Review: A wearable voice recorder for dictation on the go
Do you regularly record and transcribe voice memos or interviews? The creators of the Senstone wearable voice recorder (currently on Kickstarter) want to modernize your methods. This little device starts recording with a tap, and offers automatic voice-to-text transcription via its companion app. Is it worth your investment?
We were provided with a prototype to check out, and we think it does offer some solid advantages – but not necessarily game-changing ones – over current recording apps and voice-to-text options. Keep in mind, however, that we're not dealing with the final version that will ship to backers, so this is not a definitive review. Instead, we're providing feedback on the state of the Senstone to help you decide whether to back the project.
The Senstone arrives inside a two-tier charging storage box that houses its bundled accessories (charging cable, interchangeable backs). The box itself is sturdy and modern looking, although the bottom tier housing the charging dock has a tendency to get stuck.
The device charges via a short microUSB-to-USB-A charger. The manufacturer's battery life estimate for the device is "up to four days," which the company clarified as about one hour of total recording spread out over a four-day span.
After a full charge, the docking station serves as a charging case, which provides an additional two full charges.
The device itself looks like a fluted lozenge, light and small with a glass front and metallic frame. It's attractive enough, but with its whimsical shape, flashing LED patterns and slightly flimsy feel, it doesn't resonate as particularly high end.
Its modularity is convenient – it has detachable back options, so we had the option of wearing it as a necklace or clip-on. However, the wearable mods might further its slightly toy-ish vibe. In my mind, the Senstone reads a little more like a Mood Ring than a professional accessory should.
Our favorite characteristic of the Senstone? It's a standalone accessory. Although you access your recordings through the companion app, you can record into the device anytime, anywhere. Like the best wearables, your phone does not need to be nearby in order to use it.
The convenience of an extra device may seem paradoxical. After all, most smartphones have some degree of built-in microphone, recording and voice-to-text functionality. Why complicate things with an additional accessory? Well, phones can be distracting and you may need to use it in other ways. By adding a standalone device into the mix, you are free to keep your smartphone out of sight and out of mind, or you can use it for other functions without worrying about affecting the recording.
The next time your Senstone syncs up with your phone via Bluetooth, your recordings – and their transcriptions, if applicable – are processed automatically and available to you within minutes through the accompanying app.
A few qualifications and unknowns
The following observations are based on a very limited testing of the device, in (American) English. According to its creators, Senstone is compatible with 10 different languages, with more on the way.
Our test unit also had a few important limitations that a Senstone representative assured us would be removed before the product's expected ship date in July. One, our review unit is only capable of a one-minute maximum recording. Two, there is a side button on our test unit that serves as the start/stop switch, but in the future, tapping the glass touchscreen will serve that function. In addition, our review unit contained only one microphone, but the backers' edition will contain two. Lastly, a "snap to record" feature – which activates the record function with a snap of your fingers – will be added in the future as well.
Quality of the voice-to-text transcription
We were a tad disappointed with the quality of the voice-to-text transcription, but we did entertain ambitious hopes. We were hoping for a device that could be relied upon to transcribe an interview or maybe excerpts of a lecture, but it's not quite up to that standard yet. Either way, if you get frustrated when Siri botches your commands or Google's voice search fetches questionable results, this does not seem like the device for you.
In its current state, the automatic transcription works well if you speak at a fairly loud, steady volume, with the device close to your face, speaking as directly into it as possible. This is fine for simple voice memos, but it is not the way we speak in conversation (or anytime we're in public, for that matter).
Speaking in a quieter or rushed tone precipitates minor transcription mistakes, e.g. substituting "my" for "I may", "until" for "I didn't tell." The transcription also struggled when there was music playing in the background. According to Senstone, these types of shortcomings will be remedied by the second microphone it has promised, but without trying it, we can't be sure.
Perhaps more importantly, Senstone does not yet offer automatic punctuation in its transcriptions. You can still say "question mark" and "period" out loud, but undoubtedly, this is not a very streamlined method of dictating. Senstone plans on adding this functionality in the future, but it is not expected before the July ship date.
Who's it for?
Senstone could potentially be a significant time saver for individuals that often transcribe recordings, even just in its current form. The app saves the actual audio recording alongside the transcription, so if the text is incomplete or inaccurate, you can listen again and edit the accompanying text. It also has organizational features like hashtags, location services, time and date, which minimizes the time you spend trying to find the right recordings.
We would like to see some improvements in the Senstone's companion app to make it easier to manually edit the transcription. For example, adding a timestamp view within the transcription would make it dramatically easier to revisit problem areas. However, Senstone did tell us that third-party app integration with leading productivity apps like Evernote and Trello will be added to the app before the devices ship.
Essentially, the Senstone seems like a promising way to manage an on-the-go voice diary, and its organizational and transcription features can save you time identifying the contents of your recordings without having to listen to them one by one. It's not a magic bullet for heavy-duty recording needs, but it does offer the round-the-clock convenience of a wearable.
For more info
The Senstone's Kickstarter campaign launches today (February 7). There are lower tiers of support, but to actually receive a Senstone device, you'll have to pledge US$80 (for early-bird pricing) or $120. Eventual full MSRP is $145.
Senstone expects the first round of devices to ship in July, but of course, it's wise to take Kickstarter plans with a grain of salt, especially this early in the process.
Read more of New Atlas' coverage on the latest Kickstarter projects.