i-Vox voice organiser for Palm handheldsReview date: 20 April 2000.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
There are things it's hard to do with a Palm organiser. With any current handheld computer, for that matter. And one of those things is taking ultra-quick notes.
Sure, you can fire up your instant-on handheld, punch whatever button gives you the memo pad, and scribble away in whatever mildly mangled script the thing wants you to use. You can take notes that way as quickly as you could by jotting them down on a piece of paper. But, as the salesmen always say, what if you have a brilliant idea while you're driving? What then, eh? You use both hands to jot it down, you're probably going to DIE! Yes, DIE!
But wait! The salesmen can save your life! With what, I hear you breathlessly ask? Why, with a "voice organiser", of course!
A voice organiser, in its simplest form, is a little digital recorder. A few buttons, to record and stop recording, play back, skip forward and backward, and delete, and a couple of holes for the microphone and the speaker. Press button, expound fabulous idea, press button again, maybe don't crash car.
The simplest voice recorders only have enough memory for a very short record time - 20 seconds or so. It's surprising how much you can fit into a 20 second sound bite, though, and these low-spec units are sold as little keyring toys. Here in Australia, for instance, you can grab a couple of 20 second recorders from places like Jaycar Electronics for less than $AU20 (they're catalogue numbers XC0275 and XC0276, by the way).
The Shinei Sangyo i-Vox goes rather further than these small-capacity recorders. It's got a hefty eight minute record capability, and can hold up to 99 individual messages. And it clips onto your Palm III or V series handheld. I checked out the sexy see-through Palm V model. It costs $AU129.95.
Shinei Sangyo may not exactly be a household name, but they've been selling i-Voxes for a while. Landware, makers of the rather good GoType Palm keyboards (I review one here), sold the first model of i-Vox, calling it the goVox. The earlier model is the same deal; a Palm cover with buttons on it, and no real connection with the Palm it's attached to. The specifications are the same - up to 99 messages and eight minutes of total record time.
Landware will be selling the new i-Vox too, shortly, according to their goVox page. They'll just call it the Palm V goVox.
The i-Vox runs on a couple of lithium button cells, which are easy enough to install. Then you've just got to attach it to your Palm - although, of course, it actually works fine all by itself.
In true real-estate-agent style, the manufacturers make a virtue of the fact that the only thing that connects an i-Vox to a Palm is a plastic hinge. You don't need to load any special software, they say. You don't need to even turn on your Palm!
Well, yeah. You don't need to do either of those things to use a keyring recorder, either. The lack of any electronic connection also means you can't attach voice messages to Palm files, or sync messages to your PC, or do anything else at all fancy with 'em. Adding proper connectivity and supporting software would, of course, probably greatly increase the price of the gadget, but it still has to be recognised that its "integration" is purely physical.
The Palm III i-Vox - or goVox, or whatever you want to call it - is handicapped somewhat by its attachment method. It replaces the standard Palm III flip cover, which isn't the most inspired piece of design in history in the first place. A flip cover that's rather heavier than the plain plastic one is a bit of a pain.
The Palm V i-Vox, on the other hand, takes advantage of the ambidextrous design of the Palm V, and has a hinge with a pin on the side of it that apes the shape of the V's stylus. You plug the pin into the left-hand stylus slot, and the i-Vox is firmly anchored. This will irk left-handers, who aren't going to be able to use the Palm with a flip cover blocking their writing hand.
But if you're one of us clearly-superior right-handed ubermenschen, you'll be fine.
The i-Vox, like other Palm covers, protects the front of the device quite well. It also leaves the back of the Palm clear, so you don't have to remove the recorder to plug the PDA into a sync cradle, or expansion device.
Operating the i-Vox is simple enough. Press the record button to start recording. Press it again when you're done. Use the skip buttons to shuffle through the recorded messages; press delete to get rid of whatever one you just chose to listen to, hold delete for a couple of seconds to delete every message.
There are only two things that'll affect the quality of sound from a gizmo like this - the recording quality, and the speaker. Tiny microphones with decent quality are common, but many digital recorders use very low sample rates, and many small playback devices have minuscule piezo speakers like those used in watches, rather than proper magnet-and-coil drivers.
The I-Vox wins on both quality counts. Its speaker may be tiny - less than an inch across - but it's a magnetic unit with a bit of midrange response, not just treble. Piezos are very thin and very light and very cheap and louder for a given power input, but they're tweeters only. You don't expect, or need, any bass from a thing like this, of course, but you do want voice quality that tends more towards telephone grade than tin-can-and-string.
The proper speaker means the i-Vox comes with a warning not to put it on top of floppy disks or credit cards or other magnetic media, but in the real world the titchy little magnet on this thing would have to try very hard indeed to erase anything.
The i-Vox microphone's fine for recording ordinary speech, at distances up to arm's length, when there isn't a lot of background noise. You're not going to have much success in a crowded, busy office, or in a rattletrap automobile. No omnidirectional mike can be expected to do any better than this one does, really.
The recording quality is also perfectly good. You don't need much sample rate for speech; phone quality is fine, and the i-Vox delivers.
Realistically, I don't think it's likely that anybody's going to use anything like the full 99 message capacity of an i-Vox, because the thing's got no display. It's got the ability to give you instant access to any message, but when all you've got is forward and backward buttons, you're limited by the interface to using the thing like a base model tape-based answering machine. You can skip to the first or last message, but not to any particular message in the middle.
There's also no volume control, and no headphone socket. Discretion? We don' need no steenkin' discretion!
Because of its no-integration design, the i-Vox also has absolutely no security. It's a given that anybody with physical access to your computing devices can, with a modicum of knowledge, do anything they want with them. But most computing devices don't let them record an enthusiastic rendition of the Monty Python song of their choice, for you to unsuspectingly play back in front of senior management.
Through the translucent case you can vaguely see the i-Vox's componentry, but I had to extract five tiny screws to find out what the I-Vox was actually using to do its work. The core of the thing is an Information Storage Devices 4004-08ME integrated sound chip (get the PDF datasheet here), which has the flash memory and basic input-output hardware built in. There's an Atmel AT89C2051 microcontroller (datasheet here) to tie it all together.
If you get a brilliant, zillion-dollar idea while you're driving, and you're afraid you'll forget it, then freakin' STOP driving. Don't be fumbling around with any kind of idea-recording technology while you're in motion, and gently drifting into someone else's lane. If you don't have enough short-term memory to keep the idea current while you find somewhere to come to a halt, then you've got no chance of success anyway. Bah. Humbug.
Dangerous salesman-induced tricks aside, this is a nice techno-toy. It fits the Palm V well, it works as advertised, it's useful. Its interface could be better, but it's quite cheap for what it is. Buttons. A little light. Visible circuitry. What's not to like?
Review i-Vox kindly supplied by Eworld Technologies