Whether you want to jot down that killer idea or capture an unforgettable vista, Steve Dinneen rounds up the latest gadgets for recording the moment.
These days, capturing the moment – be it an idea, image, sound or event – is not only easy, it’s expected. As the desire to capture every event in life becomes more intense, technology has stepped up with some bafflingly sophisticated devices you could scarcely imagine a few years ago, let alone hope to fit in your jacket pocket.
Whereas once we were content to take photos on a spool of film, now everything must be recorded in HD, or 3D, or underwater. And smartphones have blown the data capture market wide open, with a single device able to record audio, video, text and stills.
Not so long ago, there were few things drearier than being forced to sit through a grainy slide show of someone else’s holiday photos. Now we can ogle our friends’ beach snaps on Facebook before they’ve caught the flight home. Cigarette lighters once illuminated concert crowds – now a sea of glowing screens bob up and down as people record their favourite songs on mobile devices, and fans can then edit and upload the footage on to You Tube, before they’ve even left the venue.
All of this has had a transformative effect on businesses. Tablet computers are streamlining operations in corporations across the world, with virtually every Fortune 500 company now using them. Efficiency savings brought about by the ability to instantly create, share and edit complex documents across borders and time zones, should soon outstrip the initial outlay.
Mundane tasks such as dictation and filing are becoming obsolete, as complex algorithms are able to capture and analyse information quicker than a PA, and professional recording equipment that would have been unaffordable to all but the wealthiest firms a few years ago, is now widely available.
If you know the right products, you can revolutionise your working life. Knowledge is power – here is our guide to making sure you capture as much of it as you can.
Samsung Galaxy Note
While it comes billed as a smartphone, the Galaxy Note’s size (14.7cm x 8.3cm x 1cm) makes it
more of a digital notepad with a phone attached, than vice versa. It comes with some great native
drawing apps that make good use of the stylus. The Note makes sketching and saving ideas so
quick and simple that businesses are adopting it as a way of cutting down on endless scraps of paper. Savile Row tailor Spencer Hart has made it part of its standard tailoring service, with measurements and alterations scribbled on to the device and emailed directly to the production team. If you want something more portable than a tablet to take notes on the go (as well as record audio and video and do everything else a smartphone can do), this is a great device.
HTC Flyer Magic Pen
Sometimes the easiest way to capture your thoughts is the most obvious option – write them down. While accelerometer-based digital pens that record the movement of your hand do exist (Iris makes among the best), they can be unreliable. The HTC Flyer tablet’s digital version takes the humble pen and brings it into the smartphone generation. It is compatible with all brands of mobile device and gives the degree of accuracy required for art apps such as Penultimate (see below). It comes with two buttons – highlight and erase – making taking notes a cinch. The nib of the pen is flexible, so most tablets will know how hard you’re pressing on the screen, producing a thinner or thicker line as required. The next time you have a gigantic Word document to sift through before a big meeting, you will wish you had one of these.
There are dozens of great iPad sketching apps to choose from, but Penultimate is probably the best. The app will let you import photos from your library or straight from the camera, which can then be annotated (or defaced). The app is accurate enough to let you draw some pretty sophisticated sketches using just your finger, but works better with a stylus. If you’re using it for work, you can send your designs to your colleagues to make amendments, or upload them to online file-sharing sites Drop Box or Evernote. You can also file away thousands of ideas without having to worry about storage space.
Dragon Naturally Speaking
Being able to speak your notes into your computer used to sound like science fiction – now anybody with a smartphone can do it. Dragon Naturally Speaking (Dragon Dictate on a Mac) has been quietly improving since it was first launched in 1997, with software updates regularly released. And it works. Run the program and Dragon will instantly transcribe your spoken words into prose. Set it running on a smartphone during a meeting and when you have finished talking you’ll have a text file ready
to save or email to yourself. It is also compatible with the majority of high-end dictaphones and is
able to understand most accents.
Sennheiser EW 100-ENG G3 with ME2 wireless microphone
Anyone who has worked with video will tell you that sound quality is far more important than image quality. You Tube might be full of wind-distorted audio, but that won’t cut it if you’re trying to impress clients – or the boss. These ultra-portable, metal-cased monitors act as wireless pick-ups for your microphone, meaning you can capture studio-quality sound, even outdoors. They come with a clip-on, multi-directional ME2 mic, which is used by professionals. If you want to make sure you catch every second of a big seminar talk or just want to ensure your home movies have top-draw
sound quality, it’s worth investing in these. A pair of Sennheiser headphones to listen to it on
afterwards will round off the package nicely.
Olympus DS-5000 ID
For most purposes, recording apps are more than adequate for taking dictation. But for business use, where reliability and security is crucial, they can fall short – you don’t really want to carry the idea for your new project with you when you go to the pub. The Olympus DS-5000 ID comes with encryption software, meaning you can make sure your files remain for your ears only. Features include on-device editing and a hands-free recording option. It comes in an almost indestructible metal casing and has space for around 1,400 files.
LG Optimus 3D
The Optimus is a far cleverer phone than you might give it credit for. Not only does it let you play 3D video in your hand without the need for glasses, it also lets you record it. The dual cameras record surprisingly immersive 3D video, giving far more of a sense of depth than something this size has any right to. The video isn’t particularly crisp, but you don’t expect cinematic quality from something
you can fit in your pocket. With up to 32GB of storage space, you will be able to film a decent amount of footage before having to upload it. While the Android-based handset itself is nothing special, if you’re an early adopter of 3D, this is the smartphone for you.
Sony HDR-TD20 3D camcorder
The TD20 was one of Sony’s biggest launches at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year. It’s a leaner, lighter version of its flagship 3D handheld video recorder. The TD20 allows for better close-ups by placing the dual lenses closer together. When used with a stand, the footage is astonishing – crisp 3D with a real sense of depth (assuming you’re watching it on a decent 3D TV). A neat improvement is the introduction of a glasses-free 3D screen to instantly watch the footage
you have just caught. Nobody needs to record a seminar in 3D – but that’s not the point. If you want to stay at the sharp end of data capture, this is what you need.
Recording reasonable video without shelling out on a standalone camcorder is possible if you accessorise your stills camera well. Most mid to higher-end DSLRs, and almost all compact cameras, will have a HD video setting, but the audio they pick up tends to be pretty grotty. Nikon’s ME-1 directional microphone will vastly improve the quality of sound on any camera with a standard
“hotshoe” fitting. They are specially designed to reduce autofocus and low-level noise distortion. Best of all, the mic will work from the camera’s battery. It may not be for the pros, but it’s a good starting point for most keen amateurs.
Sony Cybershot TX10
For a generation that takes the idea of recording every moment for granted, it isn’t surprising that underwater photography has moved into the mainstream. Sony’s compact TX10, part of its broad-appeal Cybershot range, lets you capture underwater snaps without sacrificing quality (as most external casings do) or style (as most other “rugged” cameras do). At $400, it isn’t cheap for the
specs, but at 16.2 megapixels, neither is it too far off the pace. This model isn’t only waterproof, it’s also freeze-proof, dust-proof and shockproof, so no matter where that must-have picture presents itself, you’ll be covered. For a light travelling companion that’s as comfortable at a wedding as it is under the ocean, the TX10 is hard to beat.
Olloclip iPhone Lens
Smartphone cameras are good enough for most casual photography – they are light, easy to use and most of us carry them wherever we go. If this isn’t quite enough, though, the Olloclip will supercharge your iPhone 4 or 4S. The clip-on camera gives you three different shooting options – a fisheye lens that will capture 180 degrees, a wide angle lens to give you roughly double the field of vision of a regular iPhone, or a macro lens that will give you a ten-times optical zoom, allowing you to get crisp close-up shots. You can then use the great native editing software on the iPhone to apply the finishing touches to your digital memories. It looks smart and you can get it with either black or red trims.
Canon EOS 1100D
No list of information-capture devices would be complete without a DSLR camera. Camera phones may have come a long way, but for professional images, nothing beats the click of a real camera. If you’re new to DSLRs, the EOS 1100D is a great model to jump on board with. It is basic in terms of features, but has quality at its core. The lack of features, most of which amateurs would probably never use, has the advantage of reducing the T3’s weight, making it fairly compact for a camera of this class – although, at 495g without a battery, it’s still going to make a dent on your luggage allowance if you take it away with you.