SAN FRANCISCO (03/06/2000) - How many times have you looked back on a meeting and wished you'd taken better notes? Electronic whiteboards can help by recording the scribbling of you and your colleagues, but they're expensive (more than $2500 for a 4-by-6-foot board) and too heavy to tote from room to room. Virtual Ink Corp.'s Mimio and Electronics for Imaging's EBeam address both of these issues: Each unit costs about $500, fits inside a briefcase, and attaches to any Conventional whiteboard with dimensions up to 4 by 8 feet.
Both Products use sonic receivers to track movements on a Conventional whiteboard. Regular marker pens fit into special holders that emit a very faint buzzing sound at a specific frequency whenever you press down to draw on the whiteboard. A special eraser works in a similar fashion.
Product setup and use are remarkably straightforward. Both Mimio and EBeam Connect to a free serial port on your PC (EBeam offers an optional USB adapter). Both come with software for recording pen and eraser strokes, playing back or printing whiteboard sessions, attaching notes, and exporting screens to several file formats. You can even share your meetings with remote users via the Internet. There are a few hitches--pen holders sometimes require a lot of pressure to activate, and changing the angle at which you hold the pen will slightly alter how a line appears on screen. But these devices generally work quite well.
Mimio's receiver is a 28-inch bar that uses two large, lever-released suction cups to clamp onto the left side of your whiteboard (the bar folds in half for transporting). This Product's capture software is better than EBeam's, with multiple levels of zoom, Configurable pen colors, and a slicker overall presentation. For data sharing, Mimio's free software links with Microsoft's NetMeeting Conferencing package to display whiteboard Contents in real time. A software update (which should be available by the time you read this) will let Mimio write directly to the NetMeeting whiteboard. Also on tap are a $50 USB adapter and a $99 handwriting-recognition plug-in to Convert your scribbles into editable text documents.
EBeam's more compact hardware--two small pods that attach to the top corners of your whiteboard--makes it the natural choice for travelers. The capture software lacks some of Mimio's polish, but it gets the job done. Remote users can obtain full-featured meeting access by downloading a free copy of the software, and a handy Java client permits anyone who has a Java-enabled Web browser to look in on the meeting.
NetMeeting users may prefer Mimio's more robust software, while people on the go should favor EBeam's more compact hardware and Java client. Either Product offers an eConomical, portable alternative to an expensive, heavy electronic whiteboard.
Carry on luggage: EBeam's hardware--two small pods and sheaths for markers--captures scribbles on Conventional whiteboards.
Pro: Slick, compact capture hardware, helpful Java client.
Con: Capture software offers fewer features than Mimio's.
Value: Easily portable alternative to an electronic whiteboard.
Street price: $499
Electronics for Imaging
Product info no. 639
Pro: Robust capture software.
Con: The hardware is bulkier than EBeam's; no Java client.
Value: Full-featured electronic whiteboard alternative.
Street price: $499
Product info no. 640.