March 3, 2009

Magic flip chart

I was given the opportunity recently to test out a new product called Papershow by Canson, a new way to digitize meeting notes that would normally be written on a flip chart or white board.

First, I just have to say that this thing seems like magic! Whatever you draw on the interactive notepad shows up on the screen. The "magic" is actually a digital pen with an infrared camera that detects tiny dots and icons on the paper. As you draw, the camera records the pen tip's position and sends it to the Bluetooth USB key plugged into the computer. And voila! What you write or draw appears on the screen.

You can change colors, draw circles, boxes, arrows and lines, you can erase mistakes, draw a sticky note, and basically do everything you would do on a flip chart, but in a way that your audience can actually see everything on the screen instead of having to crane their necks or squint their eyes to make out what you've written on the flip chart. If you're sitting around a table, you don't even have to get up! You can also change the background color from white to black, for example, if you'd like a blackboard effect.

You can pass around the pad and pen and let your audience or colleagues add their notes. You can send your notes to the group by e-mail. There's even a special pad you can use to make notes on your PowerPoint slides as the audience is viewing them, but I haven't tried that feature yet.

It was easy to install on my computer, and once the USB key and pen are paired, starting up the program and beginning to write is very quick.

I took it with me to a workshop last week to test it out in a live audience setting with the computer provided by the venue. Pairing the key and the pen took longer than it took on my computer, but that's why we show up early to set up, right?

Also, the USB key is "chubby" and if you only have two USB ports side by side or on top of each other, and you need one for your presentation remote, the Papershow key won't fit next to another USB drive. I picked up an inexpensive portable hub that solved this problem. Again, another reason to visit your venue and test your technology in advance so you can prepare for possible snags.

The main problem I had with the product was that the pen and key are not meant to be further than 20 feet apart. I was presenting in a conference room that was 30 or 40 feet long, and the computer was in a closet at the back of the room, while I was in front where the screen was located.

Because the Bluetooth connection was stretched, the writing was delayed, and if I wrote too fast, there would be blank spaces and gaps in words where the writing wasn't picked up at all. Slowing down helped resolve the issue, but I can see how this could be a problem in larger auditoriums where the computer may be 50 to 100 feet away from the presenter.

All in all, I loved using this product. I can see so much potential for it, and I've just scratched the surface of all it can do. It's more portable than a flip chart and more versatile. It can even add another dimension to group interaction. If they were to increase the workable distance between the pen and the key, it would be almost perfect. Visit their shopping page for info on where to buy it.

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