Aug 10 2009

The Scribe in My Pocket — The SanDisk Sansa Clip

Back in the day, when even the rulers of mighty nations were often illiterate, kings and conquerors employed learned men to write their letters and record their thoughts for posterity. These learned scribblers were called scribes, and their descendants can still be found waiting attendance on the great and the good today, though they now go by other names: press secretary, perhaps, or media consultant, or simply “personal assistant.”

Needless to say, modern-day scribes don’t come cheap, whatever title they bear, and their hefty price-tag puts them out of the reach of ordinary men and women. So if we want to record our thoughts and fancies, we have to write them down ourselves. And that takes time. Moreover, it’s pretty nigh impossible to write anything when you’re riding a bike or paddling a canoe. Which is why many trip journals are little more than cursory records of meals eaten and miles logged.

But there’s an alternative to the bare-bones journal entry, hastily jotted down in a few stolen minutes during the brief interval between washing the supper dishes and sacking out: the digital recorder. This is Everyman’s (and Everywoman’s) scribe. Digital recorders are now both cheap and compact, and some aren’t even advertised as recorders. Take my SanDisk Sansa Clip, for instance:

Sansa Clip

It’s sold as an MP3 player, a cheap alternative to the pricier iPod. My Sansa Clip cost only 30 bucks (in 2009), and it lives up to its billing. While it lacks the iPod’s bling, it’s proven to be a serviceable player for both digital music tracks and audiobooks, and the 1 GB of memory is plenty for my needs. (NB More memory is now the norm.) But good as it is in its advertised role, I use my Clip mostly as a digital recorder.

It’s well named. I can clip it to my collar, the cuff of my jersey, or a breast pocket, where it’s instantly available to record my every thought. I can even record on the fly, so to speak — though I have to exercise some care in placing the Clip so as to reduce wind noise and protect it from rain or splash. Once that’s done, I can make a running turn-by-turn (or island-by-island) commentary as I pedal (or paddle) along. I can also make notes about articles I want to write — and on a few occasions I’ve managed to get useable low-fidelity recordings of bird songs and frog trills. These weren’t broadcast quality, of course, but they were good enough to make later identification possible, and that was good enough for me.

The Sansa Clip has proven durable, too. I’ve had it nearly five years now, and it’s still doing the jobs I ask it to do, though the battery life is noticeably less than it was when the Clip was new. It has enough staying power for day trips, though.

Here’s a picture of the Clip’s clip:

Sansa Clip

A small thing, this, but it’s the key to the Clip’s go-anywhere utility. And once I’m back at base, I can download my saved recordings to my computer, using the included USB cable. (The same cable allows me to recharge the Clip’s battery from any powered USB hub, though not all laptop USB hubs will have enough oomph to do the job.) The recordings made by the Clip take the form of WAV files. by the way. And while SanDisk indicates that the Clip will only play nice with the Windows operating system, I’ve had no problem using it with my Mac, where it shows up as an external drive just as soon as I plug the USB cable into a hub.

The bottom line? Note-taking on the move has never been easier — or cheaper. Now we can all afford a scribe. Posterity had better look out!

This article was revised and updated on November 14, 2013.

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