To communicate with your PC, the Dane-Elec Zpen has a receiver module that looks like an overgrown USB drive. A USB extension cable is provided for connecting it in tight spaces.

The pen itself is marginally thicker than a regular ballpoint pen. It's clad, like the receiver, in silver plastic. So the Dane-Elec Zpen's no style icon, but neither is it an eyesore.

Before use, you first install the included software on your PC and charge the receiver. Then clip the Dane-Elec Zpen receiver to the top of a sheet of paper, which must be A4 size, and in portrait mode.

When you write a red LED on the receiver lights up, and strokes are recorded. When you finish a page, simply unclip the Dane-Elec Zpen receiver and move it to the next sheet. The Zpen stores notes to the 1GB receiver, and files are saved on the fly.

It's easy to use, but there's no live preview. So keep an eye on that LED - if the receiver can't see the pen, strokes will be missed. And you can't see to go back. Lefties may find attaching the Dane-Elec Zpen clip to the bottom of the paper works better.

The Dane-Elec Zpen is comfortable, and contains an easy-to-replace ink cartridge, so you're not entirely writing blind - it's just what's being captured that you don't know. This is the price you pay for portability.

We were impressed with the 900dpi Dane-Elec Zpen's ability to record strokes. (Even the scrawling of this unruly southpaw was faithfully reproduced.) The intrinsic flaws of all digital character recognition systems soon rear their multiple and ugly heads, however. The MyScript conversion software is simple to use, with several language and writing-style options. But beyond short, neat notes, you'll spend more time editing than you would typing.

In our tests it simply wasn't possible to accurately convert swathes of handwritten text to type, even after using the training tool to teach the Dane-Elec Zpen our writing style.


Accurate and intuitive, the limitations of ICR mean the Dane-Elec Zpen will be useful only to takers of neat, concise notes. If that sounds like you, and you can cope without a preview, the Zpen could be the ultimate, portable accessory for lectures and meetings.