You should see the notepad on my phone; it's filled with incoherent ramblings, unfinished shopping lists and half-baked ideas for books I'll never write. I'm sure your's looks much the same. Senstone, a small, wearable voice recorder wants to bring order to that chaos, not just by giving you a new place to store your thoughts, but by better organising them too.
Between my phone and physical notepad I'm rarely far from something to jot my ideas onto, but there are times when neither are around. I've been known to spend more time than I should trying to find something I'd previously written.
Senstone not only records your voice but transcribes your notes into text automatically, while also offering a nifty way to organise them and export them to third-party apps like Evernote. It's kind of like a lifelogging camera but with audio.
I've been using an early version of the device which is currently on Kickstarter and, having smashed its $50,000 goal, on track to start shipping in July. Here's what I think so far.
Technology in disguise
Senstone is designed to blend in: it's a small charm with a black front and aluminium case, measuring just over an inch across. Senstone says the shape was inspired by sound waves, and overall it's an elegantly designed bit of jewellery.
Which is just as well because there are several different ways to wear it. The back of the pendant can be removed by twisting it 90 degrees and replaced with different attachments, turning Senstone into a necklace, a clip for attaching to a shirt or jacket, and a wristband accessory I haven't had a chance to try. As someone who doesn't tend to wear necklaces, I've preferred attaching it to my clothes, but it's not too heavy to be uncomfortable if you do choose to hang it around your neck.
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On the right side of the device is a button which you'll press to start and stop recordings, but on the final unit that ships you'll be able to simply tap the front of Senstone instead, or simply snap your fingers to get a recording started.
The Senstone comes in a box that breaks into three pieces, but it's not as complex as it first looks. One part is the charging dock, while the other bits hold the Senstone charm and the bundled accessories.
So how simple is it to make recordings? Pretty damn easy. A single tap of the button will cause Senstone to light up in a starburst pattern, which signals that it's listening (and presumably will work the same with a front tap when the feature is added). At the same time you'll get a notification pop up on your phone to tell you that a recording is in progress.
Right now it can only record up to a minute at a time, which is a shame - especially as a journalist who's often recording interviews to later transcribe - but this restriction should be lifted in the shipped version of the device.
The LEDs will continue to display on the face until either you tap the button again or run out of time, at which point they'll reform into a small square to signify that the device is processing the recording to your phone. This is quick if the clip is just a few seconds, but I've found it can take up to a minute for longer recordings and even longer if you've made several recordings that need to sync.
The ability to record your thoughts wherever and whenever you are is neat, but it's hardly a new trick. That's why Senstone's best feature isn't the mic but the speech-to-text recognition. Every time a recording is synced to your phone it's also sent to the cloud where a text version to the audio is produced, to the best of the AI's abilities.
I've used a lot of speech-to-text tech and it's never perfect. Senstone's is pretty good though, and has got a lot of my memos spot-on, although often there's the odd word it gets wrong. It's recommended you use Senstone no more than eight inches from your face to get the most accurate recordings, and I definitely found that trying to capture sound from further away produced poorer accuracy in the text conversion phase, even if the sound quality was still pretty good. The company says it's going to add a second mic by launch, which should improve on recording.
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You can also edit the text in the app while listening back to the recording, so even if you do have to change a few words here and there, the process of converting audio into text is still faster than transcribing from scratch. If, however, you're not connected to the internet but Senstone is paired with your phone, it will simply send the audio file without any text at all.
Organisation is another strong point. You can use the search feature to find recordings by looking up words or even hashtags that can be assigned to each audio clip in the app. If you switch on the location feature, Senstone will also pintpoint where you were when each recording was taken. I'm not sure if I'd find this useful, but I suppose it could be helpful for jogging your memory. More handy, I think, is the ability to integrate with third-party apps like Evernote, so everything is be synced instantaneously.
Should you buy one?
I've been using an early version of Senstone and there will be some changes in the final retail model, so I'll wait until then to pass a proper verdict. But Senstone holds promise - it all comes down to whether you're the type of person who will find a device like this useful day to day. The speech-to-text feature isn't perfect but good enough to still save time, and if you do find yourself jotting down notes and ideas frequently through the day, this could prove a useful tool. For some of your most passionate Evernote users, this may be your kind of device.
The biggest problem is the $145 retail price, which is steep. Early backers can get one for $100 but it's still a lot for a dedicated audio recorder. That said, I'm judging it on a pre-production model, and I'll be interested to see if the final device better justifies the price tag.