For something so small (no larger than a fat permanent marker) the C-Pen 800 is surprisingly powerful, combining scanning capabilities with an 8Mb Flash memory and infrared communication between a compatible PC, along with Palm and Pocket PC handhelds.
By far the most impressive tool, and certainly the most useful, is the scanning technology. This works via a tiny digital camera at the base of the C-Pen that is activated when it is swiped across a page. This application is known as C Notes.
Capable of reading text at speeds up to 15cm/s, C-Pen can be used to read single lines and paragraphs of text and, if need be, whole articles. Considering the size of the camera ,the standard of the text recognition is excellent. Rather surprisingly, the faster you scan the text the more accurate the result. To begin with we were slowly and carefully swiping across text and receiving gobbledegook; it wasn't until we began using the C-Pen like a permanent marker, and swiping text quite quickly that we got accurate results.
A handy supplement to the scanning capabilities is the C Dictionary, which allows you to install several bilingual Oxford or Norsted dictionaries onto the C-Pen (one of your choice is supplied free, and more are available to purchase). The dictionaries can then be used to translate text, simply by scanning the relevant text with the translation clearly displayed on the C-Pen.
The display screen is of a decent size, and can be altered depending on whether you are left or right-handed. Navigation is carried out through the use of a nifty wheel on the top of the device - scroll it up and down to navigate through menus and press in to select an item. Overall the navigation is quick and intuitive, although in certain areas it could be enhanced. Text entry using navigation for instance, is a little time consuming.
Also included are four other applications: C Calendar, C Address, C Message and C Write. The first three are self-explanatory: C Calendar is a fully working diary, similar to that on a mobile phone, allowing you to store important dates and appointments; C Address is an address book capable of storing up to 1000 contacts; and C Message is a program allowing you create and send text messages in conjunction with a mobile phone.
The purpose of C Message is unclear. Although you can create SMS text, the actual process is a little clunky and longwinded, and seeing as a mobile is needed to send the message, you may as well create it using a mobile. However, for sending text that you have scanned in, it is invaluable, allowing you to share information instantly with friends and colleagues.
C Write is another application that made us wonder why it was included. The purpose is to allow you to use the device like a normal pen. This involves learning C-Pen's character set and writing in that style, similar to the graffiti technology on the Palm. The problem is that it is too particular. According to the manual, you can only write on a "distinct pattern" and "printed text is the best choice".
What they mean by this is a page of solid text - use a page with paragraphs and what accuracy there is gets completely shot. How often when out and about do you carry a page of solid text? Even after two weeks we were unable to write a complete sentence correctly.
The resulting characters can then be stored either on the C-Pen or transferred instantly to your PC via infrared. If you are going to beam directly to your PC, the question we had is why not simply type on your PC - it's quicker and easier.