Review: Swann PenCam

Pen Takes Video for the Wannabe Spy in You

The Swann Pen Cam mini camera pen. Image © Swann

Bond. James Bond.

That’s the first thought that will likely come to mind when you first see the $49.99 Swann PenCam pen camera (Update: Since this review originally ran, pricing for the Swann Pencam has been reduced to $29.99). That is, unless you’re some voyeuristic perv. If so, the nearest police station is that-a-way.

For geeky wannabe spies, though, the Swann PenCam fulfills the need to both write down your geeky thoughts and indulge your geeky video desires. Read on for the full scoop on the device.

The Pros

It’s Cool

Being cool really has nothing to do with a device’s functionality in the grand scheme of things. But just like some people wear ascots because they think it looks cool, I have a feeling most folks will buy this device because they think it’s cool, too. And it is in a sort-of-geeky way. Unlike ascots, though, this pen won’t make you look like a pretentious fool, which is a plus. Yes, it might make people think you’re crazy when they see you moving it around like a divining rod. But hey, that’s their problem and not yours.

It’s Portable

I mean, seriously, what’s easier to carry around than a pen, right? Match it with a pocket protector and you’ll be all set to film the Blair Nerd Project right from your starched shirt’s front pocket. On the downside, it’s also as easy to lose as any pen, except this one costs a heck of a lot more.

Takes Pics and Video

Admittedly, the picture quality ain’t that great. But at least the option is there if you ever need it — like when a campus streaker suddenly crosses your path. Video quality is actually not that bad for a pen camera; it records at 480p and should be good enough for Web videos (The 4GB model can take an hour’s worth of video). Just make sure you have ample light. It also has a built-in mic but don’t expect full stereo quality sound.

Easy to Use

It only takes a few button presses to operate all the features of the PenCam. Moving files to your computer is also as easy as plugging the pen’s USB connector. Doing so also automatically put a time stamp on my videos. It also helps that the files are saved using widely used formats: JPEG for photos and AVI for videos.


You don’t need to keep buying batteries to use the pen. Just plug it in your computer and the device should be fully charged in a little over an hour. A full charge lets you use the device for about an hour and a half.

Pen Refills

While the video capabilities are certainly nice, it’s important to remember that the device is also a pen. With three pen refills included, you can write with your PenCam for quite some time.

The Cons

So-So Picture Quality, Audio

Images taken with the device have some noticeable pixelation. It certainly won't compare to a full-fledged video cam such as the JVC Everio Quad Proof camera or even a smaller action cam such as the Soocoo S60. Sound quality also could be better.

No Viewfinder

The absence of a viewfinder makes it difficult to frame your shots. You’re practically shooting blindly unless you really get used to the device’s line of sight. The fact that you can’t see what you’re shooting also makes you more prone to camera shake. Then again, you really can’t expect a pen cam to come with a viewfinder.

A Bit Chubby for Writing

The width is fine for handling the camera while shooting video but it is a bit on the fat side for writing. Guys — and gals with ginormous man-hands — should be fine with it but folks with smaller hands might get tired more quickly when writing with the device.

Closing Thoughts

The Swann PenCam works surprisingly well as a video recorder fitted in the barrel of a pen. The video quality likely won’t please videophiles but folks simply looking for a fun gadget likely will have no issue with that.

In fact, the biggest downside I can see from this pen involve the potential shenanigans and problems you can get yourself in from an ill-advised use of the device. Then again, that would be your fault and not the pen's.

Jason Hidalgo is’s Portable Electronics expert. Yes, he is easily amused. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhidalgo and be amused, too.