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Vianix LC

PalmInfoCenter.com Bottom Line:

The Price:
  • $399 for the SÂSO
  • $39.99 for Palm adapters
The Pros:
  • Expandable memory
  • Updateable firmware
  • Good Palm integration software
  • Nice small size
  • Good audio recording quality

The Cons:
  • Very expensive
  • A little buggy
  • MP3 playback is weak
  • Should have been USB

PalmInfoCenter.com Ratings*:
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*Maximum Rating is FIVE (5) InfoPalms



Vianix SASO Review
By Rob Zach
10/16/2001

The SASO (say-so) is a a very unique combination of personal voice recorder and MP3 player that adds a Palm integration feature.  This is really quite a feature rich product an as such has taken quite some time to get through and review.

I will reserve most of the technical details as an exercise for the reader, there is just too much here to cover - but I'll tell you what you need to know to make a buying decision..  Vianix has a very informative website that  can provide all the details, I will concentrate on the Palm integration aspects of this product.

Basically this device is a digital voice recorder that happens to also play MP3 audio and integrate with a Palm.  This integration is accomplished through the use of a serial port.  On the bottom of the SASO is a wide slot for a serial cable.  The serial cable has rows of very exposed pins on one end that plug into the slot on the SASO, and a 9-pin serial plug on the other end .  I think a much better design could have been conceived; one that doesn't leave the cable's pins so exposed - they can be easily bent or crushed.  By the way, there is also an optional USB cable as well (it's announced but not yet available) and I think that this cable should have been standard.

The serial cable can be used to load and download MP3s and MCF recordings to the device through an included Windows desktop "sync" application .  Also included is a Windows application to play (Vplayer) the .MCF files (no Mac software that I know of). Below are two of the "options" windows for this sync application; the application, once run, lives in the Windows system tray.  Basically the sync app allows audio (or other files) to be moved on/off the SASO either manually or initiated at the time of a Palm HotSync.

Fortunately, the serial cable can also be used to update the firmware of the SASO, which I did update to the latest revision.  I say fortunately, because below is a list of the bugs I encountered using the product. 

  • The Palm application doesn't auto detect the presence of SASO and the lack of cancel button on accidental startup results in a very long wait for timeout
  • Horizontal scroll doesn't work in OS under 3.5 (this I think is a Palm OS problem - but I have seen other vendors come up with workarounds)
  • Slow device access time
  • Maximizing volume causes device to power down
  • Recording volume not very good, makes for soft recordings
  • All file actions require re-reading from device - no file name caching
  • Percent free meter does not appear to be accurate
  • File operations - like delete - always throw you back to the player dialog requiring continuous re-reads and menu changes to delete multiple files
  • Palm's auto power off doesn't work with SASO attached (I believe because the serial port is always open)

The recorder itself has some basic control functions and and a backlit LCD display. It can be fully operated independent of the Palm. The on board menu system in the SASO itself is very well organized and feature rich.  The controls and menu system allow access to all the features of the device and they are laid out in a hierarchical menu format (much like a cell phone menu system).

The recorder also includes some very nice additions that are above and beyond the basic digital voice recorder fare.  The unit has both mic and headphone accessory jacks.  The unit even includes a slot for SD/MMC card expansion; now a Palm device standard. The unit it very light and compact; it's only as wide as the two AAA batteries it runs on.

As a voice recorder this device excels.  The MASC technology produces some exceptional quality recordings, but I did find that the playback was soft/muted.  The compression routines make for small sized recordings of good quality.  However, as an MP3 device the unit is not adequate.  The device simply does not have the power for high-fidelity playback.  I found that pushing up the volume often resulted in the device shutting down.  Apparently the firmware is programmed to shutdown when the circuitry is pushed or over amplified.  For all but a few MP3 recordings this resulted in the device shutting down on playback; it was then difficult to get the unit to come back on and stay on long enough for me to turn the volume down.  Even fiddling with the equalizer and bass boost I couldn't get reliable MP3 playback.

I said we'd concentrate on the Palm integration and haven't typed a word yet; so here it goes.

The SASO has many optional accessories from cases to faceplates (yes you can change the color of this little baby) to cables and these Palm adapters.  The adapters allow you to hook the Palm serial port to the SASO serial port allowing the Palm software to control all the SASO functions. There is an adapter for the PalmVx, the Palm III series, and the Handspring Visor.

Once connected to the Palm device the SASO is controlled through a single application (the SASO Windows applications and the Palm application are installed through a single Windows .EXE install file).  Here is the main application S_screen and the about screen:

 

The control are very simple; files can be selected from the internal memory or the SD card memory for playback.  File information can also be viewed.

   

Audio playback control preferences can be set as seen here as well as equalizer settings - including bass boost - for audio playback quality.

     

Some more advanced features allow for the marking of an "index" point for advanced editing and playback feature.  Audio can even be selected for playback at a certain time/date whether the SASO is attached to the Palm or not - nice way to set a traveling alarm clock!

 

Conclusion:

I think it's terrific that more and more companies are looking to integrate into the Palm platform, and I think that Vianix has done a fine job at that with a few minor exceptions.  However, it seems that the SASO doesn't really excel in any one area as it is.  As a $399 voice recorder with expansion and MP3; the top of the line Olympus is $100 cheaper. As a MP3 player there are better playback quality devices, with more memory, for less money.  That said, there isn't a smaller voice recorder out there that better integrates with the Palm platform; if that's what you want.  If it's the MP3/Palm integration you want there are better options - look for my upcoming review.

I'll part with some specs from the Vianix website:

Features

  • 72+ hours of high quality compressed digital voice recording (8 hours with internal memory and 64+ hours with external memory enhancements).
  • MP3 Playback at near CD sound quality.
  • Interfaces easily with Palm III, V, and VII handheld devices and personal computers.
  • Filing system allows for organizing audio files into 512 folders with 64 subfolders.
  • Index point marking anywhere in the file for instant recall.
  • Cut, paste, and overwrite functions.
  • Backlit graphic LCD display for file viewing.
  • Audio alarms to playback messages when SASO is on or off.
  • Compatible with voice to text software.
  • Supports stamp-sized external media cards (SD and MMC) that can hold 128+ megabytes of information per card
  • Pocket-sized
  • Battery status check
Specifications
  • Supports MP3, WAV. and MASC technology formats.
  • Supports Windows® Platforms: 95/98/2000, NT.
  • Jack for microphone accessory.  
  • Jack for headphone accessory.
  • Weight with 2AAA batteries: 3.2 oz
  • Dimensions (WDH): 63:19mm (2.488") x 20.84 mm (0.8205") x 94.11mm (3.7055")

Article Comments

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Down

Why?

blind505user @ 10/16/2001 2:58:15 PM #
Seeing as I am the first post, let me start by saying how much I LOVE MY PALM....

Ok, now down to it. Why are all of these companies releasing products for the Vx. While I have three Vxs, I have moved along witht he times and my primary device is my 505. Why have developers been so slow to develop add-ons for the 500 family, it does have the new universal connector after all so you wouldn't think it would be wasted development cycles.

Also anyone that would pay that much for this device is going to be the consumer that already has the top of the line Palm device.

RE: Why?
I.M. Anonymous @ 10/16/2001 3:29:21 PM #
Sheer numbers. There a many more Vx users out there than 505 owners like you and I. If the peripherals sell for the Vx, we should see them for the 505 sooner or later.

smaller mp3 player

I.M. Anonymous @ 10/16/2001 3:21:28 PM #
There is a Springboard module which doesn't increase the form factor of your handspring at all. I'd say that qualifies as the "smallest mp3 player" for a palm device.

RE: smaller mp3 player
I.M. Anonymous @ 10/16/2001 3:34:10 PM #
Yes but I dont see a Springboard slot on the Vx!

RE: smaller mp3 player
I.M. Anonymous @ 10/16/2001 3:36:51 PM #
Plus the Saso can work independently. Can the mp3 player on the HS do that?

RE: smaller mp3 player
I.M. Anonymous @ 10/16/2001 3:42:52 PM #
Yes, it can. Energyclip for soundsgood player.

Missing the point ...

Token @ 10/16/2001 4:58:03 PM #
I think many of you have missed the purpose of this device. It is primarily a digital voice recorder - that can use a PalmOS device as its interface. And as a bonus, it plays MP3s.

This device is not going head to head with the likes of the MiniJam, or a Rio, or a Sony ... it is up against devices like the Olympus DS-320, DS-3000, or DW-90 (or equivalent models from Sony, Philips, Hitachi, etc). These recorders get used in boardrooms across the world on a daily basis - and that is the market and pricetag this device is targetted, not the college student with the Visor Deluxe that wants to play back the latest bootleg.

can find a better one

I.M. Anonymous @ 10/22/2001 1:54:47 PM #
With a same price, I think we can find a better one with similar features but more powerful...
Check out:
http://www.the-gadgeteer.com/pyropro-review.html

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