---------- ---------- PC Pro Realworld Computing: Paul Lynch - PDAs

The Psion 3 series has been the early success story among PDAs, which has been proven as much by the volumes of shareware and commercial products released for it as by the enthusiasm of Psion's users. To some extent Psion has been successful because they were there with a credible product before any one else, but now they will have to advance to keep up with the competition that their success has attracted. Two of the factors that have contributed to this success have been a very accessible and easy to use development environment, and a well thought out user interface. The user interface may appear to be more primitive than the multiple window and pen input interfaces adopted by both Newton and Windows CE, but it is very consistent and appropriate to the features of the hardware.

One of the features of the Psion 3 series is a small buzzer type loudspeaker, which was used initially as a phone dialler, with limited success at first. In the Psion 3A this was beefed up to make it more reliable, and a small microphone was added together with a recording application. This was really too primitive to be of much use apart from creating interesting and scatological alarm sounds, and hasn't been exploited much by newer applications for the Psion 3 series.

One of the few to go against the trend was MemoVoc-3, from David Joyce at Estuary Technologies. This product takes the necessary user interface and features of a voice memo recorder, and builds them successfully into the Psion. You need a Series 3A or 3C to use MemoVoc, because of the requirement for a microphone.

Once the application is installed, you can start to make a collection of recording. It is easy to make a recording and to move from one recording to another for playback; some though has gone into making the user interface work well for this. By default, it will make all recordings at a fixed length of two seconds. This is too brief to make a useful note of a phone number or appointment, but can easily be changed. One of the most useful settings is one when recording are of unlimited duration, but are terminated by pressing the escape key. Memos can be attached to an alarm, so that your attention can be drawn to a particular memo at a given time.


An alternate use for MemoVoc is to convert the Psion into a voice activated recorder. When you are using MemoVoc in this mode the Psion won't auto power off, so you can only use it in bursts. But being able to hold a closed Psion up to your lips, start recording by making a relatively loud noise, then taking a set of notes as your mind can bring them up, is a very satisfying experience.

One disadvantage of the Psion Series 3 has always been the relatively limited amount of memory available. The newer 2Mb 3C models go a long way to catch up on this, but it wasn't so long ago that the largest model available had only 512K. MemoVoc isn't as economical as the Newton, and unfortunately an almost unused 512K Series 3A could only store 42 seconds. This is made worse because MemoVoc can't record to flash SSD cards. A typical memo would take 24K for only three seconds, or 57K for 7 seconds (long enough for a full name and phone number). MemoVoc is a useful convenience for 2Mb Psions, but unless you have a non-flash SSD it isn't really suitable for older models. The Series 5's built in recording application can store 4 minutes per megabyte by using ADCPM technology built in to the Cirrus Logic CPU.

Words and design by:
Paul Lynch
Last updated: July 30, 1997

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