This post is a review of the Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen (阿尔发蛋AI练习笔) by iFlytek. This pen is unlike any other I have ever seen: it’s a smart digital pen for teaching a child how to WRITE Chinese characters using traditional pen and paper.
We were lucky enough to get our hands on an Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen in July 2022 soon after they were launched, and this is a review after a three-month test drive. I’m so excited to share this pen with you.
This post covers:
- Key Features of the Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen
- Technical specs
- How we are using the Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen
- Pros of the Writing Pen
- Cons of the Writing Pen
- The verdict
- Where to buy Alpha Egg Writing Pen
Why writing Chinese characters is so important
Did you know that physically writing out Chinese characters by hand has been proven to be a key tool in the acquisition of literacy in Chinese? Whilst it’s possible to learn to read without writing, by far the best way to learn any language (and especially a non-phonetic language) has been shown that nothing beats the old-fashioned way of pen and paper.
Handwriting is such an important tool – but also very tough for a child to figure out correct stroke order, and repetitive in execution. There are all sorts of gadgets and smart apps for learning to READ Chinese characters, but Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen is the first pen I’ve ever seen that helps you to WRITE Chinese characters perfectly and keeps a child engaged.
Several scientific studies have shows stronger brain activity after writing on paper than on a tablet or smartphone, and other studies show stronger memory recall when a concept is written down rather than simply listened to. The spatial and tactile information associated with writing by hand on physical paper has been shown by researchers as what likely leads to improved memory retention. There’s even new research specifically focused on writing characters (be it Chinese, Japanese, etc) showing that the sequential movement of fingers and hand to form hundreds of complex characters (as opposed to 26 alphabets) activates a neural activity that trains the brain in an array of advanced cognitive abilities needed for many aspects of life.
Key Features of the Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen
The Alpha Egg AI writing pen is a smart digital pen that resembles a conventional pen, and it writes on real paper. It is equipped with internal sensors to detect movement and pen position and connects to an app to give real-time feedback.
The pen really looks, feels, and writes like a normal pen (same size, weight, shape). Yet with the clever sensors it becomes a real-time writing guide, giving you feedback on how to write characters precisely and perfectly.
It has three key parts:
- Writing practice with feedback: By using the pen with the accompanying workbooks (yes they’re also real paper books) and a phone/ipad, you get a closed-loop system for writing practice. The app captures the pen movements with real-time synchronisation on screen and gives a score to the user on how well the character has been written. It scores based on ten key areas of the writing (which are stroke order, number of strokes, size, position, thickness, frame structure, stroke angle, stroke direction, stroke length, and writing speed).
- Videos: The app provides an in-built teaching assistant which can recognize the character being written and with the tap of the app can provide a short video with tips on how to write the character or in some instances, history of the character. Together, it creates a very comprehensive system and assistant for character writing, which is child-friendly and fun.
- Personalised intervention: The “AI” function of the pen will actually recommend Chinese characters that need intensive training, based on past results, and allow the user to carry out personalized training to master the more troublesome characters, in a blank notebook (although you can actually use it to practice whatever characters you want).
Workbooks: Level 1 – basic pen movements
Workbooks: Level 2 – basic strokes and characters
Workbooks: Level 3 – advanced characters and blank books
- Model No: TYWP – W10
- Charger: Micro USB Charging Port
- Connectivity: Bluetooth (required)
- Supports offline usage
- Battery life: ~5 hours of continuous usage (it takes ~2 hours to be fully charged)
- Weight: 17.6g
- Dimensions: 160mm (length), 10mm (diameter
- Pen tip: 0.5 mm
- Ink colour: Black
- User interface language: Simplified Chinese
The pen comes with 13 workbooks, ranging from introductory pre-character writing through to four levels of characters arranged from easier to advanced, based on writing difficulty.
How the Alpha Egg AI writing pen works?
The Alpha Egg AI Pen works by pairing Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and Bluetooth technologies. When the pen lid is taken off the pen, it automatically activates Bluetooth, and inside the pen tip is an OCR sensor to identify the workbook being used and handwriting. It uses the square grid in the workbook with dot matrix recognition to determine pen tip position (1200 dpi high precision, so really pretty good). This is directly synchronized to the app, and then the actual handwriting is shown on the screen.
For help in setting up the pen, there is a helpful youtube about the AI Writing Pen with English sub titles. One tip would be to use a tablet with this pen, rather than a phone screen, as it’s bigger and will better resemble the paper size being used.
How our family is using the Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen
Nothing beats writing using real pen and paper. Period. Nevertheless writing characters on physical pen and paper has over the years been a struggle in our house. It’s not because the children aren’t interested or its time-consuming (although I’ve heard that both are common complaints). The real reason is that as I don’t know how to write the characters myself, I’m clueless. I seriously have NO idea, and cannot engage in it at all with the children. That’s why for revising week tingxie (Chinese spelling words) we rely heavily on the use of Skritter app. Skritter is a great digital tool for learning characters and practicing them through spaced recognition. It works for stroke order too, but given Skitter is still screen-based writing with a stylus (or finger) it doesn’t fully mimic actual character writing, nor bring with it the scientific benefits associated with analog-style pen and paper writing.
You can imagine how excited I was to discover the Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen. It does just what the packet says it can do …. Writes characters on real paper, and gives real time feedback! Another answer to my dreams!!
Literally, all three of my kids are using the pen, but differently. The pen can easily be shared across family members since it comes with a set of writing books that range from pre-character writing (squiggles and shapes) to advanced characters, with a step-by-step guide and tracing squares. You can even purchase additional books so each child has their own set. The only hitch in sharing across family members is that there is only one app account for the pen, so the AI recommendations on what to do for additional practice don’t work, however, we don’t use this feature.
The children really do want to complete an entire page of characters and collect stars, so it’s a positive feedback loop to improve in character writing. The characters can be selected and completed in any order, so it’s possible to choose characters that match a particular syllabus being studied. There are also blank square-paper books which pair with the pen too, for unguided practice.
Pros of the Alpha Egg Chinese writing pen
- Real time report on penmanship and handwriting, including feedback and areas for improvement (errors are very clearly explained)
- Designed for both right-handed and left-handed users
- Great matching videos so a child can get a refresher on how to write the character
- The ink in the pen is refillable and the exercise books are replaceable
- The pen and books can be used in offline mode as well
- Parental Monitoring via app is available
- It’s possible to use a lead pencil or an ink tip, depending on what your child is used to
- The accompanying workbooks are well designed – going from practicing pen control and pre-writing skills, then basic practice of strokes, to basic characters, and finally more advanced aspects
- Entire system and setup is in Chinese
- The system relies on Bluetooth – if you avoid this for your child, then do avoid the pen too
- The 阿尔发蛋AI练习笔 app requires a a local +86 Chinese mobile to first activate the app (although this can be avoided through certain resellers – including Sagesaurus in Singapore – who have preauthorized security codes and One Time Pin provided to you to avoid this inconvenience.
Is the Alpha Egg writing pen good?
Our family’s verdict is that the pen is excellent! This product is essentially a smart pen and paper, with a fancy connected technology that gives an incentive for children to use it to get in a habit of writing Chinese characters. The children feel the pen is comfortable to hold, and the app is simple enough to use and give them the information they are needing. The feel of the pen is like writing with a gel pen, rather than a ballpoint. Sometimes there can be a split-second lag between writing on the paper and seeing the image on screen, but that in itself is a good reason for the child to focus on the pen and paper, and only look at the app when they have finished writing a particular line of characters.
I’ m a self-confessed addict when it comes to using technology to help our family learn languages. That’s why our house is overflowing with gadgets like Luka Reading Robot, Habbi Habbi Reading Wands, Osmo, Youdao Dictionary Pens. I reckon we’ve seen and tried just about everything that’s out there tech-wise for learning Chinese, Spanish and English. Which is why I was blown away when I came across the Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen. It truly is something BRAND new to the market and has been executed well.
The Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen is an especially great aid for parents who don’t write Chinese, or who don’t have time to review their children’s writing. When I see pages of beautifully handwritten characters, I know that the app does its job well.
Where to buy?
In Singapore, Sagesaurus stocks the Alpha Egg AI Writing Pen. If buying through their website, you can get SGD$10 off Alpha Egg products using promo code lahlah10off. I know they also ship internationally. (and no, no affiliation or commissions are being collected from this blog post ….. just trying to bring you – the reader – great things and help small businesses).
Examples of what you can purchase are below…. the smart pen, writing books (4 different levels, with 13 books in total), and pen refills (either lead pencils or felt tip).
Enjoy the journey
I hope this review has helped you. Most important in the Chinese learning journey is that you create a family and schooling situation where the child loves the language and wants to learn it! I hope that you can achieve that in your family.
If you have reached the end of this, and still wanting to read some more, some other posts of mine which you may find relevant to help your child in learning Chinese:
- Online language classes you might not have heard of
- Luka Reading Robot to encourage a love for Chinese literature
- Is reaching fluency in Chinese a realistic goal for non-native families?
- Great bridging books to read when you child knows > 1000 characters
- Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen for Learning Chinese
- Top Tools, Apps, and Reading Robots for assisting to learn Chinese