Advice on pocket audio recorder

While walking, biking, driving, and riding, I used to dictate notes to myself on small cassette and later minicassette recorders, and later yet on simple digital recorders whose flimsy buttons I wore out. These had similar properties:
[li] small enough to slip into a shirt pocket[/li][li] only controls needed: power, record, pause, play[/li][li] buttons found by touch alone, so looking isn’t necessary[/li][li] power-on and record-on allow immediate recording[/li][li] onboard speaker for fast reviewing[/li][li] low cost, under $50[/li][/ul]
I’m looking for a similar new DVR (digital voice recorder). I have used more recent DVRs with unnecessary features more suitable for recording lectures, conversations, meetings, music sessions, etc. I don’t need folders, filters, effects, or tracks; my old Zoom ministudio has those. No, I mostly mutter brief to-do notes, and idea fragments for essays, poems, recipes - streams of stuttered consciousness that I’d rather not have broken into short, discrete files, which is why I want a Pause button. I need a device that starts fast, not with a long initialization delay nor a pause before recording. And I’ve never liked voice actuation, so that’s unneeded.

So, my desire: It’s small and cheap. It has minimal controls. It starts fast. I can safely use it while driving, without needing to watch it. I’ve been advised to use my Android smartphone but it is not suitable. So, can any Dopers advise me on a suitable device? Have you a favorite cheap DVR for your muttered notes?

I have a Tascam unit which works well for me, but it’s a professional model and several times your price range.

This blog post reads like it’s written by a bot, but it does list several free apps you might find useful.

Do you have a (smart) phone? Then you have a DVR!

I recently had to write a long article. It was my first in years, and since my typing skills were rusty, I took the dog for a long walk.

I tried using my (not current) iPhone and the Notes app. I just hit the little microphone icon on the keyboard and started talking. And it was hands-free, since I was using Bluetooth earbuds with a mic and play/pause button.

And it worked! If I wanted to correct or redo a paragraph I’d just note that and move on, chopping the original out when I edited. I was so relieved that I didn’t need to buy additional software (I remember the old days, debating Dragon vs Cortana).

And I had to do almost no typing! Sure, I’d correct a word here and there, and there were two sentences messed up due to a gust of wind across the mic. But I just emailed myself the (long, unedited) Note, and cleaned it up in Word on my MacBook.

I think the problem RioRico has with using his phone is that he can’t find the controls by touch. I have the same problem using my phone for playing music when I’m driving.

I have used Evernote and Android/Google’s voice recognition to make a list of items that I was pulling out of a box, but the voice recognition turned itself off after just a couple of seconds of silence, which meant hitting the button again after nearly every item.

A smart phone does not meet any of the OP’s criteria except having an onboard speaker.
I’ve used the Olympus VN-1800 which works well but it’s a bit above your desired price.

I can be flexible on price (if my wife/owner doesn’t object!) but blind handling ease is what matters. I’ll mainly use the recorder while driving when I’d rather avoid distraction. I’ve not yet hit anyone; why start now? I can record with other devices when lives aren’t at stake.

On the “other devices” front, can’t phone assistants or possible specific apps start recording with a voice prompt? Such as saying “Take a message?”