cheap but works - Advantages: good price, especially if you already have CF cards, no proprietry manager: transfer any file to and from using windows explorer, reliable - Disadvantages: ugly, large, limited feature set (but appropriate for the price)
not perfect, but if you consider it's price, it's really worth it! - Advantages: usefull, cheap, flexible - Disadvantages: produces background noise hearable in silent song parts, doesn't save presets, the equalizer distorts
Despite already having a minidisc player, I recently decided to get a Mp3 player for the train journey to and from work. I already have plenty of MP3s on my hard disc that I have downloaded from the net, so instead of having to record them onto the minidisc player in real time, I decided to get an MP3 player, so I could easily change a few tracks every night, and so keep my playlist pretty fresh on the monotonous train journeys. I found the Mello player on ebay, a member of a forum I post on recommended it to me as a cheap but effect entry into the MP3 player world. There are usually quite a few for sale on ebay; you should be able to get one for about £40-£45, including postage (this price does not include a Compact Flash card, which will cost about £20-£30 for 64 MB or £40-£50 for 128MB). Aside from the memory, the Mello player comes with everything you need to get started using it - USB connection, the unit itself, two AA alkaline batteries, a set of headphones, a floppy disc containing Windows drivers and a carrying pouch. The Mello player is nowhere near as small as some of the more expensive MP3 players on the market; it's roughly the same size as a personal cassette player. It is incredibly light, with no batteries or memory card, it's 75g, add the batteries and its about 150g. Still, despite its lack of weight, it still feels very sturdy and well built. The first thing you should do, before you even plug it in, is throw the supplied headphones in the bin. I've heard better earphones on £4.99 personal stereos. They're tinny, uncomfortable and just generally nasty. Once I stuck my Sony earphones I use for my minidisc player in the unit in their place, the difference was incredible. Now we've got that out of the way, we'll talk about connecting it to your PC. It's about now you'll want to put that Compact Flash (type I) card in the slot. There is a slot, just keep pushing the card down until t
he eject button is fully extended. Once the eject button is extended, you can fold it over, and it slots into the body of the unit to stop you snagging it as you move it in and out of your pocket. Connecting it to the PC is a piece of cake - simply attach the USB lead to the unit and then into the PC, and your PC will auto-detect it. If you are using Windows ME, 2000 or XP, you don't even need the driver disc. If you have Windows 95, check that you have a USB compatible version before purchasing the MP3 player, as only later versions of Windows 95 offer USB support. Once Windows has updated it's driver information base with the player, anytime you connect it to your PC, it will appear as an extra drive in My Computer. Basically, you use it like a mini hard drive you can attach and disconnect at your pleasure. For MP3 playback, you must create a folder on your card called "MP3" and place your mp3s in there, in as many sub directories as you like. If you place any mp3 files in directories other than "MP3", or the root, your player will not be able to find them, and so they won't be played back. The USB connection allows transfer of roughly 500k/sec, so it only takes a few seconds to copy a MP3 from hard disc to player. The order it plays files in is slightly odd - it isn't alphabetical order, like most MP3 players I know. Instead, it will play any files in the root directory first, before moving onto the folders. It plays them in the order added, so the newest files you add to the unit will be last on your playlist. It's a little odd, but nothing that you can't cope with. The unit has a backlit LCD that it used to display things like track time, track number, as well as the ID3 tag of your Mp3. It's only compatible with ID3v1 tags, so if you have your data set up in the ID3v2 tags, it will not pick up this information, and just return a filename and "no ID3 tag found" message. There are two li
nes to display the song title, and one for artist name. With about 30 characters on each line, this should be enough for most songs. There is no scrolling, and surplus characters after this limit are simply omitted. A nice thing about the LCD display is that about 30 seconds after you press any button on the unit, it turns the display off to minimal information, like current time position in the track, track number, etc, to save on battery power. Battery consumption is excellent - the batteries I got with the unit lasted for well over 10 hours, and that was with the unit on full volume for most of the time. I can get about 20 hours out of a set of 1600 NiMH rechargeable batteries, which is very impressive. Sound quality is pretty good. The standard setting lacks a little bass in my opinion, but the equaliser has settings for classical, pop, rock, and jazz. I like the rock setting best, it suits my type of music, but you can't turn it up to the full volume on the unit, otherwise the bass begins to distort and become fuzzy quite badly. Usually I listen to it on normal at full volume, to the detriment of my hearing! I wouldn't say its CD quality sound, but it certainly compares favourably to my minidisc player and is much better quality than a personal stereo. One irritating feature is that once you turn it off, next time you turn it one it will return to its default settings - it can't remember the volume you turned it off at, or the equaliser setting, and there's no resume function should you turn it off during a song. Since pressing the stop button turns the unit off completely - this can be annoying if you knock it off accidentally while handling it. The unit had the standard backward/forward buttons, which cycle through the tracks and fast forward/reverse if you hold them down. The mode button will switch between repeat and random playing, and if you hold it down, it will change the equaliser settings. The play b
utton turns the unit on, and the stop button turns it off. There's a hold slider on the side to stop you hitting the buttons when it's in a pocket or bag. The volume control is just the right of the LCD screen. The other advantage of this machine is that it is just not a MP3 player, but more like a portable hard disk. It's just as easy to pop a few files onto it, take it round to a friends house and copy the files onto a friend's hard disk, it saves zipping files across a set of discs, or burning a CD. Since installation is so easy, it's a nice way of transferring data. I'm delighted with my player - with the cost of the card (from dabs.com), it cost me about £90 all in, and with 128MB players going for about £120 in most of the places I've looked, I'm content that I've got myself a bit of a bargain. OK, so I've sacrificed a little bit of the compactness, but I've saved enough to buy an extra Compact Flash card. If you're looking for a MP3 player, but you think they're a bit on the more expensive side, I'd have a wee look on ebay for one of these beauties.