Polaroid as a company has been around since 1937, and while their reputation was built on cameras and film, they have now attempted entering the world of portable media players with the introduction of the Freescape Portable Media Player. So, what is it? The Freescape has a 4.3 inch screen (480 x 272 resolution) and is far more bulky than your average mp3 player, but you can still fit it in your pocket, but just barely. It has a 60GB hard drive, which realistically means you can fit in around 85 full length movies or, depending on the bitrate, 6400-16000 songs (320kbps vs 128kbps). Taking into consideration that the unit sells for £60-£80, this is *a lot* of space for the money! As far as additional features go, the Freescape can show pictures in standard JPEG-format on its screen, it has a radio, and wi-fi. Sad thing about the wi-fi is, it works perfectly, but there is no browser implemented. The wi-fi connectivity is limited to updating the firmware and downloading podcasts. You can't check your e-mail, go on Google, or indeed enter anything resembling a browser, so there is a lot of potential here that hasn't been tapped into. The unit allows you to set your own background picture, which is a nice touch.
TRANSFERING FILES TO THE DEVICE
The Freescape connects to your PC through a usb cable. It can be used as a normal external hard drive, so you simply copy the files from your hard drive to the Freescape drive. This is my preferred method of working with the device, because it very seldom crashes when working with it as an external drive. The other way is to connect it as a portable device, which is picked up on by Windows Media Player. If you transfer files through Windows Media Player, pictures and video files will be resized to fit the screen, and album artwork will be displayed for all the music albums you have transferred to the device. This makes for a visually nice treat when you browse through your albums on the Freescape device, but there is a stability issue. The player crashes frequently when transferring files through Windows Media Player. I was very frustrated my first couple of weeks with the device, as I really wanted the album artwork to display for my music albums. However, once I settled for transferring files while using the Freescape as an external hard drive, my success rate has reached 100% when it comes to transferring files. This also means video files aren't automatically resized when I transfer them, so some won't work unless I use a separate application to resize the video files before transferring them.
Playback of mp3 and wma formats are supported, while the Freescape also features a radio function. If music is synched to the unit through Windows Media Player, album artwork will be transferred, and you'll have a very neat looking catalogue on the player. However, in my experience this feature has not been stable. I managed to transfer a few albums through Windows Media Player. I had album artwork for all my albums on my player, and I was really enjoying browsing through my catalogue. But then the unit froze the next time I tried transferring files, and even though the image files are still present on the player, it doesn't show album artwork for any of the albums any more. Anyway, based on ID3 tags (the information inherent in the audio files regarding artist-, song- and album-names), your music is neatly categorized. You can have your music sorted by artist name, album name, genre or decade. Of course, how well this works depends on how much info is present in the ID3 tags in your music files.
It's claimed that the Freescape supports Mpeg4, Divx 4, 5 and 6 format videos. I have also been successful with some xvid format videos. There is a guideline in the manual as to what format and resolution video files should be to work with the Freescape. I find myself not having time to convert video files, and luckily the Freescape player is successful at playing video files in far more resolutions than the one listed in the booklet. Sometimes it's unsuccessful at playing back files, but more often than not I find myself being able to download video content straight from the internet, transfer it to my player, and then watch it moments later with no conversion involved. This is the main selling feature of the player the way I see it.
The Freescape uses a Li-on rechargeable battery, which charges through USB cable or an AC adapter. To be honest, I'm not sure exactly how long it takes to charge. I'm guessing 2-4 hours, but I tend to leave it over night. Polaroid claims the battery life is 16 hours of audio or 4.5 hours of video. I haven't had a chance to test the claims regarding the battery life for just audio, but the unit has performed roughly 3-4 hours of video on one battery charge. Polaroid also claim the battery can be replaced. It does look replaceable, but I wouldn't have a clue how to do it. The battery does come out completely, but it has a cable attached to it. I guess one would have to somehow detach the cable and solder it onto the new battery. In any case, it's a measure I won't be willingly getting into unless I have to.
I paid £79.99 at Amazon.co.uk September 2008. December 2008 the price has dropped to £59.99, probably as a consequence of all the negative feedback the item has received.
So why is it so cheap then?
The device is unstable, crashes a lot and requires resetting. This usually happens when synchronizing media to the device with Windows Media Player and when attempting to play back unsupported video files.
Can I recommend this to anyone? That's a tricky question. Basically, at this price, there is no competing device that offers the same amount of hard drive space, a big screen and divx-video support. However, it's a fairly unstable player, and I was so frustrated the first couple of weeks, I was considering returning it. Basically, if you can't afford to spend more but want a portable media player with a big hard drive, this might be worth considering for you, although be prepared for stability issues. If you can afford to spend far more, you can get a device from another manufacturer that would probably be a lot more stable, but you would also be paying around four times as much (for the same amount of hard drive space).
Update: The unit was almost unusable the first couple of weeks, as it kept crashing while I was filling up the hard drive with files. As I now find myself mostly removing and copying something like 1-3gbs a month, the unit strangely doesn't crash any more. It seems it can handle these smaller operations much better.
Update 2: My battery died after about 1.5 years. Polaroid UK didn't answer any of my support queries on their web site, and evetually went into administration. I e-mailed Polaroid US, and got no answer. My girlfriend called Polaroid Spain, and they couldn't help. I eventually found a battery (without the cable attached) on eBay and ordered it frmo Hong Kong. I tried ripping the cable attachment off from the original battery and attaching it to the Hong Kong battery, but getting this to work has been tricky. It's very difficult to deal with the battery attachment, and as of yet I have not found a real solution to this problem. The unit still runs flawlessly on AC power.