A Week with the Coby PMP-3522

August 29, 2009

Given the troubles I talked about last week with my MP3 player, I decided to break down Monday and go to J&R to investigate Coby‘s PMP-3522. They actually had one on display with some battery power left that I was able to try out before I  bought it. I was pretty impressed with it on the floor, but it had no price on it. I figured this would be the beginning of disaster, but I had my printout of the website price and was ready to defend my position if necessary. I found a sales clerk pretty quickly and asked for a price check. He told me it was $70, and I said I would take it.

I took it home and the first thing that impressed me was the sheer amount of cabling that was included. Most players try to nickel and dime you to get the additional cabling you need to actually use the product. This item came with no less than 5 cables and that’s not including the headphones that were included. The other thing I was pleased to see is that the USB was a standard mini-USB plug-in. This is a pretty common standard and I already have a couple of these cables lying around, so that was nice to see. The output cables seem proprietary, but I don’t plan on using these very much anyway.

The player itself has an impressive large touch screen, and a tucked away stylus to use on it. Movie playback is a joy. I watched The Princess Bride on it and it was a very nice experience. The quality of the output is very good and the sound was great.

This also applied to the audio I listened to. It all came across very nicely and some of the podcasts I listened to sounded better than on my previous player. Both audio and video players can remember where you last left off on the movie or audio you were on, so when you turn it back on, you can pick it up again.

The FM tuner was pretty good. It had a nice scan function that scanned the dial and marked the frequencies that had a quality connection. It was very easy to flip between stations. You do have to use headphones with the FM Radio as they serve as the antenna. Reception was acceptable but not stellar.

The games that come with this are not very good. If you are intending to get this for game play functionality, forget it. The 200+ word dictionary is good when you want to pronounce a word you know how to spell, but it is less good for spelling words you can’t remember how to spell. It has no spell check functions or anything to help in those situations.

The e-book reader, calculator and most oddly paint software are all adequate, but I don’t foresee myself using these features very often.

The battery life on this is pretty impressive. In watching The Princess Bride, I used the external speaker and turned up the brightness levels and still had significant battery power left after the credits rolled. I’m hopefully that the battery life for this item will continue, but since it is detachable, you could buy a new one to replace it.

Now, I will mention some of the problems that I’ve had with the player. Certain podcasts, for no observable reason that I’ve noticed, cause the player to crash. It also took a few tries to get the right format of videos playing from DVDs I  had ripped. The instruction list a wide variety of formats that the player plays in, but I did have some trouble with some of them. Sometimes no video would be displayed and sometimes no sound. I did eventually find a reliable format, and when I did the movies ran very well. Just be sure to have a good conversion program at the ready. The conversion program provided by Coby did not run in Vista, but seemed to work fine in Windows XP. There are many fine conversion programs out there though. I’ve been using Handbrake for a while.

Amazingly, this item is completely incompatible with an Intel Mac. It won’t even see the player as a portable hard drive, which is quite a disappointment. It’s not a deal-breaker for me, but is something you should be aware of.

Overall, I’m very impressed with this unit for the price I got it at. I wouldn’t pay it’s retail price of over $300, but for $70 it has a lot of functionality at a good quality.

Any questions on my review? Leave a comment here.

UPDATE: Since the time I bought this, it has been removed from J&R’s website. It is still available at Amazon, but either direct for over $300 or from a re-seller for about $150. At those prices, you are probably paying too much, but you may want to keep your eyes open to see if the price comes down again.

An MP3 Casualty of Vacation

August 23, 2009

I had a wonderful time on my vacation, but there was a bit of a tragedy as I lost my Creative Zan Nano Plus 1GB MP3 player. It’s a shame because I had gotten such a great deal on it during the CompUSA liquidation. The price for it now is around double of what I had paid two years ago.

Without another liquidation on the horizon, I decided to do a search for some of the best values around, as we like to do here on Techeap.

Everyone’s search is going to depend on their selected criteria and what they are looking for an MP3 player to do. My main use for this is primarily podcasts, and I rotate through those pretty quickly. Therefore, I don’t need a large amount of storage space, so I’m looking for other features to tip the balance. I’ve also considered adding on video, so I can start to catch the video content that is floating out there on the web.

Here’s the list of things I’m looking to find.

  • At least 1GB for audio (5GB for video)
  • FM Tuning (and preferably recording)
  • Voice Recording (I sometimes like to make little notes for myself)
  • At least 12 hours of battery life
  • Having an expandable SD card slot would be a big plus

Here are some of the items that I found.

With those things in mind, here’s what I found.

Coby seems to lead the way with selection for value-minded customers. Reviews across the net to seem to indicate that there are some lemons, but the people who have gotten their working seem to be pretty happy with them.

First up are a link from 6th Avenue Electronics. I should note that while these links don’t have the absolute rock-bottom prices. I have dealt with this store before, and I like the format of their spec sheets. It’s definitely worthwhile to look elsewhere after reading about them here.

Coby MPC-694 was a nice baseline for me to work from. For about 30 bucks, this item had basically everything that I was looking for except for video playback. The reviews I had found though confirmed my suspicions that it had a very light feel and seems to be prone to scratching.

SanDisk Sansa Clip 1GB has a very nice aesthetic and spectacular reviews. The worst thing people said about it is that a few had bad batteries and some times the clip broke off. It was about the same price for about half the memory and a few other features missing, but the reputation did mean something.

I didn’t realize how expensive it would be to add video to an MP3 players. Most of the items that played anything resembling a standard format like AVI or MPG were all well into the $100 range.

Finally, I came across another selection by Colby that really impressed me.

Coby PMP-3522 had a list price of over $300, but with a ticket price at $70, they certainly had my attention. There are, however, very few reviews for this item. The good news is, however, the Amazon re-seller is actually a local business for me, so I’m going to go check it out in person before making any decisions.

I’ll keep you posted of the results here. I should mention that I did actually consider the iPods, including the Touch, which has a great amount of functionality beyond that of an MP3 player, but the Apple tax just put them completely out of my price range.

What do you think the best value in this market is? Leave some thoughts in the comments.

Vacations Away

August 16, 2009

This is just a short post to let you know that I’m away and on vacation this week. I’ll be back with more Techeap next week.

Give Voice to the Google-less

August 8, 2009

After a prolonged wait, I finally got my invitation to try out Google Voice. While not without its quirks, it offers a lot of functionality with relative ease of use.

Google Voice issues you a new phone number which you can attack to land line or cell phones. You can actually use the service to ring all of your phones at once if someone is trying to reach you. People can dial the Google Voice number and it will automatically forward the call. The next thing that happens is when the phone rings, Google Voice will try to ID the person who is calling you to see if you want to accept the call.

This is where one of those quirks comes in. I  found that you did not have a very long time to make a decision and find the number that coordinated with the option that you wanted. If you use the line a lot, you’ll get over that issue, but it will take some practice. If you elect to take the call at any time in the conversation you can hit the ‘4’ key and have it record the rest of the conversation. It will take this call and automatically forward the recording as an mp3 to the e-mail you have linked with your account, or you can change to setting to just let it live in the Google Voice account.

Next, if you don’t want to take the call, you can send it to voice mail. This time Google Voice will attempt a speech to text translation and e-mail that to you. Like all speech-to-text, it bungles a lot of it up, but it can give you a solid idea of what the person was trying to pass along. Just don’t count on it to get detail like addresses and phone numbers correct. The voicemail is also recorded and becomes downloadable as an mp3.

The last main feature is the calling and SMS feature. From the Google Voice page, you can initiate a free call between your Google Voice attached phone and any number in the US. I found the connection process was a bit slow, but once you were  connected the quality was surprisingly good. VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) has certainly come a long way from the old days. You are also supposed to be able to send SMS messages to any number, but I had some problems with this and a couple of my test messages never got through. Unlike a phone call, it’s hard to verify if texts have gone through, so you might use this feature with caution.

Overall, I’m very impressed with the service, especially considering that you get it all for free. However, to use it you have to get invited by Google and I had signed up over 6 months ago before finally getting my service recently. So if you are interested, get yourself on the list now, and you might get invited by Christmas.

Google has announced an automatic invitation service for members of the military. That is, people with .mil e-mail addresses. This is a nice touch and I think people in the military overseas can really use this to get audio messages from their friends and family members in this country.

I do have to mention that using this service could potentially give Google a lot of information about you. I would check out their privacy policy before you sign-up, just to make sure you are comfortable with how they are using your information.

Have you used the service? Think you might sign up? Let me know in the comments.