CallRec vs. mVoice Shootoutby: Kris Keilhack
Sept 12, 2006
Pricing and Availability
Both programs are for Palm OS Treo's and currently only support the Treo 650 and 700p.
I spent an exclusive week with each application. In addition to spontaneously recording calls (with permission) with family and friends, I also performed side-by-side testing between both applications using the first message stored in my voice mailbox, a two-minute message from a landline phone. Since CallRec 3.1 was released during the testing period, I updated my Treo and spent an additional day with 3.1 to observe its improvements.
All recordings were made at 22khz (highest quality offered).
Installation and Feature set
CallRec 3.0 was already present on my Treo upon commencement of this test. I downloaded the new version from the PIC software store with Blazer and installed it directly to RAM. My old registration info was retained with no problems whatsoever.
mVoice installed itself from a Palm OS launcher PRC-based setup routine. Much to my annoyance, the installer created a new folder on my Treo called “Motion Apps” with mVoice contained within. I quickly zapped the Motion Apps category and moved mVoice into “Main”.
CallRec 3.1 offers a few nifty features such as automatic recording of incoming and outgoing calls and a downloadable desktop sync conduit. Wireless beaming/sending/e-mailing of recordings is also possible but this is of dubious value since the WAV files can be many megabytes in size.
Probably the best “non voice” feature of mVoice is its ability to mount the Treo to a PC as a removable SD drive. The availability of compression during recording can be a huge boon to those of us with only a few megabytes remaining on an SD card. mVoice can also add a beep during recording and the user can choose whether or not to record both sides of a conversation.
In short, CallRec has a less intrusive installation routine but mVoice offers many more options.
Sound Quality and Performance
Never before have I encountered such a Pyrrhic victory when determing the winner of two software applications. Under the best of circumstances, Palm’s Treo 700p is a laggy, unresponsive beast. When tasked with something like recording a high-bitrate WAV file to an SD card while on a phone call, the 700p is absolutely brought to its knees.
Time after time, I called my voice mail number and listened to the same message, recording it with each app. In the course of the two-minute voice mail, each app failed to record the entire message properly. CallRec’s error choice is to skip chunks of a conversation, several seconds at a time, but resume recording properly immediately afterwards. Example: “1,2,3,4,7, 8, 9…”
While Callrec’s issues were quite aggravation, nothing prepared me for mVoice. Upon playback, every few words would repeat themselves or simply become a garbled mess. Normally staid coworkers suddenly began sounding like Max Headroom and my wife sounded like she was barking at me! Example: "1, 2, 3,3,3,4444, 6, 7,7,8,8…"
While background recording the standard test VM message with mVoice, my call timer simply stopped at 29 seconds and did not resume until 53 seconds! Trying to exit to the launcher to launch mVoice and regain control of my Treo brought only the dreaded white screen and an unflinching red LED.
Dropping down to 11khz compressed helped matters somewhat but longer recordings always managed to present problems. I do not know if this is an OS issue, a matter of CPU utilization or slow SD bus speeds but this would be unacceptable performance from a freeware app. When coming from a piece of $20+ commercial software, it’s simply unacceptable in every way. If, as I suspect, this is related to the Treo 700P’s known database lag issue, then the developer community should hold Palm’s feet to the fire to immediately release a ROM update.
When playing the stored WAV files from my SD card on my desktop PC though high-quality speakers, mVoice definitely had cleaner sounding recordings, even with comparable sampling rates. Do note that the compression algorithm used by mVoice is not compatible with Windows Media 9. I used Quicktime 7.1 to play the compressed WAVs with no problems.
Advantage: CallRec (but both apps need some performance help)
Ease of Use
CallRec’s very straightforward UI is a huge help to its ease of use. The recent 3.1 update introduces larger “finger-sized” onscreen buttons. Mvoice has familiar VCR-style controls but I found them a bit more fiddly than the equally sized Callrec icons, especially when trying to jab them with a thick index finger while on a voice call and battling with a laggy Treo.
To mVoice’s advantage, excellent “Tips” and FAQ sections are present within the application. mVoice also allows Treo users to wirelessly connect to the server and check for program updates. These are small touches but they help it feel like a comprehensive self-contained application instead of a barebones call recorder.
Advantage: CallRec (barely)
Neither solution is perfect, but thanks to its recent 3.1 update, CallRec wins this comparison by a slim margin. The 3.1 update offers just enough bells and whistles to keep CallRec competitive and the improved UI is a very welcome improvement.
mVoice is certainly the more attractive and feature-laden of the two but too many issues with garbled sound hamstring the product. After taking into account the constant sound skipping the program is essentially useless at the higher recording bit rates. My Casio EX-Z850 digital camera records 640 x 480 30fps MPEG-4 videos with sound to the same “slow” Sandisk card so the media or the SD card spec is not culpable.
The main focus of both apps is recording both sides of a telephone call. To that end, CallRec 3.1 simply offers better in-call recording performance while remaining a simpler, more straightforward application to use while in the midst of a telephone call.