aPen Digital Recording Wireless Pen


I love how these ads were obviously written by someone in China with all of the broken English.

The best part is how the announcer has a perfect American accent, yet still reads it as if it is correct English. It’s like he said, “This is what I’m getting paid to read, so this is what I’m going to read…”


Does anyone know if you can switch out the ink cartridge? And if so, what kind of cartridge does it take?


The company’s product page (http://apenusa.com/productcomparison.php) shows the A3 coming with OCR software, but the Woot specs only mention it for the A4. Can anyone clarify this?


This way you don’t get lines from dragging your arm accross the ipad. the ipad recognizes any capacitance touch, this only recognizes what the pen writes.


I’m really torn about this. Looks neat for the price, but reviews are all over the board.
for one, I don’t get which version is actually for sale here and is one ‘newer’ than the other or are they just for different devices.
2, whichever one it is, does anyone know if it has software that is actually Mac compatible (including the OCR software)?
Oh, and though I don’t have this I can see that this is not intended as competition for a Wacom tablet, don’t get this for that people. This is for taking notes, not doing graphics work.


I got an A4 the last time it was on Woot & have spent way too much time figuring out what it can & cannot do. The final verdict is decidedly mixed. To sum up:

  1. There are about a dozen different versions of what is basically a cheapo portable digital drawing pad. I believe the original is by Yifang (Taiwan, not PRC), which supplies multiple other OEMs, including the Wacom Inkling (at least I suspect that).

  2. They share in common a sensor that clips to the top of a “page” (in the case of the Apen A5, the “page” is an iPad screen; the A1-4 is a piece of paper) & a pen that has a ring of sensors/transponders close to the tip of the pen. The sensor follows the movement of the pen’s transponders to record what the pen has written/drawn. The sensor subsequently (or simultaneously depending on implementation) transfer information to a Mac or PC, or iPhone, or iPad, or Android device via USB or Bluetooth (the A3).

  3. The sensor doesn’t work w/ a legal pad, b/c of how the clip is designed - it can’t attach to more than a few pages of paper - so you’re forced to use loose sheets or a spiral bound notebook. The pen uses a replaceable ball point cartridge (the same as is used in multi-pens - widely available, not a great writing experience). I understand that some of these devices - the A5 & maybe the Inkling - are pressure sensitive, but the A4 & A3 definitely aren’t. The pen requires 2 watch batteries. I don’t know how long they last. The sensor charges via USB (but I don’t know about the A3 which has bluetooth)

  4. All in all, it’s pretty clever technology for digitizing your drawings or handwriting. However, as you might imagine, the real issue is the software available on the host computer/tablet/smartphone.

  5. I got the Apen4 b/c it seemed kind of cool (it is) & hoping to use it to turn handwritten notes, taken when I interview patients (I’m a physician) into digital text. The Apen advertising clearly implies that their device can do handwriting OCR. I also knew that the Mac (which is what I use mostly) has built in handwriting OCR (Inkwell).

  6. I finally did get things working to my satisfaction, but it took 3 days of web searching w/ zero assistance from Apen. There were definitely points of time when I felt very ripped off. I could get the Mac built-in handwriting OCR to work when I used the Apen4 purely as a digital tablet, data entry device, although going back & forth between writing & mousing wasn’t simple. There was no way to turn the remotely generated notes I took using the Apen 4 into digital text, however (despite Apen’s advertising)

  7. Fortunately, I finally found a workaround. Visionobjects.com has a Mac (& PC) program, Myscript Studio Notes, that is designed to work w/ all these devices & can import the note files produced by the Apen4 & do the OCR. It does a pretty credible job of OCR, but not miraculous: basically, if you can’t reliably read what was written, the OCR won’t work well, either. It does come w/ a training module, however.

  8. Myscript Studio Notes has a 30 day free trial, but then costs $42.75 to register (which I did just do).

  9. I fiddled w/ the iPhone a little bit, but the results were very unsatisfactory. I think the Apen 4 (& 3) does OK w/ creating images & drawings, but there was no way to do handwriting OCR. Vision objects has myscript notes, an iPhone/iPad/Android app but it doesn’t work w/ the Apen hardware (you write w/ your finger or a stylus on the touchscreen, then the app sends the image to a vision objects server which does the OCR - just like Siri - this costs extra, of course)

  10. The bottom line: Apen, the company, sucks, although I don’t know that any of the other OEMs using the Yifang technology (eg Wacom) are much better in terms of telling you the limitations (btw, I strongly suspect that some of the glowing comments about Apen on Woot are plants). However, vision objects software does make the Apen 4 (I don’t know about the A3) usable for digital notetaking. If you just want to digitize drawings & images, then the Apen isn’t bad (although I imagine it wouldn’t compare to a real Wacom table). If you want to digitize handwritten notes, you’ll have to purchase additional software


Why not just simply scan your papers/drawing in? Am I missing something?


I have bought a total of 6 of these pens, because I teach at an MBA program (top 25, so not too shabby a school) and am trying out different technologies with the students to see what they like, and what works.

Pros - inexpensive, easy to use.
It does a very good job of clipping to the top of a spiral notebook, turn it on, and take notes. When you get home, plug the receiver into a PC, and your notes are now in digital form.
There are software packages available that convert the handwriting into machine readable characters, but so far, the APen software itself does not convert it into a document which is editable into, say, Microsoft Office Word.

It is not particularly effective as a bamboo tablet alternative for me & student guineapigs. You can use it as a “mouse”, but it tends to be a bit sloppy.

So, it gets really high scores for doing basically what a scanner would do, but without having to run the pages through a scanner. And, since a shocking number of students seem to have scanners which break, or only output GIF files, this is a pretty easy solution for that. I also like it better than a stylus on and IPad, since the stylus is relatively crude in its sensors, and can be upset by an errant finger or palm resting on the screen.
I like it better than the lightscribe, since it works on any paper, not expensive dotty paper.
Overall, pretty good at a limited number of tasks, and for the price, it is great.


I just ordered the Apen A4 to use with the iPad 3. I don’t want to do anything fancy with it…just take notes in faculty meetings, save them to my Dropbox and print them out later. (Alternatively, if they are in my Dropbox, I could display them on my SmartBoard, if necessary.) I don’t need it to transcribe my handwriting into typing; I just want my document saved for use later. Will it do this?


Spent the weekend (and some of baqui63’s time) trying to first obtain, then install the .apk for the Android A3 pen. So far, no dice. The .apk is provided via GooglePlay and a creator named ByZero Inc. That creator links back to a slick but uninformative website offering an iPad app for digital pens with no mention of the aPen product or of the Android .apk.

I’ve re-rooted two of my three Android gadgets today in an effort to install the OEM .apk that baqui63 sent to me via email. Install fails. I suspect the .apk is looking for something that says “phone”, which my tablets are not.

I am currently on terminal hold on apenusa’s tech support line. My cellphone’s battery is fresh, my limiting factor will be my need to leave for class in about two hours. Based on others’ comments re: tech support I imagine nobody will ever get on the horn.

As an interesting side-note, the “corporate address” on the apenusa.com “contact us” page maps to a freeway interchange - smack under an overpass, in fact - in West Covina, California.

If I can’t make this thing work in the next 10 days I’ll be asking Woot to take it back. If that fails I’ll offer it to a friend with an Android phone running an old ROM. If that fails I’ll dump it via craigslist.

UPDATE: after an hour in the support queue (one guy in the whole joint maybe) a helpful dude with a laid-back California attitude hooked me up with an app called iNote, which will install on Android tablets. If you can’t find it or can’t pull it off GooglePlay drop me a PM and I can email the .apk file to you. I’ve verified by doing it that it can be side-loaded successfully.

Now to make the aPen talk to its gadget, and make that gadget talk to my Android gadget.