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Psion WaveFinder saved by software that works?

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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Psion's WaveFinder digital radio system, launched almost a year ago, is a good idea in theory. Plug the weird blue combination box and antenna into a USB port and you get a cheap route into DAB (Digital Audio Broadcast) that allows you to listen and record as you sit by your PC. Except that you'll probably get to do a lot more sitting by your PC and a lot less working at it, because Psion's WaveFinder software is the IT equivalent of an inadequately tested elephant tranquiliser, complete with unfortunate and unexpected side-effects.

The Register's WaveFinder was unplugged many months ago, and given Psion's apparent inability to produce lean, mean, reliable software for the device (granted, the company has other more pressing problems these days), it looks like it's missed the digital audio boat. At time of launch the WaveFinder could have been established as a component of PC bundling deals (in the same way as printers, digital cameras and scanners are), but it hasn't happened. Psion had enthusiastic reps from UK electronics chain Dixons (enthusiastic by the standards of reps from Dixons, anyway) at the launch, but today Dixons lists only one machine with a WaveFinder bundled, and it's out of stock.

But why are we going over this ancient history? Well, a few weeks back I was mailed by Steve Todd, who said he'd been sufficiently annoyed by the general uselessness of the WaveFinder software to impell him to write something better himself. He aimed for simplicity, modest CPU, RAM and resource requirements, an interface that could be tucked out of the way, a recording timer, and fewer glitches and crashes.

Naturally I said I'd take a look at it, and a series of "remember me?" emails from Steve later, I have. Steve's WaveLite is currently in production at version 1.0, and he's currently in beta on future versions. The software uses the same RadioScape VIADAB API as Psion's WaveFinder software, with licensed or freeware compiler, components and development tools, and an MPEG playback library licensed from XAudio.

It's been developed under Psion's nose, with beta group discussions taking place in Psion's own WaveFinder forums, but Steve says he hasn't heard a word from Psion officially. You couldn't exactly call this a green light, but it's not red or even amber either, and it'd be a lot smarter for Psion to adopt Steve and his software than to give him grief.

One obvious advantage of adoption would be that the Psion drivers and WaveLite could be distributed together, whereas at the moment you'll need Psion's WaveFinder drivers installed first before WaveLite's any use to you. And if you've any sense you deinstalled them months ago when you chucked the WaveFinder into the back of the cupboard.

Never mind, find the CD, install, and then install WaveLite. As promised, it is indeed a lot slimmer than the Psion software; Steve says a third as much CPU and memory, and that seems plausible enough. At the moment it doesn't do data stations and station lessage text, but it does do timed playback/recording with repeating events, unlike Psion's software.

It also, for reasons I can't altogether fathom, seems able to find more DAB channels than Psion's software does. Signal strength in my part of London seems to have gone seriously off since the WaveFinder went into the cupboard last, and now the Psion software can only apparently find four, whereas WaveLite gets what looks pretty much like a full set.

Right now, WaveLite is probably only of interest to people who've already got a WaveFinder. You can still get them in some stores, but there are clear signs that you'd be better off looking in the bargain bins. It would be nice to think Psion might make a consumer comeback with a version 2, but it looks highly unlikely.

If you've got one, or can pick one up cheaply, then you really ought to ditch the Psion software and go for WaveLite instead (for starters, it's still being developed and supported). It's available for free as a 30 day trial, after which it operates with reduced functionality. Registering for £25 gets you back up to full functionality. ®

Steve's site

Related Stories from happier days:
Psion mounts £299 digital radio land grab
Broadband for free: radio kills the digital stars

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