What you look for in a dictaphone will depend on what you need it for. For lectures or conferences you will want one that can pick up voices in all parts of the room, so a machine with long-range recording is important. If, on the other hand, you want to tape hours of dictation you will want one with a long play function. Here's a guide to different dictaphone functions:
Short Play/ Long Play (SP/LP)
Short/long play tools allow you to record higher audio quality using the short play and for longer periods of time for the long play. Some models will allow you to record over 1800 hours with their long play function. If you know you will need one for long and short recordings it's best to invest in one with this function.
This means the device not only records voice, but can clearly record a number of different sounds on top of each other and is not limited to voices only. If you want a device for musical recordings look for this function.
The recording mode you choose will depend on what you want to transfer the audio to. File formats include: MP3, WAV, AIF or ACT. So if you have a device that records in MP3 format you can playback your recorded material in an MP3 player, iPod, MP3 enabled car stereo and a number of other devices.
If your dictaphone doesn't have a USB port you won't be able to transfer your recordings to a computer and keep them for long periods of time. It's worth checking to see whether your dictaphone has this connection.
Can I just use a dictaphone app?
Apps such as Pocket Dictate and Audio Note are a good alternative to a dictaphone. They can record one person dictation and small groups (one-on-one interviews and small meetings) really well. With larger meetings, conferences and lectures they may struggle (unless the audio is very loud and clear in the room) so if you want recordings for these events, your dictaphone will work best.