The gathering up of research information is often a daunting time-consuming task for students; one that seemingly never simplifies, nor accelerates. Undergraduates prone to leaving secondary sourcing to the final hours before an essay hand-up, postgraduates with figurative years of archive fever to process into something cohesive-note-taking and its writing up are battles which never end for a budding academic. Dare you mention the dark mistress of proofreading, and student eyes will roll, breaths deeply release at that most laborious and often shocking exercise of self-examination and ridicule. The Sonocent Audio Notetaker-retailing at £40.00-offers consumers a chance to, in their words, “sit back, relax and let the notes do the talking” with this “brilliant ideas tool.”
The interface offers a three-row option categories-divided into images, text and audio. In this sense the Notetaker presents the perfect layout structure for the organisation of presentations-imagine lectures without PowerPoint’s. By applying this three-row structure of neatly presented and visually linear information the aspect of delays in information, and of abstract non-sequiturs of conclusive arguments, are taken away from the presentation. This, along with the option of having another voice read your work back to you, are the best components of this programme The premise is admittedly quite impressive, and given the chance to organise swathes of information into data you can colour code to your innate finicky desire who wouldn’t lunch at such software? However, I was to discover that these crucial facilities were not without their glitches.
Firstly, there’s the voice. Robotic, yet in a charming and dry way for for anyone old enough to remember the Mavis Beacon qwerty typing tutorial programmes of the ‘90s (say, muggings here) to not really mind. Think Microsoft Sam goes female British librarian and you get the idea. Which is fine, although the worrying fact that the “higher” and “deeper” options on the “Voice Effects” tab don’t make any obvious audible difference seems like a portent of disappointments to come. Thing is, the voice on Sonocent doesn’t really compute (Ref: OED) the sounds of words from outside the English language, which presents a problem for students who are researching European or world languages, even students familiar with literary theory, a field language dominated by European linguistic concepts. I found in using my own work that that the name of the author (Michael Chabon) became an audibly tangled blur, and even English language terms like “misconception” became boulderized into a mash of vocal misdirection in the Sonocent programme. A problem which places this technology outside of the range of ideal choices to students researching complex topics and wishing to hear back the legibility of their work.
The most striking of the glitches I found on Sonocent was when, after I imported an audio file of an interview, I hit the “scribe” option in order for the text to be transcribed from the imported file into the text box. This feature is advertised as one of the key selling points of the software on sonocent’s website and in their testimonials. Yet when I chose this option a pop-up box informed me that this request could not function as in order for it to do so I would need to install a recommended (well, more like “determined”) programme named Dragon Natural Speaking. This came as a shock, seeing that the sales pitch of this product stated that this function was specifically available with Sonocent, only to be told I needed to download a programme with the retail price of £79.99. Thereby I essentially needed to purchase a product nearly twice as expensive as Sonocent, just to be able to perform a function that Sonocent advertised as enabling its users. Caveat emptor, indeed.
Having installed the Dragon Naturally Speaking 30-day free trial I did find the software quite appealing-again, I wasn’t sure why the transcribing function couldn’t exist within one programme. Sonocent’s main distinction from Dragon’s voice recording options is an ability to colour code your imported voice data with levels of importance-which is fine for the super-organized amongst us, and does itself seem like a valuable exercise in memory data retention. If anything Dragon, the more expensive bigger brother product, serves only one of the functions that Sonocent does, yet the fact that they seemingly need to be tied together for the all-important audio-to-text Transcription process seems fishy to the point of may-well-be-corrupt. In good faith how could any consumer guide recommend this product (Sonocent) so obviously in collusion with another, more expensive option?
Perhaps academics will have to wait until a more affordable, all-encompassing audio-transcription programme enters the market. Sonocent has so much potential, but is let down by its developers shortsighted detail and misinformative description of the software’s capabilities.