PC World
May 1995


New Hardware

Handheld Digital Recorders Let You Speak Your Mind

I do my best thinking when I'm driving. The clouds inside my brain lift, brilliant ideas flood my synapses, and I suddenly remember I forgot to pay the gas bill. Yet the moment I get near a pen or a keyboard, all that brilliance clouds over again. Fortunately, I've discovered three digital devices that let me record these fleeting insights as they strike and make them easy to find later.

Voice It Worldwide's Personal Note Recorder--a gizmo the size of a credit card--holds from 20 seconds to 2 minutes of voice recording in its internal memory chip, capacity depending on the model. The 20-second VT-20 sells for about $50; the 2-minute VT-120 goes for about $100 (there are also 40- and 90-second models).

Like Voice It, Norris Communications' Flashback also works just like a microcassette recorder, but this cool-looking device uses removable 30-minute or 60-minute memory cards, called SoundClips, instead of tapes. The $249.95 Flashback lets you search for entries, tack new thoughts onto the end of previously recorded items, and insert new recordings anywhere you want.

Sycom Technologies; Voice Input Planner (VIP) 9000 Plus looks like your average handheld organizer, with a two-line LCD, a dinky alphanumeric keypad, and the usual organizer functions--memo pad, address book, and scheduler. But the $399 VIP Plus lets you record 11 minutes of voice notes and then set alarms so the notes play back at specified times.

To check out these gadgets, I carried them around for a few days, recording bits of wisdom.

Geek on Wheels

For my first test, I took the devices mountain biking. In short order, I recorded my first brilliant insight: In my bike helmet and shorts, with a fanny pack full of digital recorders, I looked like a complete geek.

Voice It's VT-20 fit easily in my hand while I rode, and its record, play, skip, and erase buttons were all within thumb's reach. But 20 seconds of storage proved far too brief; even 2 minutes wouldn't be enough for a long rid. Norris's Flashback also operates with one hand, though its two-button controls are less intuitive than the VT-20's. Still, the Flashback is probably the safest choice for someone on two wheels, thanks to a handy wrist strap that leaves fingers free for braking and shifting.

While Sycom's VIP 9000 let me record entries using one hand, trying to do anything else proved perilous. For example, to set an alarm I had to press the buttons with my nose, narrowly missing several unwitting pedestrians.

After that, I switched to four wheels, cruising down the freeway in my 1981 Honda, recording pithy observations, and listening to ZZ Top's "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide." Insight number two: The recorders differ noticeably in sound quality. The VT-20 produced consistently crisp recordings with minimal background noise. Flashback's entries were crackly yet audible, but Sycom's VIP 9000 made it sound like I was trapped in a fire at a cellophane factory. Even in a quiet setting, the VIP had the poorest sound quality of the lot.

Now What?

Next, I had to do something with my digitized thoughts. With the VT-20, my options were to transcribe them manually or erase them to make room for new entries. By the time you read this, the Flashback and the VIP 9000 will be able to download voice files to your PC's hard disk--the Flashback SoundClips card will plug into any PC Card (formerly PCMCIA) slot; the VIP will transfer voice and data files via a serial port link.

You'll be able to save the downloaded recordings as WAV files and play them back using a sound card--useful if you want to transcribe an entry in your word processor, attach a voice comment to a Windows document, or simply store a recording for reference. Me, I didn't have any thoughts worth saving, though I did record a wicked vocal on "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide."

-Daniel Tynan

Norris Flashback, Sycom VIP 9000 Plus, Voice It Personal Note Recorder

A trio of digital devices that record your thoughts.

Norris Communications

List price: $249.95; 30-minute SoundClip $69.95, 60-minute SoundClip $99.95

Reader service no. 705

Sycom Technologies

List price: $399

Reader service no. 706

Voice It Worldwide

800/999-3522 ext. 40
List price: $49.95 to $99.95

Reader service no. 707


SPEAKING IN TONES: The $399 VIP 9000 Plus lets you record 11 minutes of notes and play them back at specified times.

SMALL TALK: The credit-card-size Voice It personal Note Recorder holds up to 120 seconds of voice recordings.


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Revised: September 29, 2005