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C-pen 3.0

C-pen 3.0

Do you dread copying quotes from books? Do you hate holding down a book with one hand and typing with the other? Of course you do. It’s pretty annoying. If you want to save some time and energy, then this product is for you.

It is a digital handheld scanner called the C-pen 3.0. At $120.00 or so, it is not cheap. You can find it here or here. The maker has also come out with a 3.5 model. I missed the boat on that one.

The reason I bought this digital highlighter was simple: I really like to quote people…I mean, all the time. While I suppose that I can write some things relatively eloquently, there is always someone else who is smarter and better with words. After I wrote my dissertation, I realized that a lot of the time spent writing involved merely holding down a book while I tried to copy a quotation or bibliographic information. (Of course, 100,000 of my 200,000 words were footnotes, but that is another story.) I never liked to do these things. This scanner has made my life a lot easier. And I just got it yesterday.

Okay, so I am definitely exaggerating, but I do like it.

If you are interested in something like this portable scanner, I will show you what it can and cannot do in this post. I decided to use Charles Hodge’s second volume of Systematic Theology (Hendrickson reprint edition, 2003). Not only is he likable and above controversy in every way all the time (*cough*), but also he often uses multiple languages throughout (English, Latin, and Greek). He is a great option to showcase the C-pen.

The C-pen is especially good at scanning straight English text. In fact, even as a beginner, I was able to scan about 5 inches a second and still obtain surprisingly accurate results.

Here’s an (unedited) example:

“The doctrine which makes all sin to consist in selfishness, as it has been generally held, especially in this country, considers selfishness the opposite of benevolence agreeably to the theory which has just been considered. There are others, however, that mean by it the opposite to the love of God. As God is the proper centre of the soul and the sum of all perfection, apostasy from Him is the essence of sin ; apostasy from God involves, it is said, a falling back into ourselves, and making self the centre of our being. Thus Miiller,^ Tholuck,^ and many others, make alienation from God the primary principle of sin” (148).

The pen made only three mistakes (a surprising feat considering the unbendable binding of the book): (1) a semicolon was misplaced by one space, (2) in the place of two footnote markings, the pen inserted “^”, and it misspelled Müller as Miiler. These are pretty minor errors considering it only took me 20 seconds to scan the text.

After I redid the scan, I realized that the pen can scan “Müller” correctly, but it will almost never perceive a footnote number correctly. Oh well.

The C-pen also accurately scans Latin and Greek, as long as you enable these languages on your pen. The pen apparently recognizes some 250 languages.

Greek/Latin Examples:

“Ambrose says, ‘ Manifesturn itaque in Adam omnes peccasse quasi in massa : ipse enim per peccatum corruptus, quos genuit omnes nati sunt sub peccato. Ex eo igitur cuncti peccatores, quia ex ipso sumus omnes.’”

And: “Πάντες ούν oi e^ Αδα/χ γενο/χενοι εν αμαρτίαις συλλαμβάνονται ttj του ττροττάτορος καταδίκη — δεικνυσιν ως €^ άρχης ή άνρθρωπων φύσις υπό την άμαρτίαν πεπτωκεν υπό τ^ς iv Ενα τταρα βάσεως, και υπό κατάραν η yivvησις yeyovev.”

Here is another example of Greek on the first try: “ενδυσά/χενοι τον νέοι/, τον άνακαινου/χενον εις επιγνωσιν κατ εικόνα του κτισαντος αυτόν.”

The pen is certainly not perfect, but it is relatively accurate, especially considering several words were split by trailing hyphens. Oh, by the way, the pen will read and understand what a trailing hyphen is and then remove it and put the word together in text. It is pretty nifty.

However, the pen has more difficulty constantly switching between languages. Here, Greek, English, and Latin are included together:

“Clemens Alexandrinus says: τό yap έζαμαρτάνζιν πασιν ΐμφντον και κοινον. Justm says, To yevo<s των άνθρώττων άττο τον Άδά/Λ νττο θάνατον καΐ ττλάνψ τψ του οφεως ΐττζπτωκΐί, although he adds, τταρά την ιδίαν αΐτίαν €κάστου αντωνπονηρευσαμέι^ον. Origen says, “ Si Levi …. In lumbis Abrahae fuisse perhibetur, multo magis omnes homines qui in hoc mundo nascuntur et nati sunt, in lumbis errant Adse, cum adhuc sunt de Paradiso.” Athanasius says,* Πάι/rcs oiv oi e^ Αδα/χ yevofi€voi €v άμαρτίαίζ συλλαμβάνονται rjj του ττροττάτορος καταδίκη — δεικνυσιν ω? E^ άρχης η άνρθρωπων φύσις υττο την άμαρτίαν ττέπτωκ^ν νττο της iv Ένα τταρα βάσ€ωζ, και νττο κατάραν η yivvησι<I yeyovev.

While it reads fairly accurately (kind of), I had to move the pen a lot slower in this example. It should be noted that the pen perhaps would pick up a newer, more modern Greek font better than the font that Hendrickson uses. (Also, note that the Greek text is skewed a bit by the font in WordPress.)

Moreover, the pen is unable to read accurately text that has been previously underlined. The problem makes sense, but it is unfortunate nonetheless. Here is an example of underlined text. It is pretty horrific:

^^ opPi^sition^to alLthe.fon^^           or the doctrine of a threefold substancejn the^nstitution ofmn^2imay^£rremarked, (10 That it is opposed to the account oftH^^^pg^^tj^Qf man as given in Gen. ii. 7. Accordmg^t^^ out_ofjthe]Just οΓϊΒβ eartETand breathed into him the treath of life, and he became’ π;ΐΐ”~^ *; ^;’ * f^^^^glrm^?. I3””ntt?^) I” whom is a living soul.

Yikes, the C-pen is not even worth the hassle in these cases. It can only handle clean and unobstructed text.

Lastly, just for grins, the following example shows what happens when I moved the pen as fast as possible. Surprisingly, it is relatively accurate:

“This theory is founded on the following principles, or is an essential element in the following system of doctrine : (1.) Happi¬ iss is the greatest good. Whatever tends to promote the greatest amount of happiness is for that reason good, and whatever he opposite tendency is evil. (2.) As happiness is the only and ultimate good, benevolence, or tne disposition or purpose to pro¬ mote happiness, must be the essence and sum of virtue. (3.) As God is intinite, He must be infinitely benevolent, and therefore it must be his desire and purpose to produce the greatest possible amount of happiness.”

Notably, as the makers say, the pen can also do more. Or so they say…. They say it can translate whatever you scan into another language. But because the dictionaries cost money, and because the reviews said that it did not work well, I did not bother to try this feature. It is better to learn the language anyway. There are also several other add-ons, including a dictionary that gives the definition of a word after it is scanned. I personally could not see myself using this feature. I use google to look up words, and it works just fine. I suppose the scanner’s more immediate feature is great for people with poor vocabularies. Just kidding.

Here’s a list of pros and cons, as I see them thus far:


  1. It is excellent for scanning quotes. If you are the type of person who likes to read a book and copy the quotes later, this pen is certainly for you. It makes taking notes and copying quotations simple and streamlined. While the pen is best with “typical” characters in English, French, and German, it also does a good job with Greek.
  2. It saves time. You can’t argue with that.
  3. It is easy to use. Most of the features were learned in minutes. This surprised me.
  4. It is light and handheld. It’s actually pretty elegant.
  5. It makes you look hip and technological.


  1. It is technology. Technology makes you stupider over time. That’s science.
  2. The C-pen seems a bit frail and easily breakable. I will get back to you on this one.
  3. No battery options in my model. Some models have this. Many pens also come with Bluetooth options. Mine did not.
  4. Get accustomed to writing in the margins. It cannot read text that has been underlined. You will need to get out of this habit if you buy the pen.
  5. It cannot recognize Hebrew. But who reads the OT anyway, right?
  6. It is one more thing to be snarky about. First pogs, then coffee, and now this?

My concluded opinion: it is worth the $120, if you have it. The C-pen will buy itself through the shear time it saves. While it is not as adaptable and flexible as I would like, it serves its purpose well. I think most academics would find this pen valuable. You don’t need the pen by your side 24/7, but it comes in handy after you markup a book or have a bunch of information to write down.