Intro I hinted that I wanted an MP3 player for Christmas, and being the lucky boy I am, Santa dropped one down my chimney. Luckily it wasn't damaged on the way down! Music on the go has come a long way, from the old cassette walkmans, personal CD, mini disc and now of course the MP3 player. MP3 is an abbreviation for a compression algorithm called ?MPEG 1 Layer-3?, meaning you can take everyday music and squash it down much smaller allowing more storage. Initial observations Once I'd managed to unwrap it (exciting isn't it?) I was taken back by how small it was! Really it's a tiddly little thing. As well as the player, it comes with a pair of in-line earphones, a CD-ROM of software, a USB cable, neck strap and user guide. I picked it up, and had a good look. I was puzzled, there was no battery compartment that I could see - does this thing run on thin air I wondered? Well I later find out that it's an "internal battery", you can't take it out, neither can you replace it. Hmmm I wondered, if you can't replace it what happens when it needs replacing? I contacted Creative, and probed them. The result came back that if the battery fails within it's 1 year warranty, they'll replace it. Of course once the 1 year is up, your on your own - Creative have no policy in place to replace batteries. This is surely a major issue, which is why I'm putting it at the beginning of this review. While on the subject of battery life, it does last in excess of 10 hours on a single charge - charging takes place by simply connecting it to a spare USB port, and takes less than an hour - the LCD display gives a graphical representation of the battery level. Looks Moving away fr
om battery issues, let's describe it a little. It's about 8cm wide, by 4cm in height, and less than 2cm thick, weighs a little over 50grammes - so it's small and lightweight, fits in your pocket in your hand, in fact almost anywhere. It's shiny silver in colour, has seven buttons dotted around, and a biggish backlit LCD display. There are sockets for the earphones, and USB connection which is covered by a rubber stopper. On the top left corner is a microphone socket - more about that later. Overall it looks stylish, guarenteed to get a few glances on the train, well that's if people can actually see it. Features Feature wise, it's basically an MP3 player with 256Mb of in-built memory, it's an FM radio, it's a voice recorder. The memory is fixed, you can't expand it, mind you 256Mb is enough to store up to about 8 hours of music, that's a fair number I'd say. To switch between MP3/Radio/Voice Recorder, there's a Mode button on the bottom, easy as that. Of course to use this player fully, you first need to send it some music. Connect your PC to the Rhomba with the supplied cable, turn it on then and just pick your favourite MP3's from your hard disk, and drop them onto the new removable device which is available. It really is quite simply like moving files from one place to another. Using this method will allow about 4 hours of music to be put onto the Rhomba, but if you'd like to double it, using the supplied software you can convert your MP3's to WMA (Windows Media Audio). WMA is essentially a competing format devised by Microsoft (who else). The resulting file sizes can be as much as half that of an MP3, with no noticable difference to the average ear. The added advantage of bein
g a removable storage device, is that you can of course send the Rhomba other files, such as digital photos and easily transfer them to someone elses computer - an alternative to writing CD's perhaps. Buttons There are a lot of features, even on a unit of this size, so we'll briefly go through the buttons and their functions: Play / Pause button - This turns the unit on or off, starts a track, pauses a track or resumes a track. You'll use this button a lot. In the radio mode, this button is also used to select pre-set stations and stop radio recording. Volume - One of those double sided buttons where you hold + or - to adjust volume settings. The volume setting is displayed on the LCD screen, as is a graphical bar representing the volume level. Menu scroller/button. This is a strange button that you can either press down or move side to side. It's used widely to move back and forward tracks, through menu options, select menu options and change the radio frequency. Holding down this button will bring up the menu where you can make changes to the Equalizer (rock, pop, jazz, classic etc), repeat function, playlist editing, display options, delete tracks, Visualizer, FM Region, Beep Sound, Mic Level and Language. Within each option are more options...no need to go into them all here. Mode - Selects either MP3, Radio or Voice recorder. Repeat - Repeats a section of a track, or mutes the audio in radio mode. Record button - As mentioned earlier, the unit has a built in microphone, and can be used as a voice recorder. A simple press of this button when in Voice Record mode, allows you to record hours and hours of conversation or bird noises - the choice is yours. In radio mode, you can press this button to
record the radio, very useful. Hold button - This locks or unlocks the units buttons, meaning you cannot accidently press anything whilst "locked". If you attempt to turn it on whilst locked, it briefly comes on to tell you you can't turn it on! Screen Display The LCD panel shows various information depending on which mode you are in. Essentially their are two screens, a larger one on the left and a smaller one on the right. When you first turn on, you'll get a Creative logo, the version of the firmware (the players software level), and and indication of how much memory is remaining out of the 256Mb. The display on the left will then show the directory name (default is ROOT), the track name (which scrolls), it's length, how many tracks are on the Rhomba and which track number you are currently on. The smaller display shows battery level, music style (rock etc), file format (MP3 or WMA), and Left and Right level indicators. Phew, quite a lot to look at! Once you press play, the blue backlight comes on briefly and the level indicators start to bounce around. In radio mode, the display shows the radio frequency, mono/stereo indications and whether a preset is being used. In record mode a timer indicates the recording length and the level bars indicate that the input volume is of audible level. FM Radio A quick press of the mode button gives you an FM radio. Moving the menu scroller button will scan through stations automatically or manually. Presets can be set, and selected easily. I have found that reception is a bit hit and miss, but is clear stereo reception when in a good area. A nice inclusion is the ability to hit the record button at any time, and record that favourite song or indeed whatever you want. This can be played back at any tim
e either on the Rhomba or uploaded back to your PC in seconds. The quality of the recording isn't too bad. The duration of the recording is only limited to the available space on your Rhomba, or the remaining battery life. Voice Recording A personal dictaphone too? You bet. The voice recorder option allows simply that, to record your voice (or someone elses). Not limited to people, perhaps you can record your cat and play it back to him.... More serious use might be for a meeting, to help you write up the minutes later on, or perhaps a more secretive liason where there is the need to record. As per the radio recording, duration is only limited by available memory and battery life. Conversations are recorded in 32kps 8bit mono format, which is good enough for most. The microphone sensitivity can be changed by going into the menu option. Price & Availability I shouldn't know the exact cost of the player due to it being a gift, however for research purposes I discovered it was available in the UK for the price of "just over £100". It should be available through many on-line stores specialising in hi-fi, as well was Ebay and Amazon. More details of Creative products can be found at www.creative.com Conclusion So most importantly, how does it sound? Well I'm no audiophile by any means, but considering the size of the Rhomba, and the fact that's it's playing compressed music, I'm very impressed. Personally I haven't really noticed a huge difference to the personal CD players I've had in the past. It's other good points are it's compactness, simplistic operation and overall style. The worrying part is the battery situation - are we simply to throw it away after the battery dies? That aside, it's a great companion o
n the train, in bed too, and I'm delighted with it.