. C-Message allows you to send text messages from the C-Pen in combination with a mobile phone. The C-Beam and C-Direct functions both operate to get information from your C-Pen to your PC or PDA. And lastly, the C-Write function allows the C-Pen to be used just like a regular pen; you can scrawl characters with the C-Pen that get interpreted into regular letters. This function is similar to the Graffiti character system used in Palm PDA devices. THE SERIOUS BUSINESS OF SCANNING The best way to understand the C-Pen is to see it in action, and you can do this right from your computer — the C-Pen Web site located at www.cpen.com does a fantastic job of providing information about the pen. You can view interactive stories about how the C-Pen is used in everyday life and obtain detailed information on the functions I described above. I found the C-Pen 800C easy to use right out of the box. A thorough user’s guide is provided with the C-Pen that does a good job of walking you through each available function. I did have a little confusion on a few steps since the guide doesn’t do the best job of addressing specific information to specific models. For example, the guide talks about inserting the batteries into the C-Pen and it took me a minute to figure out that I was using the 800C model, which operates on an already installed rechargeable battery. Even with a rechargeable battery, the 800C is surprisingly light and compact. An enclosed proprietary cable is supplied with the 800C that does the double duty of charging the battery and connecting to a serial port on your PC (a very strange-looking cable, but it worked fine). On the other hand, the serial connection may not even be needed because the 800C includes an infrared (IR) port at one end that makes for easy connection with your PDA or PC. Right above the IR port is a navigational scroll wheel that you use to move around most functions of the C-Pen. The only other button on the device is the “Escape” button, located at the bottom of the display screen which operates in similar fashion to your “Esc” key on your PC. Some of you who have played around with OCR in the past may relate to the skepticism I felt when I went to use the C-Pen to scan text for the first time. Whenever anything is digitally scanned, a computer merely sees an “image.” That is, the computer might scan the image of the letters “abc,” but it won’t automatically treat it as the letters a, b, and c. OCR software does the job of looking at these scanned images and interpreting the images into “real” text that can be used and manipulated in a word processing program. OCR software packages are supposed to be getting better, but a mandatory human “read over” is always required to make sure that everything converts accurately. To my amazement, the C-Pen 800C performed an incredible job in the OCR category. The C-Pen can read text characters from 5 to 22 points (similar to the text sizes in word processors), which is adequate for any magazine, journal, newspaper, or court document that you would want to scan. I tested the C-Pen on a variety of textual environments and was very pleased with its OCR ability. And the speed was good, too — I actually obtained better results when I swiped across the text a little faster, at approximately the same speed I might use a regular highlighter. Sometimes, there are milliseconds when the C-Pen might have to catch up with your speed before you read another line, and there will certainly be times when it won’t accurately interpret a symbol or letter. Which is expected — as discussed above, no OCR is perfect, and you especially might have problems when you accidentally swerve into another line of text when using the C-Pen. The good news is that any hiccups you might experience in the use of the C-Pen can easily be fixed. The C-Pen includes several options for editing any scanned text within the pen itself. This is one instance where you might use the C-Write function. You simply use the navigational scroll wheel to position your cursor where you want to insert the correct character, then scrawl it out on a page of text (the user’s guide contains the letter symbols that you can use). On the other hand, text scanned into the C-Pen can be transferred to a PC or PDA, where it can be easily edited using your favorite word processing program. I chose to use the IR ports on the C-Pen and my laptop, and connecting them was a breeze. My laptop automatically recognized the C-Pen via the IR port, and I was easily able to “C-Beam” a text file from the C-Pen to my laptop. The software CD included with the C-Pen contains additional programs such my “My C-Pen” that can be used to organize and access the information on the C-Pen from your PC. Also, I don’t want to forget to mention that the CD contains some great interactive tutorials and information if you find that you need some help on any particular function of the C-Pen. BELLS AND WHISTLES ABOUND As I stated before, the C-Pen has a plethora of functions and applications. I’ve been using the C-Pen 800C for over a month now and I still keep finding new uses and tricks. One of my favorite applications included with the C-Pen is the C-Direct function. I had a Microsoft Word document on electronic signatures opened on my desktop and I wanted to place a couple of paragraphs from the Federal E-Sig Act in the middle. Since I had a hard copy in front of me, it seemed like the only way to get the information into my Word document would be to manually type it in. And that’s where the C-Pen came to save the day. Using the “My C-Pen” software, I activated C-Direct on my laptop and connected the C-Pen to my laptop via the IR port. I then took the C-Pen, scanned my paragraphs line by line, reconnected the C-Pen via the IR port, and my text automatically appeared in my document. It doesn’t get much easier than that. The C-Pen 800C, as opposed to some of the other models available, includes an automatic trigger for scanning text. The scanning function is activated simply by pressing the C-Pen on to the page and text to be scanned. Operating the C-Pen can be done with one hand, and the orientation of the display can be switched for either right or left hand use. Lastly, the C-Pen obviously handles scanning the traditional black text on a white background, but a simple switch in the settings will easily enable the C-Pen to read inverted white text on a black background. ASK FOR IT FOR CHRISTMAS All in all, the C-Pen 800C is a very useful gadget that can definitely make your text-juggling life a little easier. I did find that using some functions of the C-Pen requires a fairly large learning curve, but once you get the gist of certain actions, working with the pen is a snap. Product: C-Pen 800C Web Site: www.cpen.com Manufacturer: C-Technologies of Sweden ( www.ctechnologies.se) Pros: Lightweight; Rechargeable battery; Excellent OCR capabilities. Cons: Fairly large learning curve for certain functions; Too many functions confusingly packed into one device.

Brett Burney lives and works near Akron, Ohio. He can be reached at [email protected].

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