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Opinion Articles

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Kapture review: the audio-recording wristband

A 'recording watch' that links to your smartphone

Mark Bridge writes:

The most memorable moments in life often go unrecorded. You don't have your camera in your hands. Your finger is still hovering over the 'pause' button on your audio recorder. Or you were simply too busy experiencing whatever was happening. It's all about the one that got away.

Just over two years ago, a new type of wearable device appeared on the horizon: Kapture, the audio-recording wristband. Kapture wasn't simply a recording watch, it was a life-logging time traveller. Instead of recording sound when you pressed a button, it would record constantly into a 'buffer' but would only save the recording when you tapped it. So it's the previous 60 seconds of sound you capture.

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Each saved file would then be "downloaded to your smartphone where the duration can be shortened and you can name, tag, filter, and even share it". It connected via Bluetooth but only used the connection when it was actually saving and transferring a file. If your phone wasn't around, Kapture would save up to 25 clips in its own memory and could transfer them later.

This seemed the kind of thing I could use. Perfect for interviews when the interviewee starts talking before you've opened your notepad. Perfect for remembering the first cuckoo. Perfect for revisiting the best joke you ever told. Perfect for recalling directions and instructions you've been given.

And so, back in December 2013, shortly after Kapture's crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter ended, I pre-ordered one of the devices. Pricing was $99 plus $15 shipping to the UK; a total of $114.00 (around £75 at current exchange rates).

In March 2014, I received an update on the manufacturing and developing processes along with a warning that the anticipated delivery date had slipped to June. In June, the estimated delivery date was 'late summer/early fall'. The founders also promised that they wouldn't shave until they shipped the product and added "Remember, you won't be charged until we ship the product to you."

In July came an email that told me I'd be charged for the product on 1st August "as we begin ramping up for production". Delivery was expected in September. This became 'September/October' by the end of the month. I was indeed charged on 1st August - they didn't wait until shipping, despite the promise - and received an email a month later that talked about a shipment date in October. An October update mentioned production in December. November's update anticipated a 'control lot' in late December and the rest being produced in January 2015.

The delays continued: quality issues pushed shipments back to March 2015 for beta testers, with mass production starting in April. At least the founders could shave now. Those mass-produced devices reached the Kapture warehouse at the end of May, although they then needed CE certification before they could be distributed in Europe. Anyway, to cut a long story short, my Kapture was shipped at the end of October 2015 and arrived with £22.97 customs/handling to pay. (The equivalent of 20% VAT plus £8 for Royal Mail.)

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It's over a year later than originally anticipated but at least I've got it. The user interface has also been simplified since I placed my order; no longer do you need to choose between double-taps, triple-taps and quadruple-taps. It means that Bluetooth pairing is now much easier but there's no longer an option to turn the device off. Despite the simplification, I've had to work a few things out myself. For example, when you stop charging the Kapture, you need to give it a tap to start it recording again. That doesn't seem to be documented anywhere.

Still, let's talk about usage. Well, it works. Recording quality is acceptable, although most smartphones will do an equivalent or better job. Of course, you need to have the appropriate app switched on if you're using your phone. Horses for courses, and all that. I'm finding battery life is closer to 12 hours than the 24+ hours anticipated. What I've also learned is that particularly funny moments or particularly unusual sounds are, quite often, pretty unremarkable when I listen back to them. People talk over each other. Punchlines are mistimed. It doesn't take long for reminiscences to become rose-tinted.

Let's clear another thing up. Kapture clearly isn't a 'spy' device. Not only does the company insist that's not the aim, there's a blinking green LED every few seconds when the watch is buffering its audio. I reinforced this by choosing an optional bright orange casing. In addition, the moment you capture a clip - or should that be Kapture a Klip? - the device temporarily stops recording in order to store and transfer what's actually 59 seconds (not 60, but who's counting?) of audio. This means you lose out on the ability to record the following couple of minutes; not what a secret agent would want.

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So, I unclip my Kapture from its magnetic charger, strap it to my wrist and give it a tap to start the buffering. When something remarkable happens, I tap it twice; it vibrates to confirm my instruction and saves a clip via my phone.

And that's where I have two particularly big issues.

Firstly, you can't really get clips off the device without sending them via Kapture's cloud service. Although they buffer on the device and then spend time on your phone before being uploaded, these temporary files are hidden away. Kapture lets you share your uploaded clips publicly or tag them as private - private ones are only accessible from your own phone, public ones are available to other users - but you still need to trust the security of Kapture's servers. Unlike uploading your photos to Facebook or Flickr, you don't have a copy of the original.

However, the biggest issue I have is that the current version of the app (running on my Android-powered HTC One M7) won't let me edit clips for length. I've got to leave all 59 seconds of audio there. When I try to cut anything out, the app crashes and renders the clip unplayable. Essentially, my unique recording is lost. Feedback from Kapture was to say "I'm sorry to hear you have lost a klip! Sadly it is very likely that it is un-recoverable." and to let me know that "We'll be reviewing a whole ton of app crashes and will be releasing a new version within the next couple weeks that should address those issues. Look forward to that!"

It's now more than a couple of weeks later, but I'm aware of how slowly time moves at Kapture HQ. So... I've got a Kapture that arrived around 18 months later than expected, that I paid for a year before it arrived, doesn't work properly and produces audio files that are out of my control. Do I like it?

Curiously, I do. Despite the delays, the disappointments and the failures, I'm still a fan. Knowing its weak points, I'm happy to stick with it. Would I have bought it if I knew in 2013 what I know now? Ask me in a few months, after the app's been updated and maybe there's been another User Interface tweak as well.

Mark Bridge is a freelance writer who's torn between life-logging and becoming a secret agent. He's ordered the forthcoming Narrative 2 wearable camera, which should help him decide which path to follow. Kapture is offering a 15% referral discount via Mark's personal link http://kapture.refr.cc/J8HJK42 until 30th January 2016.
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4 comments on article "Kapture review: the audio-recording wristband"

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Robert JA Basilio Jr.

12/18/2015 11:20 AM

Hi Mark —

Sadly, I got the Kapture 1.0, complete with the bare minimum instructions for taps, from double to quadruple. Took me half an hour to pair and now my main frustration is I can't seem to pull up the Kapture Audio app on my smartphone. I use a Samsung DUOs phone. Does that mean I have to buy a new smartphone with a higher OS?

Robert


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Mark

12/18/2015 4:46 PM

Hi, Robert - I'm not sure which versions of Android work with the Kapture app at the moment, although there's a note on their Facebook page from July that says it's only supported on v4.3 upwards (https://www.facebook.com/kaptureaudio/posts/836018296467223). I'd recommend having a word with info@kaptureaudio.com to see what they suggest.


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Paul

2/6/2016 3:53 PM

Liking the Kapture any better?


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0
Avatar image

Mark

2/8/2016 6:04 PM

After three months I'm certainly not liking it any less, despite its imperfections. Top marks for customer service when part of the wriststrap broke: a spare part was quickly in the post to me. App update 1.0.43 in late January was supposedly stable for Klip editing. However, I'm now on 1.0.44 and that won't let me trim the length of Klips. It's still managing to destroy my files if it crashes during editing, just like the original app I had. Version 1.0.44 does allow the download/export of 'original' m4a files, which is good. Overall, my Kapture device isn't getting a lot of use, although it's helped my work as a journalist on a couple of occasions when an interviewee has started talking before I was ready to take notes. I'd use/trust it more if only the app was better.

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