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July 26, 2004

The Ultimate MP3 Player

About a year ago I decided to get off my a$$ and get back into shape. Since that time I've been looking for the perfect MP3 player to wear while I'm running or working out.

I first bought one of the armband MP3 players that were brought out by Nike/Phillips. I got it off EBay for cheap. I liked the armband and the rubberized case, but there were several problems. For one, it chewed through batteries like you wouldn't believe. I probably went through a new battery every two or three days. It also wouldn't take rechargeable batteries. Secondly, it only had 64 MB of memory, which translated into about an hour's worth of music. There wasn't a way to upon that either. There was no LCD screen except for on the remote control, and that dangled annoyingly from the earphone cord. Lastly, there was no shuffle feature. You listened to the same playlist in the same order over and over. I also think I had to flash upgrade the hardware to solve some minor bugs. After about a week I listed the player on Ebay and sold it back for the same amount I payed.

I waited a while and researched before buying another player. I wanted more memory and a better feature set. In my head I built the perfect player, but I couldn't find it on store shelves. Nike came out with an upgraded model of the PSA with more memory and an LCD, but still no way to expand the memory and it still wouldn't take rechargeable batteries. Judging from the cost of the unit, Nike was pretty proud of their accomplishment too.

After a few months of searching, I finally settled on the Rio Cali 128. It has several advantages over the Nike unit in that you can expand the memory and you can use rechargeable batteries. Battery life is leaps and bounds over the Nike even using standard batteries. I have about two hours of music on the thing, which is great for your average workout. I have to change the battery once every three or four weeks maybe. The controls are really simple to operate, even on the fly, which I appreciate. There are still limitations, however. For one, there still isn't a shuffle feature, which I just don't understand. It seems that it would be a simple software feature to add. For another, the armband doesn't attach directly to the unit, it attaches to a plastic holder. The unit tends to bounce out of the plastic holder when you encounter bumps in the pavement and I've dropped it more than once because of this. Thankfully it's a pretty rugged unit and I haven't managed to break it yet. Lastly, the earphones are a little cheap and the cord tends to get in the way. So I'm keeping my eye out for an upgrade.

In that spirit, I read "Put a Trainer in Your Pocket" on this afternoon and the new Nike/Phillips MP3Run seems like it might be getting closer to what I want. It's an MP3 Player and Pedometer that measures distance travelled and pace. It uses BlueTooth wireless technology to tie the Pedometer (clipped to the shoe) to the MP3 unit (worn on the arm). The data stored in the unit can be downloaded into a personal fitness Web site. That sounds pretty cool, but I'm thinking "Why can't it include a heart-rate monitor"? That would be perfect! And then I think "if the thing uses BlueTooth, why can't they ditch the earphone cord and have wireless earphones"? That would be even better. I hate the damn dangling cord. Of course, the unit includes an FM tuner and a stopwatch feature. (Ask me if I ever use those features on my current MP3 player. The answer is no. And I never will. Start including satellite radio and maybe I'll consider it.)

Of course, I went out looking for other units that might have the heart-rate monitor, and I found them. They just didn't measure pace or distance or any of that other stuff. The closest thing I found was the Timex BodyLink Speed and Distance System, which measures pretty much all your vitals. It just doesn't play MP3s. Figures.

So here's what I want: an MP3 player that has about two hours worth of capacity, a shuffle feature, rechargeable batteries, easy to access and use controls, extreme portability, WIRELESS EARPHONES (MP3 players are so small these days I can't for the life of me figure out why someone hasn't built the entire set into the earphones, like the old Sony Walkman Radio Earphones.) with a set of controls I can wear like a watch on my wrist or arm. Throw in a heart-rate monitor, calorie tracker and pedometer features and I'll buy it.

I don't know why it's so hard to figure out how to put all this stuff in one unit. I suspect that the product engineers aren't the ones that are actually using the products. I suspect what they're doing is eating donuts trying to figure out what fit people would like in an MP3 player/workout tracker. Maybe you can't include all the features and still get to the right price-point. I suspect I wouldn't pay more than $200 bucks for a unit that did have it all. Maybe the technology just isn't there to make the unit small enough, but I doubt that.

I suspect if I wait one more year, something like this will be out there. I don't expect it will have wireless earphones, which is the thing I covet most. Until then, I'll keep my Cali.

Posted by Kehaar at July 26, 2004 05:11 PM | TrackBack
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I don't know of any setup that currently has all of those features, but...

Do you still have those Sony Walkman Radio Earphones? Can they be adjusted to a standard frequency? Because I know that you can get little radio broadcasters for the iPod and iPod Mini that broadcast from the headphone jack - I'm pretty sure they'd work with your Rio (though don't hold me to it.)

The heartrate monitor and calorie tracker features are something else, though. Don't be afraid to write the manufacturers to say what you'd like; they appreciate direct inout (if they think it's a good idea, otherwise they bitch about wastes of time. :) )

Posted by: B. Durbin at August 2, 2004 09:11 PM

Great comments! I agree 100% with the comments re: what a MP3 player should have. Samsung came close but forgot about the quality. Nike should be able to do it. Anyway, if/ when you find the MP3, bluetooth, pedometer, heart monitor on the market, plese let me know. Also, these days i'd expect >512MB to amke it worthwhile.

Posted by: Craig Morrison at February 13, 2005 09:23 AM
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