Photo via Phree/Kickstarter

High-tech pen lets you take virtual notes on any surface

Phree is a stylus you can use anywhere.

Mar 1, 2020, 2:59 am*

Tech

 

Selena Larson

In the age of smartphone ubiquity, it seems silly that people would want to go back to the days where we actually wrote things down. With a pen.

But apparently nostalgia coupled with some features amplifying the capabilities of an average pen fueled Phree’s rapid rise to success on Kickstarter. (Clearly people like their pens.)

Phree connects to devices with a Bluetooth LTE connection, and it can write on any surface and translate that to your mobile device, according to the company’s crowdfunding page. Your car dashboard, pant leg, or coffee table can serve as a surface to scribble down notes, write ideas, or doodle on a photo. The idea is that digitally-inclined handwriting devotees can have the best of both worlds.

Phree

A laser sensor on the tip of the pen determines the motion of a surface and measures the light that bounces between the pen and the surface. It translates the motion to writing on your screen.

The stylus also doubles as a headset to pick up phone calls from your device. And embedded in the pen is a screen that enables you to read brief text messages that come across on your phone. The company is also providing an open API for developers to make their apps work with Phree.

Phree

Phree has already blown its fundraising goal out of the water, raising over $500,000 of a $100,000 goal in just one week.

It might be the first device to turn any surface into a place for writing notes, but it’s certainly not the first mobile stylus. Microsoft has its Surface Pen to turn screens into notebooks, Samsung’s Galaxy Stylus works with a variety of the company’s mobile devices, and Livescribe has been at the smart stylus thing for a while.

Phree is an interesting concept, to be sure, but based on the video the company has on its Kickstarter page, it looks a bit complicated to use. Ideally, your phone would be next to you to see what you’re drawing or writing, but without the device’s dimensions directly in front of you, it might be hard to match your movements to the screen. And by that point, why wouldn’t you just write on the screen of the device to begin with?

Of course like many new technologies, Phree isn’t necessarily something you need. Naturally, the founders seem to think they’ve got something big on their hands, even referencing Steve Jobs’ 2007 iPhone announcement in their marketing video.

The devices are expected to ship in March 2016, and if you’d like to get your hands on a Phree when it’s finally ready to be out in the world next year, you can snag your reward on Kickstarter. But you should move fast—this pen is in high demand.

Correction May 28, 9:30am CT: A previous version of this article misstated the timeline of Phree’s Kickstarter success. The campaign raised over half a million dollars in a week.

Photo via Phree/Kickstarter

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*First Published: May 27, 2015, 7:39 am