Review: Web Information Solutions Note2Self
On August 4, 2008, we reviewed a collection of 13 different voice recorder applications for the iPhone in a roundup entitled iPhone Gems: Every Voice Recorder, Reviewed. This review contains a review of one application from that roundup; additional comparative details can be found in the original full story.
The iPhone comes with a built-in microphone, but didn’t have any voice recording software to take advantage of that feature. Today, less than a month after the opening of the App Store, there are 13 different pieces of voice recorder software. Note that unlike many of the App Store programs, these particular applications are designed specifically for the iPhone, not the iPod touch. Additionally, the base recording quality of all of the apps that we reviewed was roughly equivalent. A few of the apps we reviewed offered higher-quality recording settings, which resulted in slightly improved fidelity when recording from music sources or from distant sources, such as in a lecture hall. However, for voice recording quality purposes, all of the applications that we reviewed provided acceptable quality with virtually no distinguishable differences.
In terms of space taken up by voice recordings, based on the apps that did provide storage information or transfer of voice memos, you can expect your recordings to take approximately 1MB per minute of recorded audio on average, versus 2.5MB per minute on the iPod 5G’s, classic’s and nano’s low-quality mode. Notably, the numbers are not directly comparable because iPhone recordings are currently made in Apple’s Core Audio Format (CAF) rather than WAV, the format used by iPods. The space consumed will also vary somewhat with applications that provide different quality settings, however with the monaural microphone on the iPhone, there’s no current need to record in stereo fidelity. A near-term iPhone software update is expected to add MP3 encoding as an alternative to CAF for greater compatibility of the recorded files.
Note2Self is a unique entry in the pool of iPhone voice recording apps. Unlike most of the other applications, which are geared toward storing voice notes on the iPhone itself and possibly allowing you to send them out via e-mail, Note2Self takes the opposite approach: its primary purpose is to allow you to quickly take voice recordings and fire them off to your e-mail inbox or any other address you would like, optionally allowing you to save them locally in the process.
Recording with Note2Self is as straighforward as most other apps; start the app and tap the Record button:
However, Note2Self comes with a very interesting twist: in addition to starting a recording in the traditional manner, Note2Self can use the accelerometer in the iPhone to actually start recording when you move the iPhone to your ear and stop recording when you put it back down. In addition, when you hold the iPhone up to your ear, the proximity sensor turns off the screen in the same way as the iPhone does for phone calls. This makes Note2Self an extremely intuitive choice for recording personal voice notes.
In our testing we tried to “fake out” this feature a fair bit to see exactly how it worked, which yielded unpredictable results. However, when used intuitively it works almost flawlessly: simply move the iPhone from a relatively horizontal viewing position to the side of your head to begin recording, and move the iPhone back to its original position to stop recording. The iPhone will respond with vibration feedback to indicate that it has started or stopped recording, as appropriate.
When finished recording, Note2Self will prompt you for what you want to do with the recording, with options to either simply save the note onto the iPhone, e-mail it to yourself without saving a copy, or e-mail it and save a copy:
You can also configure Note2Self to take one of these actions automatically, which when combined with the automatic accelerometer based recording creates a very seamless recording experience. Saved recordings appear in the Notes listing accessed from the button at the bottom of the screen, identified by the date and time of recording:
From this listing, you can listen to your saved recordings or tap on the blue arrow at the right of each recording to send them out via e-mail to either your default e-mail address or to another contact in your address book. Recordings are sent as e-mail attachments to messages sent via the developer’s mail server.
This use of a specific mail server eliminates the need to configure additional e-mail settings beyond your FROM and TO addresses, and avoids some of the firewall restrictions that affect Audio Recorder’s e-mail sending methods, but it has the disadvantage of creating a single point of failure when sending e-mail message out. However, if you are out of coverage, Note2Self will queue up your recordings until they actually can be sent out. These will appear in a “Pending” queue at the top of your saved recording list, and will also be noted on the Note2Self icon from the home screen:
As with some of the other voice recording applications, Note2Self’s settings are buried in the iPhone’s main Settings application. From this screen you can configure your preferred recording format to use compressed or uncompressed audio, choose your default action for new recordings, set your e-mail FROM and TO addresses, and even specify a default subject line prefix.
Unlike Audio Recorder, Note2Self will take you through the process of setting up your e-mail addresses the first time you try to send an e-mail, making it unnecessary to visit this settings panel unless you need to change your e-mail address in the future, or adjust any of the other options. For those interested in playing with Note2Self’s compression settings, note that the audio quality of IMA4 compressed versus PCM uncompressed audio in our testing was indistinguishable, but uncompressed audio files took up twice the storage space: about 3MB per minute using the PCM uncompressed setting, compared to about 1.5MB per minute using IMA4 compressed audio.
Note2Self is obviously geared toward a very specific purpose, which is creating personal voice memos to yourself and sending them out. It can still be used for general recordings, although it lacks the organizational ability of some of the other voice recording applications, such as the ability to rename your memos. There is also no way to pause and resume recording or append to existing voice memos. However, in our opinion these are not serious limitations for this application’s intended purpose, and for what it is designed to do—collecting short notes to yourself and sending them off—it works extremely well.