on the cheap and sleazy side (www.cheapandsleazy.net)
The ProCAT Stylus
Court Reporter April Davis Writes About her ProCAT Stylus
As you all know, the ProCAT Stylus has been out for a while. By all indications from ProCAT, it's selling like water in a desert! Unfortunately, finding someone that actually has one and is willing to write about it for my (cheap and sleazy) website has been extremely difficult!
Fortunately, April Davis, RPR (and a woman who clearly understands the concept of Technolust, even though she's never heard the term), has acquiesced to my begging and pleading, and has written about her experiences with this new writer (for which I thank her profusely).
And now, without further ado -- I mean, and now, heee-e-e-e-e-eerrr's April!
Part One: The Big Decision
I decided it was time to get a new writer. Not that there was anything wrong with the old writer (Stentura 8000LX with added Stenocast wireless dongle), I just like technology toys. The only machines I considered were Stenograph's two contenders, the Mira and the Fusion and the ProCAT Stylus.
I started my comparison by deciding what features were most important to me. I was wary of the Mira right away for the following reason: No paper. While paperless is seemingly cool, during an electronic failure I want to have that comfort of paper just in case. Additionally, being an old timer my entire filing system is based on wrapping notices, business cards and exhibits around my paper notes and shoving them in a box. I have also been told that in our jurisdiction in Federal Court, it is not allowed and you must have paper. I don't do Federal work anyway, so who cares, right?
I decided to next look at the Stylus by ProCAT.
I was attracted to it for several reasons. On the Stylus paper is optional. You can easily turn off the paper feed if you want to be paperless. All of the extra parts, ribbons, paper trays, tripods, etc. that I had accumulated for my Stentura are interchangeable with the Stylus, being it is a Stentura shell on the machine. The Stylus has internal audiosync, just like the Mira and the Fusion. It also has internal Bluetooth wireless for realtime, which I have always used an external piece for. Total cost after adding wireless and with tax and shipping was around $1,000 less than the Mira.
I thought I'd better ask around of other reporters to get their input. I use Total Eclipse software so I went on the Total Eclipse message board to see if anybody had any thoughts on any of these machines. There was a lot of info on the Mira, people really liked it. One guy said the only bad thing that ever happened with it was he was in court and the electronics failed and he had to tell them to adjourn! Yikes!
Since I would like to keep my job (thank you very much), I decided to look more intently at the Stylus because you have the option to use paper or not. I kind of liked the idea of no longer relying on Stenograph for anything as well. I received only four responses from reporters on Eclipse that had the Stylus and they were positive.
My next step was to contact the local authorized repair guy for both Stenograph and ProCAT. He told me that he had never actually seen a Stylus because they are fairly new (nobody local broke one yet) but that in the many years he has been the authorized repair guy for the ProCAT Flash the only ones that ever came in broken are machines that were damaged due to reporter stupidity -- i.e. dropping, et cetera. He told me that the electronics were very solid and that he had not seen a machine where they had simply failed.
Upon further investigation of the company (ProCAT) on the internet I learned that they are a technology company that does more than just cater to the reporting community. I ruled out the Fusion, by the way, because it was just butt-ugly. Did I mention that I hate how Stenograph products are almost obsolete before they hit the market and in six months they are trying to sell you a new one???? I am told that reporters that had the ProCAT Flash were given the option to send their machines in to have them upgraded to Stylus level at a fraction of what a completely new one would have cost them. I took a leap of faith and ordered the Stylus.
Part Two: The Writer Setup
When I got my new writer I couldn't wait to open it up and try it. I never saw such a large instruction manual for a writer in my life!
When I ordered it I was told it could take up to three hours to set it up. They weren't kidding. Set up involved installing two programs on my computers (I set up three computers at once) and one Bluetooth device (on one laptop). I am a lot more technologically advanced than the average reporter and I still had to call support once during set up. I have since called support a few more times for issues I will get into later. Each time I called they were helpful and courteous and solved the problems that they were able to. I got a call back almost immediately, which I like because I am impatient by nature.
I think the hardest part for me was learning to convert the files into the Eclipse program and format. Thank goodness Eclipse will import both the audio files and the RTF files into the program at the same time. It makes an already convoluted process a little easier. Since I write most jobs in realtime, I haven't had to transfer too many files this way yet, and of that I am glad. I don't know if you are familiar with this process or are on Eclipse, but when I was using the Stentura when I did not use realtime I would use a digital tape recorder. I would then have input the job into Eclipse from the Stentura floppy disk, import the digital file from the recorder and rename them both. Then you would have to play with the timecodes in order for the files to function together. Doing this with the Stylus files is harder in my opinion. I assume it will become second nature over time, just like the old way, but I am not there yet.
Part Three: Likes, Dislikes and "issues"
I love the touch on this machine. The stroke depth can be set very shallow. It feels great. The Bluetooth connects flawlessly. The machine is very light. The translation display read out is very clear. Although it contains my dictionary it translates through ProCAT software. I wish I had heard of ProCAT sooner. Their artificial intelligence must be pretty darn intelligent because the stuff on my writer is translating better than what I see when I look up at my realtime display. It is disturbing since I have been on Eclipse for two years. I sat there and watched the ProCAT writer pick the correct conflict every single time in a hearing the other day when Eclipse only got it right half the time. Since then I have been obsessively checking my settings and globaling prefixes and suffixes and making changes on Eclipse to make me more efficient. It is more likely a problem with my programming rather than theirs. I can change things on Eclipse. The writer I can't change and mess up.
Okay. Are you ready for the annoying things? I always thoroughly test all of my new equipment before I will rely on it. In my testing phase of the Stylus I turned on all of the writer's features, including the audiosync, yet I continued to write in realtime in case the internal audio or some other feature failed. Within five minutes my translation on both the writer and the laptop started to lag one to two pages behind the stroke that I was actually writing. The writer also stopped selecting conflicts. My realtime on the laptop saved fine, even with the lag, I just had to wait until it caught up and was done to end the job. When the job was finished I went to save the audio file in the writer and it took around five minutes to save. I rushed home and called ProCAT. Surely this wasn't right!
The first thing they did was send me some update patches to install and told me to try again on my next job. I was told that it may have something to do with the size of my dictionary and the amount of conflicts in it. I tried again and got the same result. I called back and got a different tech on the phone who told me that they had a few complaints about this issue. He said that the processor was not able to deal with the cumbersome wav audio files and the translation at the same time as well as they would like. They are working on a "fix" or "patch" for this I am told. The good news is that if you are not using the internal recorder there is no lag and it works great.
Realtime transmission via Bluetooth is perfect. Writer translation is perfect. The only time that I do not use realtime is in short motion hearings. I rarely, if ever, look down at the writer display, so I don't notice the lag anyway. The internal audio files as well as the note files save just fine. The audio comes out clear and the note files are undamaged. You just have to exercise patience in waiting to make sure the files saved properly. It does take a few minutes. I have been simply waiting until last to shut down the writer and put it in the case. I pack up all my other stuff first and if it still isn't done because it was a lengthy hearing I will leave the writer on until I get to the car or office. It has a much longer battery life than most machines because it has an internal lithium battery as well as the regular external Stentura battery.
When I first discovered the lag issue I was really annoyed and toyed with returning it. After a day or two I realized that it really wasn't going to be a problem for me since I primarily use realtime and they will likely find a way around this in time.
Anyway, the files do record just fine. Overall the good far outweighs the bad and I love this writer. The touch is better than any writer I have used in 20 years of reporting. I like the paperless option. I like the fact it holds 5000 pages in backup internal memory and I can buy compact flash cards of up to two gigabytes in any office supply store. It also has a secure digital card slot for an extra backup, so that you have three places that your files are stored (and paper too if you want it), and the included card reader also will accommodate the SD cards.
I always hated the grinding noise the Stentura made when writing to floppy. Now I can do away with floppies all together.
If you are considering the ProCAT Stylus, I hope this gives you some helpful information.
I forgot to mention that there is a realtime hold feature so that if you are walking into chambers, sidebar, etc., you can temporarily suspend the transmission and then when you return to your seat you can unhold it and it transmits the saved data. This is useful in jury trials when you don't want the jury to see on your laptop what is transpiring at sidebar while you are away from it, blocking their view of your computer.
As for the lag issue, after a couple of agonizing weeks, the very nice programmers at ProCAT have fixed the lag issue in my writer. They made some changes to their software that corrected the problem.
Did I mention that I love this writer? Their tech support was very dilligent and instead of me having to call them a million times, they actually called me to try new updates as they became available for testing. I was completely satisfied with the result. When their programmers are calling you, I would say that's great service. You will have to pry this writer from my hands to get me to switch to another product!
As you might have heard, the ProCAT Stylus has been reborn:
You might also know that the original Stylus can be upgraded to the new style for $295, plus $108 for shipping for those of you with support contracts. Those without support contracts will pay $395 plus support of $299 plus the $108 for shipping.
You might also have been able to guess that April would get that conversion done, and quickly ... and if you did guess something along those lines, you guessed correctly!
Here's April's thoughts on the conversion:
STYLUS CONVERSION RESULTS
I sent my Stylus in for conversion to the new body and received it back this week. They did a great job and I am very pleased with it. The screen is much more readable, because you can adjust the angle to eliminate glare. I also find that the space on the top that is created when you flip the screen open is a great place to hold your business card, pen and exhibit stickers during a job.
The most noticeable improvement is the enhancements to the software. You get a more easily noticed reading of how your audio is doing. There are also a couple of new options in there to help streamline your preferences even further. Also, I always had a minor formatting issue with my speaker designations when I converted the files to Eclipse format. That issue has been eliminated in the new version.
While the writer was in for conversion, they did a total inspection and replaced a couple of parts as a preventive measure to insure that there would be no compatibility issues. I was kept informed as to the progress and the ETA of completion. I have no complaints regarding the service or functionality of the finished writer. I absolutely love it. I think the conversion was well worth the cost.