Affinity Consulting Blog

Lawyers and law firm staff are discovering that the traditional ways of interacting with their computers, the keyboard and mouse, are not always the best ways. Windows 8.1 offers a new touch-based interface, for example. But voice interaction with our computers and tablets is potentially more useful.

Unfortunately, the microphones built into notebook computers are of modest quality. To get the most out of voice interaction with your technology, a good external microphone is needed. The portable and inexpensive (approx. $40 at Amazon at other retailers) Blue Snowflake is a versatile choice for lawyers with multiple devices.

The Snowflake is a USB microphone. It can connect to any device with a standard USB port. Unlike some mics which draw too much power from the USB port, the Snowflake will even work with an iPad if you have the USB version of the Camera Connection Kit. I've tried other high quality USB mics with my 4th generation iPad only to find that they required too much power, generating an error message from the iPad.

The design of the Snowflake is unique and versatile. It works on any flat surface, but the hook-shaped base also lets it mount to the screen of most laptops or some of the thinner LCD/LED monitors. The mic unit itself rotates and pivots within its base to aid in proper positioning. I've used it with my primary computer for speech recognition with Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12.5, for voice search commands in the Google Chrome web browser, and also for Skype telephone calls. In all of these applications, it worked much better than the mic built into my computer or the mic built into my Logitech web cam. It was also more convenient that the headset mic that came with Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

My favorite use of the Snowflake, however, has been with my iPad for Skype calls. With the Camera Connection Kit, plugging the Snowflake into the iPad is simple. Once plugged-in, the Snowflake becomes the default audio recording device on the iPad. When done, unplug it and the iPad's internal mic once more becomes the default. The person at the other end of the Skype call will hear me much more clearly than with the internal iPad mic. A quality external mic like the Snowflake allows the iPad to become a useful group video conferencing device. I have started using my iPad in a law school classroom setting (connected via AirPlay to an Apple TV unit) to bring in guest speakers from remote locations via Skype. The Snowflake miv lets the guest speaker hear me more clearly and also take questions from my students via Skype.

There are other excellent choices if you want a high-quality external USB microphone to improve your ability to interface with your computer or tablet by voice. However, few are as inexpensive, portable, and versatile as the Snowflake.

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