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Ultra Products 256MB 8-in-1 MP3 Player - Page 2 of 2
Posted: November 08, 2004
Author: Jason Kohrs
Manufacturer: Ultra Products
Source: Ultra Products
Comment or Question: Post Here

In Use:

The images below show the screen lit up with its mellow blue back lighting. The below left image is the screen displayed during start up, and the below right image is what you see during shut down... "See You Later, Bye". Cheesy, but easy to read thanks to the large screen and effective backlighting.

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The device is controlled by two silver buttons and a silver joystick located just to the left of the display. The top button is used to power the device on/off, as well as serving as the stop button. The bottom button serves as the play/pause button, and the joystick is used for most of the controls. Pushing left/right controls the volume, pushing up/down selects different tracks (in MP3 mode), and pushing the joystick handle in activates the menu to access other features.

In MP3 play back mode (as shown below), the upper left corner of the screen indicates the mode the device is in (MP3), as well as showing the battery charge status out of 4 bars. The upper right corner indicates the track number, as well as the total length of the track while not playing, and the elapsed time of the track while it is playing. The artist and title of the song scroll across the screen thanks to ID3 tags, and just below this the bitrate of the track is displayed. Below this there is constant animation during song play back. The animation is generally just music notes bouncing around, or a set of stick figure dancers shaking their stuff. I'd prefer the screen just remain blank and perhaps conserve some battery power!

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MP3 play back was enjoyable on this device, even with the confusing headphones. The sound was full and clear, and navigation was fairly simple. The only issue seemed to be with a bit of a short in the headphone jack experienced if the plug was twisted in the jack during play back. A bit of static would be heard until the plug came to rest again. Not a big deal if the device remains stationary during use, but when used during activities, it may twist quite often.

The transfer of MP3 files to the device is another negative point with the Ultra Products 8-in-1 device. It is only capable of data transfer at USB 1.1 speeds, which just seems so slow and outdated at this point. USB 2.0 has been around long enough now that devices like this should be taking advantage of the incredible speed boost. I loaded the Ultra player up with 53 files (232MB total), and it took 5 minutes and 46 seconds just to get everything copied over. That is a meager 0.67MB/s transfer rate.

The below left image show the MP3 player in locked mode, which is achieved by pressing the stop button and the joystick at the same time. Until unlocked (by pressing the same combination of buttons again), all buttons are inactive and the device can not be accidentally turned off. The below right image shows the device in FM tuner mode. The joystick is used for tuning in channels on the display which combines a digital display, as well as an analog slider bar. The tuner features an auto scan function, and allows for up to 8 presets to be stored for easy tuning to favorite channels. I was able to dial in a clear stereo signal on the local channels, with decent signal strength. There is obviously no antenna on the device, so the signal was impacted by obstructions like basement walls, being in the car, etc.

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The below left image shows the device in voice recording mode. A microphone in the device records .WAV files to the onboard memory which can be played back over the headphones, or downloaded to you computer. A few sample recordings were created, and the reults were fairly consistent... The recordings were easy to understand and had decent sound quality, but did feature a bit of hiss and static. Compared to other digital voice recorders I have used in the past, it was a very similar experience. The average recording took up 256KB of disc space per minute of recording, so you won't fill the device with voice recordings, unless you can really talk!

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The above right image shows the device charging via the USB cable. The battery averaged about 10-12 hours of play back time per charge, which is lower than I am used to. The i-rock! 830 MP3 player, reviewed earlier in the year, uses a non-rechargable AA battery that consistently provides 25+ hours of play back. Charging is quick, so you don't have much down time, but you do need to be near a computer with a USB port in order to recharge. In general recharging via USB seems very convenient to me, but there may be occasions where a conventional charger may be better, in which case disposable AAA batteries should be kept on hand.

I was initially skeptical by the inclusion of an e-mail client being worth much. I was mistakenly expecting to have to download messages to the device and to have to try to read them on the screen. The concept is far more useful than this, and could prove quite helpful to those who travel frequently, but perhaps don't bring a laptop with them. There is a folder on the device which contains just three files (two .exe files and one .ini file) and takes up about 806KB of space. A computer is still needed to connect to the internet to retrieve the mail, and display it on the screen, but the mail client, your address book, mail server settings, and messages are all stored to the Ultra Products device. Nothing to install, so you can check your mail anywhere that a PC has an internet connection.

The images below show the interface of the mail application. The below left image shows an example of a received message, and the below right image shows the layout of the e-mail composition screen. In general, the look and feel are fairly standard, whichs makes the use very simple and convenient.

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One feature I did not really use, but will discuss briefly is the program provided on the CD intended for use as an MP3 player, ID3 tag editor, and lyrics editor. The crude interface is pictured below, which did seem to be fully functional, although a bit buggy. For the most part, people already have a free application (like WinAMP) which can handle the same tasks, but do it better and more attractively.

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Conclusion:

The Ultra Products 8-in-1 MP3 Player is little device that isn't short on features. Although I would lean towards calling it a 6-in-1 device, it manages to do those six functions quite well. The MP3 play back and FM tuner performed as well as other comparable devices with which I am familiar, providing clear stereo sound. The FM tuner didn't have the best reception, but for a compact device with no antenna, it did quite well.

As an MP3 player and FM tuner alone it might be worth consideration, but throw in the voice recorder and the ability to accept SD/MMC as a flash drive or card reader, and it earns considerable bonus points. The 256MB of onboard memory is a respectable number for a flash memory based device, but the ability to expand it to 768MB makes it even more appealing. The battery for the device is also a major plus. Not only is it rechargable, but it can be recharged via a USB connection, eliminating the hassle of removing the battery and having a separate 120V charger.

I did list more "Cons" than usual, but for the most part these are issues that don't impact the core performance of the device. The issue with the headphone design, MP3 editing software, and protection of the screen may be debatable, but I feel they could/should be improved. 10-12 hours of battery life per charge is decent, but I know it is possible to do better. The fact that the battery is rechargable makes up alot of ground on this issue, so I can overlook that as well. The one negative aspect that really stands out is the use of USB 1.1, which seriously hinders the convenience of transferring a big block of MP3s, or using the device as an SD/MMC card reader. I really don't see why USB 1.1 would be implemented on such a device today.

A search of PriceGrabber only provides one location to purchase the Ultra Products 8-in-1 MP3 Player... Tiger Direct, with a price tag of $129.99 (US). This price is a bit on the high side, but competitive with many other 256MB players with similar features, as seen in this set of search results.

Final Rating (4 out of 5 stars):


Pros:

Decent capacity of 256MB is expandable to 768 using a SD/MMC card
Runs on a single AAA battery that recharges via the USB cable
Large screen is easy to read and navigate
Built in FM tuner and voice recorder
Can be used as a USB flash drive and SD/MMC card reader
Compact and lightweight
Large screen is easy to read and navigate

Cons:

USB 1.1 is so slow it should be abandoned
Battery life is about 10-12 hours per charge
Headphone design is odd and inconvenient
MP3 editing software is a bit crude
Screen should be recessed or otherwise protected from damage

Special thanks to Ultra Products for providing the 256MB 8-in-1 MP3 Player to BigBruin.Com for review!

Please drop by the BigBruin.Com forum and feel free to discuss this review.

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