Please visit my updated review of IR Pens featuring Penteractive, IRPensOnline, Whalebone, and Infrawow.
The infrared (IR) light pen is one of the essential pieces of hardware for the Wiiboard. The evolution of the IR Pen has progressed rapidly as the Wiiboard technology has taken off. Throughout the school year I have used my Wiiboard regularly and have been able to experiment with several different light pens. Here are my thoughts about the products that I have tested.
1. The "MacGyver Pen"
When Johnny Lee introduced the world to the Wiiboard, it was necessary to construct your own IR pen from components readily available at your local RadioShack. I have no experience with electronics yet I was able to construct my home made IR pen in a couple of hours. Altogether it costs me about $20 by the time I bought a soldering iron and a spool of wire. The results were acceptable, but not outstanding. The two biggest challenges are battery replacement (requires dissembling the whole thing) and weak light intensity from the LED.
You are certainly welcome to tackle creating your own IR pen, but I honestly wouldn't recommend it because your product will be inferior to the commercial products that are now available.
The first commercial IR pen that I purchased was from John Mitchel, a full time middle school math teacher, who runs penteractive.us. His $8 pens are simple and effective. They run on two hearing aid style batteries. Through extensive testing, John has identified the absolute best IR LED which he has incorporated into the pen. These LED's are considerably brighter than the ones available at your local electronics parts store.
The IR pens from Penteractive are my personal favorite. The pens are operated by a switch near the end of the pen. The diameter of the pen is similar to that of a small highlighter which makes it easy to grip. The durability of these pens is awesome. They have been dropped countless times with any adverse affects. My students prefer these pens over all of the others.
Not only is the quality of the IR pens from Penteractive excellent, John provides excellent customer service. To start, every pen that you purchase comes with an extra set of batteries. Orders are filled quickly and if certain colors are back-ordered you will receive a personal e-mail from John letting you know the holdup.
I would highly recommend the IR pens from Penteractive. They are my clear favorite!
3. The Groove
When looking through posts on the wiimote project I stumbled across irpensonline.com which was developing an IR pen that was touch sensitive. Named "The Groove" this pen looked awesome and promised to provide a more intuitive way of interacting with the Wiiboard. The Groove has a stylish case which houses 1 AA battery and all of the electronic components. The IR LED in the tip of the pen is sensitive to pressure. When pressed gently against any surface the light source is activated.
I was so excited about the new features of The Groove that I preordered the pen in January. The cost of his pen ($30 + shipping) was considerably more than either my home made pen or the pens from Penteractive, but I justified this by the touch-sensitive feature. January passed as did much of February before my Groove arrived. According to posts on irpensonline.com, manufacturing issues delayed the release of the Groove longer than expected.
In testing the Groove with my students (who named the pen "the fish"), I concluded that the touch sensitive feature is not as amazing and useful as I had expected. Part of the issue is that my screen is mounted above my chalk board. When pulled down, the ledge of the chalk board prevents the screen from laying flat against the wall. This gap makes the screen "soft" so that it is difficult to obtain enough pressure to activate the LED on the Groove. Additionally, I had already trained my students how to use the pens from Penteractive which require pushing a button to activate the LED. They were very confused as the Groove didn't have a button!
While the Groove isn't as great as I though it would be, it is a fine product and others with a different setup may find it very useful. If you are willing to wait a while for your order to be fulfilled and are willing to pay $30, give the Groove a try!
Well, there you have it, my take on three flavors of IR pens that you can use with your Wiiboard. If you have sampled other versions that I am not aware of please post your review as a comment. If you are a manufacturer of an IR pen, send me one and I would be glad to try it out and write a review for you!