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Not easy to use in car at night
on May 26, 2014
A small voice recorder is very handy; I keep one in my truck to jot notes and remember tasks while driving. Sony and Olympus make these; in the case of Olympus, the problem is that they make a bewildering variety - no less than 16 models of digital voice recorders, 3 models labeled "music recorders," and two professional dictation recorders, 21 in all. And you could tear your hair out trying to understand the differences from the descriptions, some of the prices are exactly the same so that doesn't help, and you will need to know what WMA, MP3 and PCM mean as recording modes, even if you could care less. All have good sound but only a few of them have capabilities which are really distinctive; for example the DM-901 can be set down towards the front of a lecture hall and operated remotely from a smart phone via an app. Some of the upper models, intended for law enforcement, encrypt the files and require a password to listen.
But which is safe to use in a moving vehicle? This VN-722 is a general purpose model; it has good sound when set to the highest quality mode (192kb MP3) and will record for many hours with the built in 4GB memory; you can also add a card memory if you plan to be on a desert island for several years. But for operation while driving, possibly at night, which is my use, the 722 as well as most other Olympus' suffer from tiny buttons, tiny words and symbols on the LCD, a weak or nonexistent backlight and opaque labels. The Record button is tiny with a faint red dot. The Stop button is black, on a black background, with a small dark grey dot on it ... almost impossible to operate this in a dark car at night. The models I like best are the DP-311 or 211 which have the very simplest interface with the biggest buttons (they say they sell this for the "elderly!"). Also, all the Olympus recorders have to be "woken up from sleep" - you press the record button, and a seemingly endless time goes by before the screen shows it is ready to record. This is annoying, especially if you need to turn the lights on and watch the screen. It's amazing how a product line can be around as long as Olympus voice recorders and still suffer from such poor, thoughtless design.
The printed operation manuals are written in microscopic type with strange, made-up symbols - nearly incomprehensible. Olympus makes cool electronics but they seem to have little understanding of their customers or how to market outside of Asia. They should offer perhaps five models at most, not 21, these should be much simpler to operate, and they should test their instruction sheets to see if people in the country of sale can actually understand them. And a voice recorder should not require a magnifying glass and a flashlight to operate, or cause you to crash your car.
There is a culture gap here, which is why Apple comes across as so well designed and easy to use by comparison. Speaking of Apple, you may not need a stand-alone voice recorder at all. My iPhone 5 has a voice recording feature which is very simple and, unless your needs are specialized, replaces most of what I use this Olympus for. Also the phone has a lighted screen and I can use it at night while driving. Also you can email voice recordings to your computer if you need to save them. Just as with cameras, wristwatches, GPS etc., the smart phone is replacing all other portable electronics. If you do decide to get a stand-alone recorder, I prefer the lowest priced models from Sony or Olympus - they have good enough sound and fewest complications.