An Easy-to-Use Talking Organizer: A Review of TADI
This article reviews TADI, a talking personal digital assistant (PDA) from Variscite. The name TADI comes from the words talking and digital. TADI uses a keyboard and voice recording for input and speech for output. It has a sophisticated phone book, appointment diary, notepad, calculator, alarm clock, timer, five hours of recording time, and more. It does not have word-processing capabilities or Internet access. It is, however, significantly less expensive, smaller, and lighter than PDAs that have these features.
TADI measures 5.75 x 3.5 x .5 inches and weighs about 6.7 ounces with batteries. The female voice that TADI uses is clear and has a pleasant tone. TADI's raised number and letter keys are arranged exactly like those on a standard computer keyboard. Each key speaks when pressed. The unit operates on three AAA batteries or with an included D.C. adapter. According to the manufacturer, battery life, with normal use, is about six months, but the test unit's batteries lasted about four months. TADI will inform you when the batteries need to be changed. The battery compartment is on the back of the unit and is indicated by a grooved arrow. It is secure yet easy to open with your fingers.
Caption: The TADI talking personal digital assistant.
TADI opens with the push of a button. It has a hinged top that has a raised wave pattern to indicate the correct position for opening. This hinged top prevents TADI from being turned on accidentally when it is in a purse or backpack. When the unit is opened, the keyboard is exposed. At the top upper right above the keyboard is a microphone and phone dialer. To the left is a display screen. On the sides are ports for headphones, the D.C. adapter, and a USB (universal serial bus) port for a PC interface kit that can be purchased separately. The PC interface kit, which allows you to store data from TADI on your computer, input data to TADI using your computer keyboard, and send voice e-mail from one TADI to another using Outlook, is compatible only with Windows 2000 and Windows XP. As of this writing, this fact is not included in TADI's manual or on Variscite's web site.
The volume and rate of speech are controlled by arrows on the right of the keyboard. These arrows perform other operations, depending on which function is in use. For example, in the phone book, the left arrow becomes the delete key, and the right arrow becomes the space bar. There is a password feature that can be enabled for extra security. It is easy to back up or restore data with just two keystrokes. The On/Off button is at the bottom left of the keyboard, and the Record button is next to it. The Talk button is above and slightly to the left of the On/Off button; when it is pressed, the last thing TADI said will be repeated. The Edit button is above and slightly to the right of the Talk button. The Enter button is next to the down arrow. The Escape key is at the top left of the keyboard. Three additional keys are used for entering information: the Underline, Dot, and @ ("at" sign) keys, which are located next to the left arrow.
Getting Started and Getting Help
TADI is easy to use right out of the box. The user manual is on audiocassette and CD-ROM. It gives a precise description of TADI's layout and functions. Each operation is clearly explained. As you use each function, TADI prompts you step by step on how to enter and retrieve data. I was able to start using the phone book after I read the manual for only a few minutes.
The programming for TADI is menu based. Each key at the top row of the keyboard controls a different function, such as phone book or diary. The Learning key is at the top right of the keyboard. Pressing the key once will put you in the Learning mode. From there, when you press any key, TADI will tell you its name and functions. Pressing the Learning key twice will give you a more detailed description of where you are in the menus and how to use them. This onboard help system can be used at any time.
Turning It On
Once the unit is opened, TADI can be turned on or off with the lower left button. When it is turned on, TADI will say, "Hello, choose function." If a letter is pressed, TADI will start searching the phone book for entries with that letter. If you press any number key, TADI will announce its function and put you into that menu. A notepad message can be recorded as soon as TADI is turned on. If Escape is pressed, you will hear how much available recording time is left. If you happen to press a key that is not used at this point in the menus, TADI will say, "Invalid key." When TADI is turned off, it says, "Good-bye." TADI will turn itself off to conserve battery power if it is not being used for several minutes.
Voice recording is used for the alarm diary and the notepad. The phone book has a field to add a recorded message if desired. To record, press and hold down the Record button. TADI will sound a short beep. When your recording is finished, release the Record button, and TADI will say, "Done."
The phone book is one of TADI's best features. There is room for 900 contacts, with each contact having up to six telephone numbers, distributed in the following fields: home, mobile, work, and fax. There is a field for the contact's e-mail address, and you can record a message, such as a street address or name.
It is easy to add, find, or edit an entry. To find a number, go into the phone book and type the first letter or letters of the name you want. TADI will speak the name of the first entry with those letters by spelling out the names, rather than saying them. If there is a space anywhere in the name field, TADI says "Space." You can use the up and down arrow keys to browse the phone book until you find the entry you want. However, if you have recorded a message in an entry, TADI will play the recording, rather than speak the letters of the entry. Therefore, I chose not to add recordings to most of my phone book contacts.
To create a new entry, go into the phone book and press the Edit key. TADI will then talk you through entering each field. To edit an existing entry, go to that entry and press the Edit key. TADI will tell you the information in each field, and you can make changes. The phone dialer will dial a telephone number for you by playing the corresponding tones into a phone--you just hold it next to the mouthpiece of the phone and press the dialer key. It's performance is quite inconsistent, however, and it doesn't work with all cell phones.
The alarm diary is a convenient way to keep an appointment calendar and reminders. It can hold up to 400 separate entries. To enter an appointment, go into the alarm diary and press the Edit button. TADI prompts you to enter the time, date, and a recorded message. You can store more than one entry for the same time and date. To find an entry, you can browse the diary using the up and down arrows. If you know the date of your appointment, enter it, and TADI will go to appointments on that date. You can then browse the list. For each appointment, TADI will say the time, day of the week, date, and recorded message. You can change existing diary entries via the Edit key and remove entries with the Delete key. When you are deleting an entry, you will be prompted to confirm this action.
TADI sounds a series of beeps for 30 seconds when its clock reaches the date and time of a new message. It does so whether TADI is on or off. You can hear the message by going into the alarm diary. There is no way to stop the alarm from sounding. The only way to avoid the alarm is to delete the entry before its designated date and time.
The notepad is good for recording quick reminders, messages, and directions. The recording quality is fair, and you need to be no more than about six to eight inches away from the microphone. Recordings that are made at a greater distance sound less clear and are at a lower volume. Although TADI has a lot of available recording time, it is not particularly good for recording lectures or speeches. You can browse the notepad by using the up and down arrows. The down arrow moves you toward the most recent notes, and the up arrow brings you to the older ones. When you delete a note, TADI prompts you to confirm this action by pressing the letter "Y." For hands-free recording, hold the record button and press the Enter key, which locks the Record button in place. When you have finished, press Escape.
The calculator can perform simple and advanced operations. In Calculator mode, the letter keys become operation keys. For example, the "Q" becomes the plus sign, and the "H" becomes the square-root key. The number keys on the top row of the keyboard are used to enter numerical values. TADI can handle and clearly pronounce seven-digit numbers. When a number has more than seven digits, TADI will say, "Number too large."
Cut and Paste
It is possible to move recorded messages among the phone book, alarm diary, and notepad. The same key is used for cut and paste. If you attempt to paste a new recording over a previously existing one, TADI will ask you to confirm this action. There is no copy-and-paste feature.
In addition to the alarm diary, there are three different clocks in TADI: an alarm clock, a countdown timer, and a current-time clock. The alarm clock will work even when TADI is off. If you are a sound sleeper, however, the alarm, even at its highest volume, may not be loud enough to wake you. Also, TADI does not have a snooze alarm.
The Bottom Line
Although TADI does not have the capabilities of Pac Mate or VoiceNote, such as word processing, braille notetaking, e-mail, or Internet access, it does provide a good way to keep track of phone numbers, appointments, and notes. The calculator, alarm clock, timer, and current time clock are extra added features. TADI gives you plenty of warning about when the batteries are going to run out. With the included D.C. adapter, you can use the TADI if you want to conserve battery power or have run out of batteries. The backup system gives you the option of backing up or restoring data. It is recommended that you back up the data once the low battery warning is given. TADI's small size, light weight, ease of use, and available functions make it well worth its price.
Fixing a Problem
A few days after this article was completed, my TADI had the equivalent of a nervous breakdown. It kept telling me to change batteries or that my database was empty and that TADI was restoring data. In addition, TADI's clock would stop working. Sometimes TADI would just turn itself off and then not come on again even when I pressed the On/Off key. Within a few minutes, I determined that the problem was not caused by defective batteries. My next step was to e-mail the manufacturer's technical support staff. Unfortunately, they did not respond.
After waiting more than a week, I telephoned Maxi-Aids, the only vendor of TADI in the United States. I spoke to Maxi-Aids' sales manager for adaptive technology. He said that he had never encountered this kind of problem, but that I should send him the old TADI, and he would send me a new one. I am happy to report that my new TADI arrived quickly and that it is working just fine.
Product: TADI Talking Organizer
Manufacturer: Variscite, P.O. Box 465, Nesher, Israel 36603; phone: 972-4-8200727; e- mail: <email@example.com>; web site: <www.variscite.com>.
U.S. distributor: Maxi-Aids, 42 Executive Boulevard, Farmingdale, NY 11735; phone: 631-752-0521; web site: <www.maxi-aids.com>.
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