Olympus C100 Microcassette Recorder. (evaluation) Glenn A. Hart.
Hand-held and briefcase portable computers are wonderfully useful devices for the executive, converting otherwise wasted trave time into productive, fruitful worktime. A wide variety of miniature computers can meet almost any business, scientific, or engineering requirements.
One weakness of such devices has been their lack of permanent magnetic storage. While most such units feature low power consumption CMOS-type memory which retains its contents even when main power to the computer is off, obviously the amount of data which can be stored is limited to the size of RAM installed in the computer. Since most hand-helds don't have much RAM, the data storage is usually severely limited. Even the exceptional unit with some form of archival storage, like the magnetic cards used in the Hewlett-Packard HP-75, doesn't hold much information.
The solution for some units has been the lowly audio cassette. Standard audio cassette recorders can often be used with an optional interface unit to store very large amounts of information, albeit at reasonably low speed. In the past, audio cassettes were sometimes unreliable, but newer designs have been proven to be dependable adjuncts to both hand-held and desktop computers.
One difficulty faced by the portable computerist is the physical size of most cassette recorders. An average AC recorder is often bigger than the small computer itself, and even portable cassette units are big enough to create a problem in the normal executive briefcase.
On the surface, the new microcassette recorders offer an interesting alternative. Already carried by many executives for dictation, it would seem that such recorders would solve the space problem, in terms of both the size of the recorder and the room taken by the cassettes themselves. Unfortunately, several obstacles arise. Most computer cassette interfaces require jacks for a microphone, an earphone, and a remote control jack to control tape movement, and no microcassette recorders have included these jacks. also, the quality of microcassette recorders, while adequate for voice dictation, is not up to the demands of data storage.
Olympus Optical Co. of Japan, one of the leaders in microcassette technology, has addressed these problems with their new C100 microcassette recorder. In this compact and inexpensive unit, specifically designed for data storage, the limitations of all other microcassette units have been remedied. External Features
At first glance, the C100 looks like any other pocket microcassette recorder. About average size for such units, the C100 measures 5.4" by 2.6" by 1.1" and operates on two standard 1.5 volt AA batteries or an optional AC adapter. Like many other current units, two speeds are available, the faster (15/16 inch per second) for data and highest voice quality and half speed (1/2 inch per second) for maximum recording time for a given tape length.
Other common features include a built-in condenser microphone, three-digit mechanical counter with reset button, battery condition LED, pause control, cue and review (audible fast forward and rewind for locating segments on the tape), and separate controls for stop/eject, play (also labeled LOAD), record (also labeled SAVE), fast forward, and rewind.
The features which set the C100 apart are the full set of jacks for remote, earphone, and microphone, a monitor switch which makes playback audible even if the earphone jack is inserted so data playback can be heard, a phase reversal switch which is used to adapt the recorder to the needs of various computer systems, and special construction which allows the fast forward and rewind to function even with the remote jack in, which is a real convenience in computer use. Operation
Operating the recorder is simplicity itself. Everything works exactly as would be expected, with the computer controlling tape motion as it should. Recording level is fixed by an automatic gain control circuit, but playback volume can be adjusted to match the requirements of the computer. The correct setting for the phase switch must be determined by experimentation; the recorder simply won't work on one of the settings.
The monitor switch has no effect on the storage process, but can be a convenience if the computer doesn't have audio output of its own during saving or loading. A special circuit boosts recording level when battery power begins to ebb, ensuring correct recording even when the Battery Indicator LED shows that power is low.
Olympus offers a special microcassette tape optimized for data storage. Designated the MC-15CT, this cassette stores up to fifteen minutes total, which is a very convenient length for data use. It retails for $2.20 each.
I tested the C100 with three Radio Shack computers, the PC-1 and PC-2 hand-helds, and the Model 100 briefcase executive computer. The C100 batted two for three. Both hand-helds use conservative 300 baud cassette recording, and the C100 worked perfectly with them. Even long programs saved and loaded without any errors, time after time. I also tried recorder with normal audio microcassettes, and these worked equally well.
The new Model 100, however, presented problems. Its 1500 baud cassette format speeds data transfer dramaticcally, but the more demanding format proved too much for the C100. I had major problems transferring even a five-line file, and it took ten or twenty tries before I had one successful transfer, even after trying all ten possible playback volume settings and both positions of the phase switch. Longer programs and text files were out of the question; occasionally the computer would recognize the file header from the tape, but the load would invariably abort somewhere in the file itself.
The C100 is ideal for owners of hand-helds like the PC-1 and PC-2 and their Sharp equivalents. The space saved is significant, and operation in essentially perfect. While it is too bad that the already large Model 100 can't benefit from the space saving, this computer is developing a reputation for fussy cassette operation, and many full size cassette recorders have problems with it as well. Thus it is not surprising to find that the C100 has difficulties with the Model 100, too.
Given that the C100 is priced at only $122.50 retail and also operates as a first-rate voice/dictation recorder, I strongly recommend it to portable computer owners.
Products: Olympus C100 (tape player and recorder, cassette)