Gadget report (I) — MP3 players, Creative MuVo^2

I did some research on MP3 players in preparation for making a special request to Santa. It seems the MP3 market has bifurcated into low-end memory-based devices running around $100 and high-end disk-based devices running around $300-400. The low-end products are really small now, but almost all support only the slower USB 1.0 spec, meaning you spend several minutes downloading a single album. I guess the thinking is (1) the low price point doesn’t support the extra cost of USB 2.0 and (2) with such small capacities—like 128MB—there’s no real point in faster downloading. But spending five minutes downloading an album is never any fun if you’re on your way to the gym, even if it’s only one album.

The disk-based high-end products, of which the new Dell device is the prominent example, have capacities of 5 or 10 or 20 or 40 GB and they all support USB 2.0, but they’re also HEAVY, and not entirely robust in an environment where you’re moving around like the gym.

What’s needed is a memory-based device with larger capacity and USB 2.0 support—and I found it: the Creative Nomad MuVo^2. With a capacity of 512MB, it holds a dozen or more albums at a time. Santa heard my prayers and brought me this nice toy. But I do have some minor quibbles.

1. The LCD display is too small and hard to read. It should fill the entire front of the device.

2. The controls are hard to manipulate in a gym environment. Too often, the device confuses a press on the right edge of the main control knob with a click on its middle.

3. The player looks like a mountable disk and you copy music to it by just dragging and dropping; but files downloaded from MusicMatch don’t know they are being copied to a portable and end up copy-protected and unplayable. I can copy to the portable from within MusicMatch Jukebox but it doesn’t realize that there’s a USB 2.0 connection and apparently limits itself to USB 1.0 speeds, and doesn’t know how to create new folders on the portable device. There’s a jukebox/library manager that comes with the device that can copy files fast and deals correctly with the copy-protection problem but the last thing I need is another music manager right now. But it’s the only way to create playlists choosing from among all the music on the device. MusicMatch Jukebox creates playlists in the right format (M3U) and in theory I could copy those to the device but they all contain absolute paths to the MP3 files as stored on my music server. Sigh.

Other than that, this is a cool device—the MP3 player I look foward to having as my second-generation music companion in the gym for the next couple of years. The first generation I had was the Nike PSA I bought a couple of years ago for $300; it held 64MB, served me well, and finally died a noble death a month or two ago. What will the third generation bring?

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