The Pen Recorder Pro SL200 was kindly provided to me by Tenton Webstores free of charge in exchange for a fair and unbiased review on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. No additional compensation was given in exchange for posting this article on my blog.
The Pen Recorder Pro SL200 is available in the UK from Tenton Webstores UK Fulfilled BY Amazon.co.uk at a cost of £107 with free P&P. In the US the SL200 is available from Tenton Webstores Fulfilled BY Amazon.com at a cost of $129 with free P&P (Prices correct at time of posting).
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PACKAGING & CONTENTS.
The SL200 Voice Recorder Pen is supplied within a rectangular plastic flip top case with a cardboard branding sleeve securing the package together. On the top of the sleeve is an image of the SL200 along alongside branding and model information. On the back there are details about the key features, specifications as well as warranty information and certification symbols (CE, FCC etc).
Removing the sleeve reveals the storage case for the SL200 which measures 19.25cm wide 8.2cm long and 2.4cm deep, weighing 181g (including all of the supplied contents). The underside of the case is made from black plastic sporting a finely textured matte black finish with the remainder of the case having a smooth and glossy finish.
The lid is made from clear plastic with a slight blue tint bearing “MemoQ” branding etched onto the top. On the front edge of the case is a small indent allowing you to get your finger under the lid edge and lift it. Curiously, when lifting the lid it is clearly evident that the lid is only secured on the far right edge and it is entirely loose / unsecured on the left.
Looking closer at the lid we can see that there are small raised dimples on the outside edges that keep it secure when closed. Clearly the one on the left isn’t large enough and over time the plastic on plastic securing mechanism will become worn and thus loose. To be honest the case is more what I would expect to see with a good quality protractor set and not a pen of this value. (A PU leather hard-shell case with a sprung loaded lid and faux velvet interior would have been more fitting).
Opening the case up you are greeted with a U shaped blue cardboard insert bearing “PENRECORDEROPRO” (no spaces) branding. This insert covers the top of the case, the front and the base and has to either be completely removed or pulled towards you to gain access to the contents within.
- A wired remote supplied in a clear resealable plastic bag.
- A pair of earphones supplied in a clear resealable plastic bag.
- Two replacement ball point cartridges (black) individually sealed in clear plastic bags (there’s also one already in the pen).
- A USB charge & sync cable.
- The SL200 pen.
- A large fold out illustrated instruction leaflet entirely in English (that also doubles as a warranty card).
PCM Recording Time: About 7 hours.
XHQ Recording Time: About 10 hours.
HQ Recording Time: About 12.5 hours.
LP Recording Time: About 13 hours.
Playback Time: About 8 hours.
Charging Time: About 2.5 hours.
PCM Recording Time: About 3 hours
XHQ Recording Time: About 16 hours.
HQ Recording Time: About 65 hours.
LP Recording Time: About 130 hours.
At its greatest the pen measures 14.9cm long, from the centre of the pen to the top of the pen (excluding the bevelled top and clip) it measures 11.42mm in diameter and just above the aluminium tip at the base of the pen it measures 9.92mm in diameter and it weighs 22g (including a cartridge).
The SL200 as a pen is very understated and inspired by classic design or if you prefer slightly retro in its looks. The tip of the pen as noted earlier is made from aluminium sporting a very fine brushed effect that has a little bit of a noticeable texture to it.
The bottom half of the pen is made from non magnetic metal and is jet black in colour with a high gloss finish that is silky smooth in the hand. As this is the section of the pen that your hand will spend most of its time in contact with it should be noted that while the pen is described as “slim” I should warn you that it is perhaps closer to a small fountain pen than it is a Parker Jotter ballpoint.
I have hands that perhaps err on the larger size (8.5″ long, 4.5″ wide) and the pen is a perfect match in terms of size, those with notably smaller hands may well find it a little unwieldy.
The top section of the barrel matches that of the bottom section, on the front at the top is the pocket clip that is again made from non magnetic metal with what looks like a chrome finish. End to end the clip measures 47.17mm long and it measures 5.17mm wide at its greatest point. From the bottom edge of the clip the inside measurement is 3.2cm (the amount of the clip that secures on the inside of a pocket).
From the bottom edge of the clip there is about 2mm of flex when it is pushed to one side, if however, pushed in the middle there is no flex at all.
When looking directly at the clip located to the right (or technically on the left side of the pen) of the clip located 1.3cm down from the top is a single pin hole microphone. For those that are right handed this is an excellent location for the microphone allowing it be used at the same time as writing. Lefties however, will find the microphone faces away from them while they are writing and this doesn’t prove entirely suitable if you happen to be speaking softly (such as making a recording while writing notes in a library).
As such lefties will either need to make sure they speak loudly if recording while writing or if in a situation as just described they will have to tilt the microphone towards their mouth.
On the opposite side to the clip is an OLED display measuring 2.1cm x 0.6cm. When the display is inactive other than a slight seam between the display and the barrel of the pen there is absolutely no indication as to its true nature. By default, when recordings are being made the display remains active for 60 seconds, this however can be changed to either being constantly on, off or set to remain active between 3 to 60 seconds (this will be covered further within my review).
Being an OLED screen despite being on the small size it is crystal clear at all times, whether it be pitch black or standing in the open midday sun. It should be noted however that the font size on the display varies between about 6 and 8, those without visual impairment should have no problem reading the display, but if you struggle with small fonts, this might pose a problem for you.
Located between the top and bottom barrel sections of the pen there is a 5.58mm section independent of the two. This section is slightly raised above the body of the barrel by about 0.5mm sporting a silver band trim and centralised scroll pattern. (This serves no function and is just decorative).
At the top of the pen there is a bevelled edge and a 2.5mm jack. This is a bit of a disappointment, firstly an exposed port isn’t waterproof and given its location (when clipped to a pocket it points directly up) it is rather exposed to the elements as well as dust and debris.
With the exception of the display when it is active the pen looks exactly like a pen and nothing more, but the hole at the top is far from inconspicuous. It hardly stands out like a sore thumb, but at certain angles depending on the lighting the metal contacts within the hole can be evident.
Personally for protecting the port more than anything I would have preferred a tethered screw on cap covering the port rather than an exposed one. Despite the port being exposed the manual claims the pen has an operating thermal limit of 0c to +40c so it is at least apparently resistant to high humidity… apparently.
Before moving on I suppose it would be prudent to also mention some details about the cartridges and also how the pen writes…. it is a pen after all.
First off, replace the cartridge simply unscrew the aluminium tip at the bottom of the pen and pull the tip of the cartridge out (it is however very stiff and I had to use a pair of nylon tipped pliers to remove it). The cartridges that the pen uses are 2.3mm x 51mm (part number 5799-236-510).
Sadly MemoQ branded cartridges appear to be a bit of a rarity. At the time of writing none are available on Amazon.co.uk and a brief Google search brings up just one supplier in the UK (a store called AV10).
A brief search of the Pen Recorder Pro forum, however, indicates that replacement refills are available by contacting Tenton Web Stores by email (but are oddly not listed on their store).
Why the pen isn’t compatible with standard D1 67mm refills is beyond me and why they haven’t listed refills in their store along with their pens is yet another curiosity. The fact is, unless refills are readily available it’s going to put most people off even considering such a device if it can’t fulfil its primary basic function once the supplied refills have run out. My only advice is… before even considering buying this pen first make sure you are able to source a supply of ink first.
As for how the pen writes this obviously depends on the cartridge being used and in the case of those supplied I’m not entirely impressed. The fact is the pen has to be held vertically for it to write properly, if it is held at a slight angle (how I hold a pen and write) you simply end up with a slight indent in the paper and some very faint ink work.
If however you are of the creed that holds a pen vertically while writing, I think you will be happy with its performance but the writing is on the fine side.
RECORDING, THE REMOTE & AUDIO PLAYBACK.
At first glance the pen appears to have no buttons or other form control which only aids with its discretion, the fact of the matter is, it is the clip provides the built in functions.
When the clip is pushed down (from the top edge) the OLED screen on the back comes to life displaying battery level (with 3 pips each indicating a 33% charge), the current file storage folder and recording format. A second or so later the screen switches to display “Recording” before switching to display a timer showing the length of the current recording.
Then, once you have recorded all that you wish, to stop recording and save the file, simply push the clip back up from the bottom edge. It then saves the file and switches off.
Now you might think that the clip switch design might lead to accidentally switching the device on, the fact is, during the two weeks I have been testing SL200 and carrying it with me at all times this has not happened. The clip is stiff, but not overly so, it can only be pushed up from the underside or down from the top edge. Placing your thumb on the front of the clip near the top or bottom and trying to push it does nothing.
I’m not saying that it’s impossible to accidentally switch it on but it is unlikely, one additional feature of benefit is, unless a recording is longer than 3 seconds the device does not save it. All that being said I am curious how stiff the clip switch will remain over time with regular use.
When files are saved onto the device the first 999 files are stored in folder “A” and named A-R0001 to A-R0999, then the next 999 files are stored in folder B and named B-R0001 to B-R0999 etc. When files are removed or deleted the saved file names will continue to record in sequence until all folders are full and then it will start back at folder A, file A-R0001 again.
For access to the other features of the device the use of the wired remote is required, this has a gold plated 2.5mm two pole jack that connects directly to the top of the SL200. The remote measures 47.42mm long excluding cable reinforcement (or 57.66mm long including), 13.97mm wide and 10.31mm deep excluding buttons (or 11.02mm including) and the cable measures 51cm long excluding connectors and reinforcement sections.
On the top of the remote there are five buttons (two square measuring 4mm x 4mm and 3 round measuring 4.5mm in diameter) and on the left side is a volume control dial that oddly sits flush with the side of the box but sits within a recess which makes it harder to use than it need be.
The pen itself does not have a speaker and if you wish to listen to any recorded track stored on pen, from the pen a pair of earphones are required. To do this the wired remote must be connected to the SL200 and the pair of earphones (a pair are supplied) must then be connected to the 3.5mm port on the remote. It is not possible to connect a pair of earphones directly to the pen.
When the remote is connected to the pen the OLED display comes to life (there is no need to turn the pen on using the clip switch). The default screen with the remote attached again presents you with the battery level and current recording file format, but instead displays the file name of the last recording made rather than starting to record (which happens when you turn the pen on using the clip without the remote attached).
The first settings option is “Erase”, this allows for individual file deletion (the file that will be deleted is the file displayed on screen before entering the settings menu). Here the skip forwards and backwards buttons are used for navigation and the play/pause button is used for selection/confirmation. It should be noted that deletion requires double confirmation and selecting “no” to either does not exit you out of the erase menu.
From the erase default screen, pressing the “M” button once more takes you to the repeat mode settings. These settings relate to file playback on the pen and the settings on offer are…
When “REP OFF” is selected playback is done by manual selection with each track playing just one time.
When “REP 1” is selected playback is done by manual selection with each track being infinitely repeated until stopped or paused.
When “REP ALL” is selected when playing back recordings on the pen this will play all files stored on the pen in sequence starting from the file currently displayed on screen and once all have played it will start over again from the beginning until either paused or stopped.
When “REP FOLD” is selected when playing back recordings on the pen this plays all of the files in the currently selected file folder and once all have played it will start over again from the beginning until either paused or stopped.
It should be noted that unlike the erase settings the play/pause button is not used to confirm selection, instead you must exit the setting menu using the “exit” option for changes to the settings to be saved.
Tapping the “M” once more from the repeat mode screen enters the recording format settings mode. Out of the box the SL200 is set to record audio in PCM quality and the screen displays “MODE PCM” and tapping the skip next button filters through the 4 options of PCM, XHQ, HQ and LP. Again, you only need to have the mode you want highlighted and to save any changes you simply have to exit the settings menu using the “exit” option.
Of the four recording modes on offer PCM @705kbps is the highest quality followed by XHQ @128kbps, then HQ @32kbps with the poorest quality being LP @16kbps. PCM recordings are saved as WAV files, but all other formats, save as MP3 files.
Tapping the “M” button on the remote once more on the remote takes you to the LCD display settings mode and from here power saving settings for the display can be altered. By default the screen enters standby after 60 seconds, using the skip forward button this can be changed with the settings on offer being 60 seconds, 30 seconds, 10 seconds, 3 seconds, on (constantly) or off.
It should be noted that when a recording is either being made or being played back when the display switches off the SL200 continues to record or play the track back when the screen goes into standby. If nothing is happening when the display enters standby it does effectively switch itself off and holding down the play/pause button for 2 seconds is required to bring it back to life.
Tapping the “M” button once more takes you to the voice activation settings mode. By default the screen displays “VOS OFF” and pressing the skip forward button changes the display to “VOS ON” which enables voice activation. Again to save the settings, simply ensure to exit to settings menu correctly.
When voice activation is disabled all recordings are done manually by pushing the clip on the pen down to start recording and back up once you are finished to save the recording. When voice activation is enabled on the SL200 recordings are still done manually this time, however rather than recording continuously it will only record when there is sound detected by the microphone.
When voice activation is enabled and no audio is detected it pauses the recording resuming once again when audio is detected. It will continue to record in this manner until stopped and the recording will be compiled into one file when saved. This not only reduces the size of the file created, but also skips out any pauses reducing wasted time during playback or the need to edit/crop a recording.
I have to confess I have one slight concern regarding this mode. The SL200 is marketed as a lecture pen as such both the features of the pen (writing and recording) are likely to be used at the same time and I’m curious if the sound generated while writing is sufficient to prevent the recording being paused in this mode (thus effectively making it pointless at least to a degree).
Sadly, my fears we well founded. Firstly, when sound is detected it records for a minimum of 3 seconds, secondly it is far too sensitive. When writing using the pen it produces sufficient sound for the device to begin recording, in fact the “detection” is so sensitive it started recording when someone was moving around on carpeted floor over 8 meters away. In short the voice detection function while a nice idea is going to little benefit in real world application.
Tapping the “M” once more takes you to the folder selection mode settings (this relates to the folder being used for recording not playback, that was discussed earlier). By default folder A is selected (unless it is full) and pressing the skip forward button on the remote filters through the four folders on offer (A, B, C and D). Again to change folder simply scroll to the one you want and then proceed to exit the settings menu properly to save your alterations.
Tapping the “M” button on the remote once more takes you to the format mode. Care should be taken here as this setting does not change the recording format (for that you need to the setting called MODE as described earlier) This setting wipes the internal memory on the device and thankfully requires double confirmation exactly like the erase setting.
Tapping the “M” button once more takes you to the most important setting and that is “EXIT”. When you have made any settings changes (excluding erase and format) you have to go to the exit screen and press the play/pause button for any changes to be saved and to exit the settings menu. If you back out of the settings menu without first doing this none of the changes that you have made will be saved.
The final control on the remote is the volume wheel, this simply adjusts the volume of playback through earphones connected to the wired remote and it has no effect on the volume of the audio being recorded by the SL200.
RECORDED AUDIO QUALITY.
Please refer to my video where testing has been conducted at various distances comparing the four quality presets using the same audio sample for easy comparison.
The 2.5mm jack to USB 2.0 A cable measures 80cm long excluding connectors and cable reinforcement. This cable connects directly to the pen and when used with a USB wall charger it will charge the battery within the pen.
When the cable is connected to a PC/Laptop this also charges the pen and it also detects the pen as a storage medium allowing data to be transferred on or off the device. (It however does not allow the pen to be used as a microphone on your PC/Laptop).
The earphones supplied are of basic quality consistent with bundled earphones found with any number of devices such as smartphones and MP3 players and are apparently rated 10mW/32ohm.
These earphones have a 3.5mm jack and are connected to the SL200 via the wired remote (you cannot connect them directly to the pen). The earphones do not have an inline microphone and the only means of recording audio is through the microphone built into the SL200.
The overall sound quality of the earphones is what I would describe as adequate for purpose, its not like they are designed or intended for listening to immersive high quality music. Given that the output on the remote is a 3.5mm jack it does however allow you to replace the earphones with something more to your liking if you do not get on with them.
What I’ve actually been using for playback (as I was getting tangled up with wires when writing up audio notes on a laptop) was a portable Bluetooth speaker connected with a 3.5mm jack to jack cable when transcribing.
Thank you for taking the time to read this review, I hope it has been helpful to you. If you have any questions or comments regarding this review, please post a comment below and I will do my best to answer them.
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