Monday, August 22, 2005

Toshiba Gigabeat MEG-F20K

Toshiba Gigabeat MEG-F20K


Capacity: 20Gb (18.7GB usable) - 332hrs@128kbps MP3
Battery Life: Built In; 16 hours (as stated)
Formats: MP3, MPEG1 audio, WMA, WAV, Plays-for-Sure downloads
SNR: >95db
Screen: QVGA 240x320 pixel color TFT LCD
Size: 4.2” by 2.5” by 0.6”/63cm x .106cm x .16cm
Weight: 5.7oz/160g
Price: $399 CDN (MSRP)

What it comes with:
The Player
USB Cradle
USB 2.0 cable
Install CD
Player Manual
Software Manual
Quick Install Guide
AC Adapter
AC Cable

The Looks:

The most striking thing about this player is the “mini 2001 monolith” look to it. The front is all black, with a black brushed aluminum center panel, inset with the gorgeous 2.2 inch QVGA screen. Turn on the screen, and you get a bright colorful display, better than pretty much every other MP3 player, and most of the portable media players. Also is the unique “Plus Point” control. The back is sleek and black, with a lanyard connection loop at the top, a la cameras, something that I like very much, especially at the price of these players.

The sides are a dark “champagne” color. The right side includes extra controls: Power, Menu, Volume rocker, and the assignable “A” button. The side buttons glow a nice cool blue. The top has the headphone jack, hold switch, and the power connector, (I wish this was on the bottom). The bottom has the Battery on/off switch (for resets), the dock connector, and the USB port.

The Controls:

The main control is the cross-pad is front and center, and seems like it would be pretty simple. I figured that it would be quite easy to use, I was somewhat disappointed. The controls are not as responsive as one would expect. After using several interfaces using control pads rather than buttons, I tried to slide around on the cross. I thought the unit was broken until I looked in the manual and found out the cross is actually 5 buttons, not 2 sliders. It would have been better to just separate them, 4 on the points, and 1 in the middle, and put the side buttons up front.

The side buttons are nice and pretty but they are not exactly useful where they are, in particular the redundant volume controls. Since the screen can be rotated to fit the viewing format you like best, the cross-pad remaps to keep the control orientation the same. Unfortunately for this fabulous feature, the side buttons can’t move as well. Those same pretty buttons are in such a place that you won’t be able to use any standard cases, since you would only have access to the cross-pad. Keeping with the side buttons, the use of them is a little confusing; the menu button should be VERY self explanatory, and generally is, but when in the play/view functions it brings up a basic interface/settings menu, and oddly enough the Power button brings up the menu that you would expect from the Menu button.

This is an interface only geeks/analysts could love. To play a song, you have to select Folders, then artist/album/genre/playlist, and then pick the next seemingly random selection sorted by artist, or a list of all such classified tracks. Simple right… Let’s just say the iPod is huge for a reason.

The screen is large, and high resolution enough to be readable in any conditions and the TFT display is readable in bright daylight. I like that the layout of the screen is well thought out, especially that the time is displayed on all of the screens other than the picture viewer. There are several visualizations during playback. My biggest display peeve is that you can’t turn off the album art, which would allow viewing of the wallpaper that you assign, (Setup1-Setup5, or the creative User1-User3).

The Dock:

Two last important buttons are on the included dock. The left button initiates syncing with your PC, and the one on the right is to rip a CD directly to the device. Great features for sure, but not really needed. You can backup your USB drives, and compatible digital cameras, directly to the drive, a really handy feature mainly for vacations when you are taking more pictures than can fit on your card. Unfortunately, you can’t view the pictures unless they are imported through the Gigabeat Room software.

The connections on the back of the dock are the USB2.0 port, the power port, and a line out port (nice). There is a USB1.0-in port for your backups. The dock is the only way to connect to the PC for importing of music/pictures, the USB port on the device itself will only allow for disk mode access.

The Software:

You can use the included Gigabeat Room software, (I wouldn’t recommend it, but it’s the only way to import pictures), or Windows Media Player 10 for transfers. The Gigabeat Room software includes a manual, just as thick, but separate from the Player Manual… Not a good sign. Not too much to say about WMP, since it’s on all pretty well all Windows machines, other than it is the only way to import Napster-to-Go tunes.

The Sound:

The sound is great. There are tons of presets for a portable player, 32 is more than the other players that I have used. You have a decent custom equalizer, and the SRS function work quite well. Even without any modifications, the audio is exemplary.

The Battery:

I got about 15 hours from this device, using the photo function quite a bit, about an hour, and listening to music at a decent volume. I was impressed, as it uses about twice the battery life to view images, than just listening to music. Pretty good, considering the rated life is 16 hours for listening only.

The Conclusion:

Generally I like this player, I like the all black look; Very sleek, very not-iPod, (There are other colors available). The screen is AMAZING!!! You need to see it in person to believe it. The audio is fantastic, and the SRS is nice on the flatter songs. The control layout is counter-intuitive, and the side buttons essentially remove any hope of finding a decent case to protect this player.

The transfer software is just as cumbersome as the player controls. The dock is far too flimsy feeling, it should have a bit of weight to it, it seems like the player would fall over just sitting there. I hope that there is a version 2.0 of this player, which fixes some of the software, and layout issues.

All this being said; I would recommend the player to someone who has not gotten use to the iPod interface, or just vehemently opposes purchasing an iPod. It is an amazing player and picture viewer; it just takes some getting used to the interface, and controls.

It’s a good alternative to the iPod, but as I said before there’s a reason the iPod is king.

Until next time,


Friday, August 12, 2005

Creative Zen Micro - 5GB

Let's start with the specs:

Capacity: 5GB (4.7GB usable) - 166hrs@64kbps WMA; 83hrs@128kbps MP3
Battery Life: Lithium Ion; 12 hours (as stated)
Formats: MP3, WMA, WAV
SNR: ~98db
Screen: 104x106 pixel LCD, Blue EL backlight

Size: 2" x 3.3" x 0.7/.51cm x .84cm x .19cm
Weight: 3.8oz (With Battery)
Price: $250 CDN

What it comes with:
The Player (of course)
Battery (rechargable)
USB 2.0 cable
Install CD
Creative Media Source
Quick Install Guide
+ Only with the 5GB model
- Belt Clip, and Stand
- Zen Micro pouch
- Power adapter

The Look:
One nice thing about this player it that it comes in many colors, so pretty well anyone can find one that suits their style. I got the silver model, (since it was the only one in stock); but the ten colors that it comes in are Black, Silver, White, Dark Blue, Light Blue, Citrus Orange, Pink, Purple, Red, and Lime Green. Behind that nice little resistive touch facade, is the fancy Blue light, when it's charging it does it's "breathing" thing, where the light slowly brightens and dims as if breathing.

The size of the player is pretty good, I have fairly big hands, and don't have any problem with the controls feeling crowded. But at the same time the player is small enough that people with smaller hands should not have any trouble navigating the controls.

The Controls:
The controls themselves, are made up of electro-resistive panels, similar to the touchpads on most laptops. There are Back/Rewind, Play/Pause, Next/FFwd, Menu Back, the Scroll Slider/Select, and Context Menu. Normally I like the tactile feel of mechanical controls, but in this case it is nice to not have to worry about dirt and pocket lint getting behind any buttons. Another plus you can easily lock the controls by sliding the power button towards the center of the player. When the "buttons" are used there is an audible clicking sound letting you know that something is happening, and if you really don't want that, you can turn it off.

The Interface:
Just about everything these days has a variation of the iPod interface, and the Zen Micro is not really that different, I mean how much innovation can be made in displaying mode, battery, status, and other info. This is not a bad thing mind you, and I find that I like the font a bit more, (a geek thing... Sure, but when you will be looking at something a lot, the little things are important). You can also customize the menu to allow for quick access to your favorite functions.

The Player Extras:
The Zen micro gives you a few nice little extras that the average MP3 player doesn't do, (at least not natively).
- FM tuner: It's acceptable in a pinch, but I don't think that I will be replacing my car stereo anytime soon. You can record from the radio, which is a plus.
- Voice recorder: Good for some quick notes, but It would have been nice to be able to use an external microphone.
- Calendar: A nice extra, This syncs with your Outlook calendar.
- Contacts: Like the calendar, it pulls from Outlook.
- To Do: Guess where this comes from...
- Alarm/Sleep Timer: Pretty self explanatory.
- Shuffle: Not just for iPods. But this unit also adds a sort of smart-shuffle "DJ" mode, this allows you to listen to just your most popular songs, or the ones you never hear, or even a random album-of-the-day.
- Support for online music: MSN music is probably the only real one you'll use though. I haven't invested in these services yet, so I can't say which is the best yet.
- Removable Disk: Probably the most useful feature is the ability to use a portion of the space as a mass storage device, for PC/Mac/Linux. Essentially it's like having an MP3 player, and a USB thumb drive in one. One of the few times I like "convergence" as a feature of one of my devices.

The Included-in Box Extras:
- Belt Clip and Stand: These are both used with the protective case. The stand is cool, but feels a little too unstable to use very much. The belt clip already snapped... 'nuf said.
- Headphones: Creative knows it's audio, and these earbud style headphones show it. The sound is clear, although like all other 'buds the bass leaves something to be desired, just the nature of the beast. The connector is much like the iPod, with the 180 degree (straight) connector they are great for having in your pocket while listening. Unfortunately like the belt clip, the plastic sheathing cracked, rendering the right headphone useless from the static generated.

The Battery:
The battery is great that it is rechargable, as the rated 12 hours is a bit longer than the average "real" usage time. With the player sitting in clock mode, Backlight set to the minimum shut off, and the Idle shut off set to Off, it lasted about 11.5 hours. Respectable, if I was using it for a clock. The actual time that I have come across for mid-volume play using 64kbps WMA, was more like 9 hours, and about 7.5 for 128kbps MP3, at high (but not full) volume. Decent for a drive to work, listening most of the day, and the drive home. Mind you I do live an hour from work.

After 6 weeks with the Creative Zen Micro, I really enjoy this player. The screen is prone to scratches, but that's the price you pay for having a screen. The battery life could be a bit longer, but it's acceptable. The only real complaint comes from the belt clip, and the headphones breaking, especially since the headphones are really quite outstanding for a bundled pair. I would suggest using the belt clip only when really needed, get a good pair of comfortable headphones, and if you are planning on taking it on any long trips, I would suggest investing in an in-car USB charger like the ones Belkin sells for their USB cables for PDA's.

If you want a great hard drive player, with some nice extras, at a decent price. The Creative Zen Micro is a great choice.


Thursday, August 04, 2005

Absence makes for a quick burst of reviews

First off, I'm sorry.

I'm sorry for the long time off. I've been reviewing the new LG-535, two MP3 players from Creative, the MuVo TX FM, and the Zen Micro (5GB), and World of Warcraft. All of which take time to test out.

This will be short, but within the next week there will be several reviews cropping up.

Thanks for waiting.