What is a Pen Recorder?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A pen recorder is a device which functions both as a pen and a recorder for audio, video, or both. These devices are used in a number of different applications. Electronics stores sometimes carry them, as do spy stores and gadget stores which stock novelty devices. It is also possible to order pen recorders through a number of manufacturers and online retailers. Do it yourselfers have also been known to create their own.

A pen recorder may work with digital tablets.
A pen recorder may work with digital tablets.

The most basic pen recorder is simply a pen with a microphone pickup embedded in the body of the pen. The sound quality is typically not ideal, but is clear enough to be heard. Some pen recorders also add video functionality, in which case a small camera on the pen needs to be positioned to pick up the image. More sophisticated products work with special paper or digital tablets for functionality such as audio recording while taking notes which allows people to tap areas of their notes to access audio recorded at the time those notes were taken.

One obvious use of the pen recorder is in class. Some students find that it helps to be able to take notes and listen to audio recordings of lectures, and the pen recorder can also be used later to fill in gaps in the notes. Products which allow functionality such as synching notes and audio recording can be especially useful for people in programs which cover a lot of material, while a basic audio pen recorder can fulfill the needs of students in less demanding classes.

Law enforcement officers can also use pen recorders. Having a pen voice recorder allows an officer to take a recording of all interactions, and this recording can be used later if there is a dispute about what was said or in what order things occurred. While many law enforcement vehicles have video and audio recording, officers are not always around their cars, and it can be useful to have that functionality when working with members of the public.

Sometimes known as “spy pens,” pen recorders are undoubtedly used by at least some members of the intelligence community, but working intelligence agents tend to keep mum about their tactics. Pen recorders are used in law enforcement investigations and in other settings when people want to be able to record surreptitiously. Would-be spies should be aware that in some regions there are laws about where and when people can record, with the intent of protecting the reasonable expectation to privacy.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Mor - I guess I like the idea because of how compact it is and I still enjoy writing things down on paper rather than typing them.

But, I use an ordinary pen recorder in order to have something handy for all occasions in case I come up with an idea in a public place. If I'm on a bus, for example, I'm not going to want to start talking into my mini pen recorder. So, I use it to write.

Alternatively, if I'm driving, or maybe eating or something where I need my hands, and I get an idea, I can use the recorder. A couple of times I've used it to do things like record street music or something that interests me, but I never seem to play those sounds back so I don't know why I bother.


@pleonasm - They are a good idea, but they can be very expensive. The paper often runs to something like a dollar per sheet, which can really add up if you're taking lots of notes. And the pen itself is usually over $100.

That might not seem like much when you think about the versatility of the pen, but if you buy a cheap tablet you'll pretty much be able to do almost everything the pen can do for the same price.

I'm sure there's an ap out there which will do the same thing (record and playback depending on the notes) and you can write the notes on your tablet for free, as opposed to on sheets of paper that you need to buy.

I'm sure this kind of pen audio recorder works really well for places where you aren't encouraged to bring a laptop or a tablet, but there aren't many lecture halls or business meetings where they restrict them these days.


The voice recorder pens which can be used to associate certain notes with certain recordings are really cool, especially for school students. You need special paper (although it can be printed out, I think) with lots of little dots on it, so that the pen can "see" which notes you are writing and associate it with whatever it's recording at the time. The paper often has a "button" down the bottom of the page (actually a picture of a button) which allows you to control the playback.

They are often called "smart pens" and they seem almost like a science fiction gadget to me. But so practical for lectures as I often have no idea why I wrote a particular note when I was listening to it the first time, but being able to listen to the exact same thing when I'm going over them will job my memory.

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