Monday, August 10, 2009

Review - DigiTells - create your own read-a-long audiobooks

Ever since our kids were toddlers, my wife and I have tried to read to them every day. Unless we're getting to bed late or just having a bad night, we end the day with a bedtime story for each of the kids. This has created a great love of books and reading in our kids and we absolutely love that since both Lynette and I love books and we always hoped to instill that same love in our kids.

The only real problem this has caused is that sometimes our kids will come up to us with a book and beg us to read to them at a time that isn't really convenient (while we're doing a time-sensitive task like cooking or on a conference call or some other endeavor). Since my two oldest can read for themselves now, this has been less frequent. But for my youngest (who does know her ABCs and can spot a few words), it's just so sad to see her face droop as she walks away with book in hand.

Enter DigiTells.

I grew up with a number of Read-a-Long records (yes, records) that I loved to throw on my Fisher Price record player and follow along. When I found out about DigiTells, I was intrigued. This product allows you to create your own audio-book, complete with sound effects and page-turn-notification. I loved the concept and saw lots of possibilities for it. Not only would it be fun to record a few of my kids favorite books for them, but we could also record books for nieces, nephews and more.

When the box arrived, I was immediately impressed by the professional presentation. The DigiTells website is vibrant and looks great. The packaging follows the same style and is just smooth and inviting. I pulled the Installation Disk from the top of the box and started the install process while looking at the other materials.

The 'Premium Package' includes a USB headset/microphone unit along with the software. I plugged the headset in and it was immediately recognized and ready to go with my Windows XP machine (I was glad I didn't have to deal with driver installation, but even if I had, it likely would have been included in the package). The installation process was slower than I would have liked as it extracted and validated all the files, but overall it was alright.

Once I activated (via a serial # in the manual) the product and launched into DigiTells, I was greeted by the same friendly voice from the website presentations. I was impressed by the audio instructions on each page of the program and the tutorial videos outlining all of the major processes. I watched a handful of the tutorials and then decided to get down to business making my first book.

I pulled out a book that the kids request frequently, a Sweet Pickles book about a Very Worried Walrus. I thumbed through the ~30 pages and came up with a narration plan. I listened to some of the pre-loaded sound effects that come with DigiTells and then hopped online and downloaded a few other sounds to enhance the experience.

I then jumped right into the recording process. Page-by-page, I made the words come alive. Sometimes I would break a single page into a couple of recordings with sound effects interjected between them. I reached the end of the book with a "The End" and clicked to continue on to Phase 2 where I would finalize the project....and (much like poor Walrus on his bicycle), the program Crashed!

I relaunched and opened my project. To my relief, it loaded back up. I continued on and crashed again. Confused, I stepped back for a breather. I wasn't willing to admit defeat so I tried a few more things, changed my methods a few times, and eventually managed to figure out what I was doing wrong and work around the error.

While I was initially frustrated that I had crashed (I'm in contact with the developer to isolate the problem and get it fixed), I was still very excited about DigiTells. I take some responsibility for some of the errors encountered, due to my now instinctual software usage methods after more than a dozen years in the Software QA world (where it's my job to find errors). Still, there are definitely some things to fix and may be some usability discussions as well.

I am very impressed with DigiTells. The software is easy to install and get started and the presentation value is very warm and welcoming to a new user. Friendly and powerful tutorial videos really help a novice user get started with their audio book project. DigiTells is a powerful tool for recording and editing an audio book. I can see it being a great tool for teachers, parents, grandparents and more to create very personalized audio books for the children in their lives. And children will love listening to a book personalized by someone they love.

My two complaints with the product are:
  1. That the process is very specific and not terribly flexible. While this is a powerful tool (especially for the cost), there are a number of areas where I would love to see more robust options or more flexible processes.
  2. The headset itself is great (especially as part of the package) but it was a bit snug for my slightly larger than average head and by the end of the recording, I felt a bit of a pinch on my scalp. The recording from the headset did have a small hum, but again, for the price of the product, the sound quality was actually very good.
I know there are other tools out there that can do more, but you'll pay a ton for them and have a much steeper learning curve. I know there are also free packages out there, but they either don't do as much or else require you to be very tech savvy to get them configured properly and to use them to their full potential.

I can definitely recommend the DigiTells product. It's clean, professional, and powerful. It is easy to jump right in and use, though I would definitely recommend watching at least a few of the tutorial videos to help streamline your efforts and to understand some of the powerful features in the product. Now that I have the process down, I look forward to making a handful of audio books. I'm hoping to make a few gifts for nieces and nephews as well as my own kids.

Go try out DigiTells. I'd love to hear what you think.

4 out of 5 stars

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