In March, we reviewed the eBeam , a product that allows you to “record” and virtually share your whiteboard. (See “Upgrade your whiteboard with eBeam .”) Shortly after the review ran, we learned Virtual Ink Corp. offers a competing product called the mimio . In fact, the mimio hit the market first. So, in the interest of fair space, we took the mimio for a test run.

Like the eBeam, the mimio allows you to capture the contents of your whiteboard, making it easier to record brainstorm sessions and flowcharts from meetings. You can print your whiteboard content or save it as an HTML file, JPEG, bitmap, metafile, or enhanced metafile.

The mimio, which sells for $499 in mimio’s online store, offers more functionality and gee-whiz bang-for-the-buck than the eBeam. Among its key features:

  • It interfaces with Microsoft NetMeeting and WebEx , a site that hosts virtual meetings and allows you to share applications online.
  • It has a talking calculator to help you perform computations during meetings without pulling out the Palm.
  • It offers handwriting recognition software (offered for a $69 introductory price).

Sets up quickly and stays where you need it
The mimio is simple to install. The capture bar attaches quickly and easily to your whiteboard: Simply unfold the bar, stick it to a clean whiteboard, and lock down the attachment levers. Once stuck, the mimio stays stuck. In fact, be careful when you detach it.

I somehow managed to detach one of the suction cups from the capture bar and couldn’t get it back on. Fortunately, one suction cup was enough to keep it up, and tape managed to stabilize the bar. Mounting brackets are included if you don’t intend to travel with the mimio.

Next, you’ll have to power down your PC and disconnect your keyboard because one branch of the mimio connector cable goes into the keyboard port. The other branch of cable connects with your PC at the serial port, which enables the mimio to run off your PC’s power instead of requiring a separate electrical hook-up. However, you’ll want to make sure your computer is within eight feet of your computer.

The mimio includes four penholders (called styluses), which are recommended for use only with Expos markers and a special eraser. The penholders and eraser send a signal to the mimio when you use them; all operate on standard AAA batteries. Virtual Ink was also thoughtful enough to package the mimio with a complete set of AAA batteries.

Once the mimio is set up, the software wizard walks you through the configuration process. You simply draw figures on your whiteboard at certain locations so the mimio can register the whiteboard’s dimensions.

The mimio can save your whiteboard’s contents as an HTML or JPEG file for Web publishing.

Gee-whiz, Wally
On a scale from 1-10, I rate the gee-whiz factor for the mimio an 8.

At TechRepublic, the hands-down favorite feature was the talking calculator, which activates your desktop calculator. The mimio includes an electrostatic calculator decal that you pop onto your whiteboard; then you run a simple, short routine to let the mimio know where you’ve placed the calculator, and you’re ready to go. A smooth, clear voice reads out the numbers of your formula and quickly provides you with an answer, thus sparing you the embarrassment of a potential miscalculation in front of a room full of engineers.

The handwriting recognition software also seemed like an attractive feature, though the results were disappointing. For instance, it translated “Weighs” as “Neighs” and “Uses your whiteboard as a desktop” became “oases your Whiteboard as g desk10p.” And the software isn’t part of the basic package. It’s sold separately for $99 on mimio’s site, but Virtual Ink is selling it for an introductory price of $69.

Perhaps the most useful, versatile feature for executives is the capability to host meetings using Microsoft’s NetMeeting or WebEx, a Web site for virtual meetings. If you host frequent conference calls, this is definitely worth exploring. WebEx and mimio’s meeting services include presentation, document, and application sharing; polling; text-based chat; video; teleconferencing; and voice-over IP. With the mimio, you can extend your whiteboard into WebEx’s virtual meeting space so coworkers on another continent can see your ideas as they unfold.

The service is free but limited to four participants and 10 minutes for application sharing. Mimio and WebEx have not yet set fees for extending the meeting’s functions for mimio owners, but WebEx’s current fees start at 20 cents per minute for each participant.

Developers will also appreciate the fact that mimio offers a software developer’s kit so you can create control panels that activate applications with an electrostatic decal.

mimio vs. eBeam
The mimio and eBeam are similar products. With either, you will be able to:

  • Print and save pages from your whiteboard.
  • Go live with your whiteboard via the Internet.
  • Make alterations and notations to the whiteboard’s contents.
  • Easily transport and set up the equipment.
  • Use a mobile mouse with presentations and projected desktops. (eBeam’s is set to ship this month.)

The mimio outperforms the eBeam in some areas, however. For instance, it stays on the whiteboard. The eBeam kept popping off, though the company has since replaced the attachments that we tested.

The mimio’s Internet capabilities are also more impressive. The partnership with WebEx allows you to share files, chat, and do other things via the Web that eBeam does not yet support. But there are restrictions and costs to using the mimio and WebEx meeting function. The eBeam does not restrict your meeting time or the number or participants and does not charge for the service.

The mimio offers instructions in English, Japanese, German, and French; the eBeam offers only English and Japanese at this time.

If you’ll be using a portable, you might consider that the mimio’s power comes completely from your PC, while the eBeam requires a separate plug-in. Also, the mimio includes a USB adapter.

When it comes to the primary function, recording your whiteboard, the eBeam did outperform the mimio. Letters written on the whiteboard were clearer and more thoroughly interpreted by the eBeam. Several times I had to go over the letters twice to get the mimio to pick up the image. The eBeam’s software also allows you to make highlights and more changes than the mimio’s does, although these differences are minimal.
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