by Ilya Gavrichenkov
08/02/1999 | 12:00 AM
After we have tried a couple of portable MP3 players - Rio PMP300 from Diamond and MPManF20 from Saehan, we decided to refrain from this topic unless something absolutely new appearsin the market. Really, what's the use of telling you about the products with almost identicalfeatures and similar drawbacks. However, the relaxation period didn't last long. A week afterthe MPMan F20 review came into the world we got another portable MP3 Player by Daewoo. Havingtaken a quick look at the device we got very delighted with its features and functions available.A bit later we arrived at the conclusion that MPIO probably represents the second generation ofportable MP3 players and can be regarded as the first spark of a large fire. Why so, you willask? Well, follow us and you'll get the answer!
The sample we got for testing was the so called presale sample. It meant that Daewoomanufactured a number of MPIO players and sent them to its distributors for tests to see if thething was really worth it. The companies usually resort to measures like that when they need toestimate the commercial potential of the product and to get the customers' response and commentsabout the quality of the device. It may even happen that the test shows some functional drawbacksor construction defects of the player that's why the manufacturer will be able to improve them andto launch the enhanced version into mass manufacturing and into retail. As for the sample we haveat hand, it doesn't differ much from the players, which are expected in retail in the end of July.The main differences will be the box, user's manual and CD design. Our player was put in an ordinarywhite paper box, the user's manual was printed on a laser jet and the software was saved on a CD-R.But all these trifles, of course, don't influence the quality of the MP3 sound :-)
So, let's take a closer look at the package:
MPIO will be available in one of the following colors: blue, purple, silver, yellow, blackor red.
By the way, just by chance we came across the web-site of the British company M2(www.msquared.co.uk) which sells MPIO under their own trade mark - jazPiper. In fact, jazPiperis none other than a silver MPIO sold only in Great Britain. Moreover, a similar thing happenedto MPMan F10, which is also sold in Britain by a local company, and Saehan is not even mentionedthere! However, we managed to find a lot of useful info about the player and a very nice picture,which is used in our review to show you the location of MPIO control buttons and slots.
And now more details about MPIO specs:
So, looking at the specs we can notice a few absolutely new details for a portable player.The first thing that catches our eye when we take MPIO, is the built-in microphone and REC button.However, as soon as we turn the player on, it appears solely the LCD display that draws ourattention. Wow, it is a real LCD display! It is not a segmented one as we saw by Rio orMPMan, but a true screen similar to that of a notebook, though it is a an LCD monochrome.But still, you can hardly deny that Daewoo has made a significant step forward. Of course,a cool MP3 player is not enough. You have to carry out a lot of different operations beforeyou are able to listen to some MP3 music. First of all you have to install the player manager -MPIO Desk on your PC and save the required files in the player memory. That's why we suggeststudying the player software and then passing over to the practical use.
The CD, which goes together with the MPIO player, contains the following software:
Well, MPIO seems to be fully armed. We would like to mention that besides the software the CDalso contains 5 MP3 files with music of different types, 9 midi files and a user's manual for MPIOplayer in English in Word format.
The most progressive users usually use the software they consider suitable for this orthat case. But the majority of the average users will be really glad to have everythingstraight at hand and not to search the web looking for some additional software. Everythingis already included into the package. With this package you can create MP3 files yourself,save them in the player memory or listen to them in your PC. And which is the most importantthing here: all this is hundred percent legal!
So, let us insert the CD into the CD-ROM drive and run the installation program. At first yousee a very beautiful intro telling you that the software you are trying to install is intendedfor the Internet music player, which seems to be quite logical.
The installation of MPIO Desk didn't take much time and caused no problems.
The supply includes MPIO Desk version 1.02. Actually, the info about FirmWare versionmakes us believe that it may be upgraded, which is another evidence of a very clever playerconstruction. Quite possible that MPIO would also support some other formats besides MP3 ifit suddenly turned out that this format was no longer dominating.
After the installation of MPIO Desk was finished, a corresponding icon appeared on theWindows98 desktop. Well, let's run the player manager.
Click the icon. Now we see a rather convenient and almost standard windowed interface ofthe program:
All the file operations doing with copying, moving, etc. can be carried out with a standarddrag'n'drop function. Note that we do not specify, what files are meant here, because MPIO Deskallows downloading all types of files into the player memory and uploading all files except MP3ones. If you try to upload an MP3 file from the player you'll get a message telling you thatyour actions are illegal and that the file won't be copied anywhere. Ok, very well, let's justforget it. The main thing is that all the other files can be extracted from the player memoryby means of the standard software, which implies that MPIO can also function as portable datastorage. Just in case you forgot: the player has 32MB integrated flash memory. Today it is thestandard memory size for an MP3 player. But life keeps going and we have every reason to expecta new standard - 64MB integrated memory - by this autumn already. By the way, the memory of thissize - 64MB - has been integrated into Rio 500, but it is not the only case. Our MPIO can bealso provided with 64MB integrated flash memory.
And now just a few words about a universal multimedia player JetAudio 4.5 from Cowon.
JetAudio is not a novelty, since we have already come across its first versions about ayear and a half ago. The interface is quite nice though the way it loads the play-list seemsto us a bit inconvenient. With this device you can play whatever you like: CD, MIDI, WAV, MP3,RealAudio, etc. The player is equipped with a built-in mixer, reverberator and equalizer. Italso supports CDDB. However, we were guided by absolutely different reasons when we decidedto mention this player in our review. The matter is that JetAudio also has a built-in DSP,and to be more exact this function is carried out by the system CPU and controlled byJetAudio software. The whole thing works quite nicely, believe us. The reverberator allowsapplying one of the following effects - reverb, flange, phaser, robot, etc. - while playingMP3 files. Besides, the sounding stereo base can be increased with 3D and Wide effects. So,we found this thing pretty funny, and which struck us as most cool - all effects were reallyworking without any special sound card. You can check the developer's site here: www.cowon.com
We would also like to point out that if you are a happy owner of Vortex2 based soundcard and you trust only VideoLogic drivers, JetAudio icon will automatically appear inyour sound card control panel.
Well, let's connect MPIO to LPT-port with a special interface cable and download somemusic in MP3 format:
As you see, 1.3Mbit/sec promised by the specs is bare reality.
Here we would like to draw your attention to one tangible inconvenience: theinterface cable is connected directly to the LPT-port, which makes it absolutelyimpossible to use the port for some other devices together with MPIO. Frankly speaking,there is an optional branch-adapter, which will be available separately for a few bucks(about $6) or may be included into a special MPIO player supply. However, we think thatthis device deserves being supplied with every standard MPIO package.
Now turn on the player. There is no special button intended directly for this purpose.All you need to do is just to press the Play button once. After that the LCD displaysthe name of the manufacturer-company - Daewoo - and the info concerning the installedmemory size (internal and external memory) and then MPIO starts playing the first track.During playback the song title and song artist are displayed in a moving line. All thesedata are taken from ID3-Tag. By the way, MPIO LCD display can boast 4 lines: 2 (thefirst two) segmented ones and 2 graphic ones.
And the first top line is devoted solely to the service info.
The second line also fulfills the informative function:
The third and the fourth lines display the following info:
Besides, if you change the regimes by pressing the MODE button, the display will tell youthe following things:
We almost bored you with such detailed description of all possible LCD display messageson purpose: now you have the fullest idea of what the MPIO display is capable of and you won'tever doubt that it's highly informative. We actually think that MPIO is already beyond all praisedue to this cool display only. However, there is still something to cavil at: no lighting.
During MP3 files or voice records playback you may use the already mentioned MODE button,which works as a functional button "A<->B" in this case. If you know something about Rio MP3player, you should be familiar with it: the first pressing marks the beginning of the fragmentand the second one - the end, and after that starts the continuous play of the selected fragment,i.e. you get a cycle. It may be of great use to you if you are trying to memorize the words ofyour favorite song or learning a foreign language. To erase your marks and to disable thecontinuous play, just press MODE button once again (the third pressing).
Tired of music? Want to turn it off? Easy as ABC! Press the Stop button. If MPIO was playingan MP3 file or a voice recorded track at that moment, you'll have to repeat this complicatedoperation and to press Stop once again. The display will tell you POWER OFF and the playerwill be off. Well, in our opinion MPIO could have had a "compulsory off" function, butunfortunately there is no such function and the battery gets weak too quick, as we see.
By the way, since we came to speak about the batteries, MPIO is powered by two AAA sizebatteries. Those two pieces, which were included into the package, lasted us for 3 minutes -what a disappointment! So, we had to scrape up some money and to buy a couple of new batteries -20 Russian rubles (about $0.75) each, and only after that we could relax for about 10 hourslistening to MP3 music and sipping beer. However, when the batteries got weak again and thebeer could still last us for another 10 hours, we sincerely wished MPIO also had an externalpower source.
Well, back to work. Let's download a few MP3 files and listen to the way they sound. Totell the truth the sound is not bad at all. The files are played at the bitrate of up to 256Kbit,as for the higher stream we haven't tried it yet, but who knows maybe it is also possible. Whileexperimenting with the bitrate values, we noticed one thing: if the file was recorded at thebitrate under 32Kbit, the screen displayed a completely wrong value. We were not very pleasedto find it out, but we don't think it is a grave drawback. It looks as if the engineers consideredlower bitrates less common for wide use and simply neglected them.
But a really pleasant surprise is still ahead. What d'you think it is? Well, it is the DSP(equalizer), which provides a very clearly noticeable difference if you change the regimes.The lower frequencies sound up to the mark, and despite usual cheap earphones you perceivethe slightest details and peculiarities of the sounding. As for control buttons, they arelocated pretty conveniently and your fingers will definitely feel at home at the front andside panels. The Forward and Rewind buttons fulfill double functions: if you press them once,you get to the next track, and press and hold leads to rewinding within the current track.Repeat is also a multifunctional button, which allows you to set the playback regime youprefer: with repeated tracks or random order, for instance. Besides, the player is alsoequipped with an irreplaceable Hold button preventing all other buttons from accidentalpressings. If you lock the buttons are locked when the player is switched off, you willfail to switch it on unless you unlock the buttons. Every time you try, you will get amessage telling you that the buttons are locked and the player will automatically get offright away.
MPIO player asks the user to choose the MP3 files he would like to start with: with thefiles stored in the external memory or with those from the internal memory, which is veryconvenient. Neither Rio, nor MPMan can boast the same feature, which saves us a lot of timeand trouble. MPIO memory can be expanded with standard SmartMedia flash cards. Now you can buy32MB SmartMedia cards and together with the internal memory of your MPIO you may get 64MB!Unfortunately, this memory will remain separated and won't be regarded by the device as asingle space, but it is more likely to be the memory peculiarity than a construction drawbackof the player.
We were happy to see that MPIO has a special belt hook similar to that of Rio. Very practical,don't you think so?
Due to the digital recording technology and playback you may be sure that your playerprovides you with perfect sounding no matter what kind of sport is your favorite: the soundwon't suffer any interrupts even the slightest ones. The device weighs less than 100 gramswith the batteries and doesn't hinder your movements. The heat, especially the oppressiveshinning of hot summer sun, is not a problem for MPIO. And the plastic case, which didn'tstrike us as antishock, is supposed to stand several accidental falls (not from the 20floor, of course! :-) ).
Of course we have also tested MPIO's voice recording function. The built-in microphoneprovides quite nice recording quality at the distance of about 50cm. The main disadvantagein this respect seems to be no option for external microphone connection. We can't make out what prevented the engineers from introducing a small slot for this very useful external device.The tracks recorded through the microphone as well as MP3 files stored in the player memory canbe easily deleted by pressing ERASE button for the selected pieces. This is undoubtedly a greatthing especially if you lack free memory space for an interview or for your personal thoughts.Just delete a couple of MP3 files and here you are - the so vitally important memory space isright at hand! To delete a file, which is no longer needed, you have to select it when playbackis stopped and press ERASE. There will appear a message: "ERASE OK?" If you agree, press theERASE button one more time, if not - press Stop. In other words, MPIO tries to somehow protectthe stored data from accidental deleting and some experiments of yours.
Note that voice recording is carried out only at 32Kbit stream. To activate the microphonerecording you need to switch to Voice regime and to press REC button. The recording starts. Allthe recorded files are highly compressed, which is proved by the info about the file sizedisplayed in a window of player manager MPIO Desk. The file is 9 times as small as the playermemory space saved for it. For example, an eighty-minute-long track takes 2.2MB according tothe manager, but in reality this file has over 18MB at its disposal. It is probably connectedwith the fact that all files should be decompressed before they are played, however, we arenot sure and it is none other than a guess.
To our great disappointment we failed to play the recorded track on the PC. The player copeswith this task just brilliantly, however, there is one really strange thing. When you play thetracks recorded through a microphone on MPIO the microphone remains on and with your earphoneson you can hear not only the record, but also the background noises, i.e. what is happeningaround you at the moment you're listening. We were puzzled to find it out, and you? Thoughto tell the truth this thing is not that disturbing, actually.
Oh yes, we were talking about playing the recorded files on the PC. Imagine that you recordeda voice letter through a microphone and saved it in MPIO memory. Then you made up your mind tomove this file to your PC HDD and to send it to a friend of yours by e-mail. But, your friendwon't hear either your furious shouting or insinuating whisper: he will be unable to play thefile on his home computer. Of course, theoretically, it is quite possible, but in this caseyou'll need a corresponding codec or a player with an integrated codec. As for us, we failedto find something of the kind, however, we managed to find out that the sound is recorded inan extremely compressed format - Audio 8 from SGI. The file is saved as a WAV, but the duringuploading in the status window you may see a different extension - SC4, though when uploadingis over, the file again appears as WAV on your HDD.
Driven by innocent curiosity we recorded a fragment of a song through a microphone (42 seconds)that's why you have every chance to test your skill now. Here is the file v_int_02.wav (165KB).Try to play it and we hope you wouldn't mind sharing your experience with us and all the restin our BBS.
The only way-out that occurred to us right away looks as follows: copy the recorded filefrom MPIO to PC with the help of a speaker-out on the player and line-in on the PC.
And now let's pass over to the third functional feature of MPIO, namely to itsnotebook regime.
In the MPIO Desk menu in the Tools section there is an item called Telephone Book. Infact it is a simple editor with a standard form to fill in: name and phone number. Then thisinfo is saved in a text file with extension TEL, and the file in its turn should be savedin MPIO memory. All the data becomes available only with TEL BOOK regime activated. WithForward and Rewind buttons you may select the name and the number you need. Actually this isquite convenient, however ERASE button doesn't work in the TEL BOOK regime. From now on yourMPIO will replace all your notebooks and electronic organizers: a universal means is right athand. The only thing you have to make is a text-file to store your info in, and go ahead!
Well, you probably think that now you know more about MPIO as anyone else? You are mistaken!Follow our story and you'll see...
Some sources let us know that there will be also another MPIO version with a built-in digitalFM-tuner. Cool! And frankly speaking they could have provided their standard version with anFM-tuner as well, no one would be against it, we think. And the player could appear a muchmore attractive purchase for most users. Just try to imagine that you installed an external32MB SmartMedia card and the overall memory made 64MB. This space would be enough for aboutan hour of MP3 music with 128Kbit bitrate. And now imagine that you decided to participatein a marathon, for instance it was a marathon or something else if you like, and it isevident that one hour wouldn't last you throughout the whole competition. You would hardlybe happy with one and the same disk or tape all the time. And this is exactly the case whenFM-tuner is the thing that would save the situation. Moreover, we dare suppose that most users,who never thought about buying an MP3 player, would finally decide on the player and an FM-tunerin one. In fact, FM-tuner adds quite a lot to the product's universality and hence to itspopularity. As we know for now, this device will cost about $12.00 more than the standardversion.
But it is not all. MPIO will be also provided with a special video module. Got interested?Well, this is very simple. You know what a digital camera is, don't you? Yes, exactly: optics,matrix and flash memory. As for flash memory MPIO has enough of it, and the processor canoperate the image taken by the matrix. The only thing, which is absent, is the matrix itselfand the focusing optics. So, the combination of all these things is the video module we'vementioned above. This module will be connected by means of the interface cable connector.Of course, the device like that won't be very cheap, but it will be much cheaper than a low-costdigital camera. As far as we know now, the price for this video module will be: $97 with 270,000pixels matrix, and $125 with 320,000 - 350,000 pixels matrix. 32MB flash memory will be enoughfor 100 frames in YcbCr format. The module will be also provided with an analogue video-outNTSC/PAL (by the way, and where is SECAM?), which will allow connecting the player to a TV-setor video-player. The expected dimensions of the module are: 90 (H) x 28 (L) x 18 (W) mm.
Well, as a result, you'll get not just a video camera for a reasonable price, but also an MP3player, digital dictaphone, pocket telephone book and FM-tuner. Looks very impressive, don't youthink so?
What made us think that MPIO belongs to the second generation of portable MP3 players?First of all, it is a full and highly informative LCD display. Only this small detail (comparedto the whole bunch of other features we've just discussed) deserves customers' attention andadmiration. Then, don't forget about the possibility to use this player as a digital voicerecorder: very convenient for interviewing and dictating. For example, if you are to copewith a mission like a famous FBI agent Fox Malder. :-)
And at last the third argument for MPIO: it serves as a telephone book and displays the requireddata on an LCD screen.
Besides, there is the whole lot of various pleasant trifles, such as file ERASE functionworking outside the computer, the possibility to start playback either from the files storedin the external memory or from those stored in the internal one.
And the finishing stroke to this picture is an excellent software set, which accompanies MPIO.This software allows downloading any files to the player memory, and uploading all the filesexcept MP3 music.
Note that MPIO provided with an FM-tuner looks much more attractive, that's why if you needa universal player, we would highly recommend particularly this model.
The possibility to expand your player with a video module is a great option for those, whofeel like buying a not very expensive digital camera as well. All you need to satisfy yourdesire is a video module.
And now a few comments on the things that could be a bit better:
Well, we have every right to state that MPIO leaves Diamond Rio PMP300 and Saehan MPMan F20far behind without any hope for rehabilitation. And there're no competitors, which could atleast attract MPIO's attention. The most probable competitor is Saehan MPMan F30, however,it is not available yet. And as for Diamond Rio 500 launched not so long ago, the only valuablething it can boast is 64MB integrated memory, which is quite a relative advantage, because theprice has also risen. Summing up all our attempts to compare the existing and planned for thenear future MP3 players we borrowed a comparative table from MSquare web-site and slightlymodified it. Take a look:
|Model||MPIO||Rio PMP300||Rio 500||MPMan F20||MPMan F30|
|Standard flash memory size||32MB||32MB||64MB||32MB||32MB|
|Expansion memory slot||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Track number display||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Playback time display||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Song title display||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Song artist display||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Batteries||2 x AAA||1 x AA||1 x AA||1 x AA||1 x AA|
|Dimensions, mm : WxHxD||65x88x17.2||66x92x18||66x92x18||70x91x18||68x94x17|
|Weight||74 g (without battery)||70 g||70 g||70 g (with battery)||70 g (without battery)|
|Options||FM-tuner, video module||No||No||No||No|
The only conclusion, that can be made here - MPIO is the best and this cool thing is alreadyavailable, so hurry up!
Well, now we are pretty sure that portable MP3 player MPIO from Daewoo perfectly copes withall the tasks as a player. Due to the absence of any moving parts and digital quality thesounding is just excellent and isn't interrupted: no noises, no interference. The built-inequalizer allows adjusting the player for every particular type of music extending thelower frequencies range if necessary. The LCD display is very informative and is one ofthe main arguments for MPIO's coolness if we compare it with the probable competitors.Besides, MPIO is also a digital dictaphone, which records voices and sounds through abuilt-in microphone, and an electronic telephone book, which also contributes to thepositive impression it makes on the public. The basic MPIO model costs about $150,quite expensive, eh? But at least the thing you get for this money will be much coolerthan a Rio PMP300 or MPMan F20. If we were you we would give our preferences to the expandedmodel with a built-in FM-tuner, and probably purchased a video module as well, which is agreat thing, actually. Ideally, MPIO could become the king of the market if the model withan FM-tuner cost $100 at the most - the sales volumes could simply jump up!
However, all we can do now is just be happy about the progress Daewoo managed to make in thefield of portable MP3 players and to wait for the new models and real competition to appear.Only cutthroat competition can force the prices to go down to some reasonable level.