And then there were three. The first C-pen was launched last July by C Technologies, a hi-tech Swedish firm with close links to Lund University. It is now being phased out and replaced by the C-200, C-600 and C-800, creating a range that should appeal to everyone from students, teachers and librarians to business users on the lookout for the latest toys for boys.
The C-Pen is a small hand-held device, somewhere between a highlighter pen and Stanley knife in size (a compact 14cm by 3.5cm by 2cm and pictured above life-size) that incorporates a digital camera and optical recognition software.
When the pen is stroked over a line of text the camera takes a series of digital images that are processed into text by the optical recognition software.
Once collected, the stored digital data can be edited either internally or transferred via an infra-red port on the top of the pen to a desktop host computer. Once the appropriate software settings have been made transferring the information is a doddle - you just point and zap.
Most modern laptops have a built-in infra-red port, but those that don't have this facility can be enabled by the addition of a Jeteye external infrared that simply plugs into one of the computer's serial ports.
C-Pen, then, is essentially a sophisticated electronic highlighter and mobile information gatherer. The new models carry on the good work - and at a cheaper price - while the 800 also offers a bit more.
The main difference between the models is memory size; the 200 has a 2MB memory, the 600 has 6MB and the 800 has 8MB. In practice this means that whereas the 200 can only store 100 pages of text, the 600 and 800 can retain 2,000 and 3,000 pages respectively. This extra memory also allows the 600 and 800 to store a dictionary, which also includes a rather handy translation facility (French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish). Of course, this extra memory will leave a bigge hole in your wallet, but at least the screen size increases from two rows of text on the 200, through four rows on the 600 to seven rows on the 800.
The 800 also boasts a few extra functions. It can scan and store business cards, store addresses (synchronised within Microsoft Outlook), and can be used as a diary and with a mobile phone to send text messages, emails and faxes.
Whether the 800's added capabilities are truly practical to use is another matter altogether. While electronic circuitry is shrinking there has to be a physical limit to miniaturisation. Form ultimately dictates function and one has to wonder whether larger devices - Psions, Palm Pilots etc - with their bigger screens and alphanumeric keyboards might not be more appropriate tools to do the jobs of storing addresses, saving appointments and setting alarm calls As a digital data collector, though, the C-Pen series remains impressive. The C-Pen's optical recognition software is claimed to be more than 95 per cent accurate in optimum conditions, and works well with clearly defined text and can even be set to read white text on black.
The software is well integrated with the Windows environment and C-Pen files appear on the desktop as an extra drive. Files can be designated to a particular Office program or beamed directly into a file. Text corrections are best done on the host computer; amended files can either be saved as Windows documents or sent back to the pen.
If nothing else, the C-Pen cuts photocopying costs. Certainly, Swedish students seem to think so - the device is on sale at more than 50 of their universities.
C-800 Price: pound;299 inc vat
C-600 Price: pound;239 inc vat
C-200 Price: pound;179 inc vat
Jeteye external infrared port. Price: pound;40 inc vat. www.cpen.com
Suppliers Megapixels. Tel: 01425 674617
Peak Developments. Tel: 01489 796979. www.peak-developments.co.uk
C-Pen 800: STAR RATING
Suitability for purpose ****
Ease of use ****
Value for money ***