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Feature Article
Sony eMarker

July 1, 2001
By Scott Lewis

When I first read about this device I started to think it couldn't possibly be accurate. Let's take a step back. The Sony eMarker is just a simple time stamp recorder. You press its button when you hear a song on the radio, and when you get back to your computer you can check what was playing on the radio station at that time.

For this to work you would need access to the radio station's playlist, and the times it played the songs. That is were I felt the device would fail. How could the device possibly account for minor delays in broadcast from a pre-selected playlist. What about stations that have listeners call in with requests. Surely that would throw off a station's playlist.

Well, my biggest assumption was my problem, not the device's. I assumed they would get their information from the service that provided the playlist to the radio station. When in fact they get the playlist information after it is played. Now it makes sense.

How It Works

The hardware is a single button device with a small LCD that displays up to ten dots. It is about twice the size of the key fob for my Suburban. You push the button on the device when you hear a song on the radio and want to know the artist and title. The device displays a dot and records the current date & time.

When you get back to your computer you plug the eMarker into its cradle. Placing the device in the cradle launches a web site and uploads the times that were saved in the device. You compare the times to the radio station you were listening to get the artist and title info. Simple.

The eMarker site claims they get information from some stations every ten minutes, but admit it takes them up to 24 hours to get the playlist information on other stations. Worst case is you plug the device in the day after you here the song. The web site will remember every time stamp you upload until you delete it, so you don't have to worry about how many songs you try to get information on. However, the eMarker device will only store ten time stamps. A reasonable limit.

Minor Annoyances

My complaints so far are trivial. The biggest is that you are only allowed to setup three radio stations on the eMarker site as your favorites. I have 5 stations on the presets of my car, so this is a small inconvenience. However 4 of the 5 stations on my presets are on the eMarker web site and my three favorites stations do fit pretty well with the eMarker limit. So far it is good enough.

The device has not been 100% accurate. It was right 4 out of the first 5 songs I tried it on. Far better then the DJs, and more than good enough for me. For one song it took me about 3 or 4 tries to get it right. I think this might have to do with what time the device thinks it is (more in a moment). Overall I am impressed with its accuracy, but it does seem to list songs I never thought I would have marked.

I assume there can always be some slight difference in the time. This leads to another minor gripe... what time is in the eMarker. When you first run the software on your computer (I assume) it puts the time into the device. I have no way of knowing. At its simplest I would assume it loaded the time & date of your computer. But that can be off. Maybe they load it with the time & date of their website to provide more consistent results. I do not know. (I assume it gets the time from your computer, and plan on making sure my computer is more accurately set in the future. However, I have already made one bad assumption with this device.)

Who Is This For

I have to wonder why they make this device. Not that I don't like it, and would have loved it years ago. The device only costs $20, not a lot of money. I would be worried that at some point the cost to operate the web site might be too much and it would shut down, or they would have to charge to use it. Paying a fee to use the device would not be worth it for me.

Everything about the eMarker seems geared toward helping you buy the CD that has the song you "eMarked." I have also been hearing a lot of buzz about streaming web sites that do a better job of providing you with "hints" about songs you might like based on songs you already like. I tend to like this idea, but why does everyone that comes up with an idea to help you find a song you like assume you want to buy a CD full of songs from that artist.

For example, I really like three Creed songs, but those three songs aren't even on the same CD. Do they expect me to buy two CDs at over inflated priced for 3 songs?

The eMarker seems like it is best bought by Napster users before they started filtering songs. With the eMarker you could easily get the artist and title of a song and use that to download the song.

What the industry needs to do with this device (and all the other things that help you find music you would like to listen to) is come up with a fairly priced way to buy the song, not the CD.

Stop trying to sell us a CD full of filler songs for $15. Just sell us the single for $1 or less. Otherwise eMarker and Gnutella are destined to become best friends.

Conclusion

If you are like me, and can never seem to figure out who is playing on the radio then the eMarker is for you. At $20 it is cheap, and more than good enough. I leave mine in the cup holder of my car, and bring it into the house every few days. It works, and I finally can know the names of new artists in a timely manner.

Highly Recommended!

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