UPDATES (see below). Last update: 2010-11-28
- The device works as X11 input device (pointer)
- Added the results of a sketch on this device
- Added link to python version of .top to .svg converter (thanks to Jorik)
- Photo & description of refills
- Java open source top conversion tool (Java 1.5+) (thanks to Valeri Corrado)
Today my eye spotted a nice gadget on sale at Aldi’s in the newspaper. It is a digital notepad. Well digital, you write on actual paper using a pen with real ink. All your strokes on the paper are stored in memory. Vector by vector. It has 32MB memory to store pages. You can use an SD card to extend that memory. You get the digital notepad. One pen. Two refills. Two plastic refills. Loads of (windows only) software. Best feature: batteries included, you are ready to go…
So when I got this baby, the Medion MD 85276, I ripped it from its packaging. Quick peek at the manual to make sure the batteries are inserted correctly and go go go. In an attempt to find more details about this product I searched the web. No details are available at the Medion site. This means that this is an OEM product. Some sources claim this is an Aiptek MyNote.
I love the way you write your notes. The digital notepad is only marginal larger than a A4 sheet of paper. You can actually put a stack of paper on the device, not just one sheet. The files on the device are stored in .top format. The included (windows XP & Vista) software is capable of conversion to other formats. I don’ t like the software. Not only because you need windows but also because it has a very peculiar look and feel. One cool feature is that you can replay your strokes on the paper and can decide to split those actions onto several sheets. Great feature to sort your notes.
I’m not interested in a windows only solution so I tried to find details on the .top file format in order to write a converter. Unfortunately I didn’t find any details on the file format. But I was shocked to see this project on freshmeat: top2svg. Exactly what I need. It’s a simple Perl script that transforms the .top file into .svg (Scalable Vector Graphics) format. From there I can convert it into anything I like.
Update 3: Jorik wrote a Python version of top2svg. You can find his version here
Update 5: Valeri Corrado found an open source conversion tool “VectorPen” (Java 1.5+) that converts top files to svg (and some bitmapped formats).
I obtained this gadget at Aldi’s for only €79.99 and I already feel that this is worth every penny I spend on it. Besides this device can be used as a ‘stand-alone’ digital notepad it can also be used as an input device when connected to a PC (using the included USB cable). That way it can replace a mouse and it can be used to draw in other painting programs. To do that you need to replace the ink filling with a plastic pen top to protect the device. I did not find the time to try this on Linux yet, besides that, I have a wacom pad which is better suited for that purpose anyway. Since I only have this gadget a couple of hours I can’t give you any details on battery life…
Here are some pictures of the device with the paper and some simple notes. The last image shows the converted image as obtained from the device. I did not have the time to try to convert my handwriting into actual text using OCR software. When it is possible to obtain at least keywords from the notes you should be able to implement some form of full text search on the notes.
This is the actual image ripped from the device. It is converted from svg to a png. Pretty neat.
Update 1: I successfully used the notepad as an input device in X11. It worked out of the box for me using (K)ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon.
Update 2: Chris wants to know if this pad can be (reasonably) used as a sketch and draw pad (like wacom pads). In all honesty I don’t think it’s a substitute. When you look at the images below you’ll first see a (bad) photograph of the original sketch. It is supposed to be a tree. The second image is the sketch as recorded by the device. You will notice that all lines have the same weight (thickness). In the start of the shaded area it may appear as if the line is thicker but that are actually several lines close to each other. In the original sketch you can see that I applied varying pressure on the pen. So in short this device doesn’t record pressure sensitivity. The third image is a colored version of the sketch. If you paint thick the original lines of the scan may be painted over so you really don’t care about the lack of pressure sensitivity.
Depending on your purposes you may decide that the sketch capabilities are okay.
Update 4: Refills
You can buy ordinary refills for the pen. Below is a enlarged image of a pen tip and a refill. You get two pen tips (with plastic tip) and three ink refills when you buy the product. Other ink refills can be bought at any office supply store.