gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

Swann PenCam DVR

Swann PenCam DVR tucked away in a shirt pocket

Swann, makers of security monitoring solutions and IT peripherals have a product in their range of home/small business security devices that might interest those of you with a need for discrete and covert espionage. The PenCam DVR offers video and audio recording capability, neatly tucked away within the workings of a slightly chunky ballpoint pen.

If you’re curious who the office thief is that has been stealing everyones hobnobs, want to capture images of highly sensitive documents or merely film up a Scotsmans kilt, the range of possibilities the PenCam can be used for is extensive and limited only by the users capacity to hide the fact they are waving a pen around that emits a small blue/orange light from it’s rear.

More after the jump…

For a gadget as inexpensive as this I was amazed by the quality of video under the right lighting conditions. It records AVI video files at a resolution of 352×288 pixels and you can squeeze about three hours of footage on the 2GB internal USB memory, although this can’t be used all at once as the battery generally lasts no more than ninety minutes.

The pen comes in a nicely presented black box with magnetic front opening and a rigid foam padding inside so you can dismantle the PenCam and keep it safe from the inquisitive hands of children and other sources of damage. Instructions are supplied but if you’re like me you can jump straight into using the pen as it is very much a plug and play device.

Charging the battery and getting the videos off the pen is painless, you just connect the USB cable supplied to your computer to begin charging, and simply drag and drop the video files as you would with any other portable storage media. There is no software to install, no propriety formats to deal with so everything is actually simple for the user and no MI5 training required before use.

There are two main downsides to the PenCam, however. Firstly the light level in the enviroment you are recording in massively influences the quality of the footage, unless it is very brightly lit you will not capture much detail. Secondly, the audio recording is pretty terrible and full of strange noises akin to those emitted by hearing aids that have been turned up too loud, it relies on people talking quite loudly in close proximity to pick them up clearly and is generally out of synch with the video footage.

The pen itself feels very robust and although is slightly chunkier than most ballpoints it is styled in a way that I think will allow most people to be unassuming of it’s actual purpose. If your covert video recording needs aren’t sufficiently reliable upon audio then this pen really is a great buy and can be picked up for around £100 at Maplin.

I patched together a video clip with some sample footage taken in different lighting conditions to show you what the quality is like. Apologies for the barnyard noises, but I felt it best to remove all the f-bombs that my friend Paris was dropping. Oh and please don’t scrutinise the date/time in the top right of the videos, they were taken at the end of December, not September – I didn’t realise there was an editable text file in the pens memory that you have to edit when you start using it!

Edit: Sorry, this video has succumbed to bitrot and is no longer available.

Thursday, January 15th, 2009, Gadgets, Toys.