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Product Review: MP3 Player For The Car

Several months ago I purchased an MP3 player for my car because I’m too cheap for satellite radio but grew tired of all the commercials on the normal radio. Even though my daily commute is only about 15-20 minutes each way, it seemed like there was much more “peel” than “fruit.”

Since our house is pretty small, a computer is always handy if I want to listen to MP3s at home. If I’m running, I take my small water-resistant Rio Cali MP3 player with me. The only remaining place was the car, and I didn’t want to replace the built-in stereo.

To recap (and further define) my requirements, the player needed to:

    • Be an inexpensive way to listen to MP3s in the car
    • Use no batteries
    • Offer maximum functionality for the price
    • Allow quick and easy switching of music

After looking around for several months — I was in no real hurry — I came across a promising product at Cyber Guys priced at roughly $55. Theirs is a fun online store (at least for us tight-wad computer geeks) that carries a broad array of gadgets, gizmos, and computer accessories. Here’s a link to the MP3 player on the CyberGuys.com website.

Like any product or device there are pros and cons, but I’m relatively pleased with how well this MP3 player addresses my needs. Here’s a quick break down.

Pluses:

    • Inexpensive car MP3 player. You can’t get much cheaper than this product, and it had a couple of features beyond what I decided were absolutely necessary which I’ll detail below.
    • Cigarette lighter powered. No batteries necessary.
    • Compatible with standard storage. The device allows you to plug in a Secure Digital card or USB flash drive which makes it cheap and easy to change the music you’re listening to. For $13 you can get this card reader for SD cards. I purchased it and I’ve been very happy with it.
    • LCD screen. I’m pleased that it has one because you have a better idea as to what song you’re playing. It also assigns a number to each track and displays that just before playing it. That allows you to easily get back to a song that you like.
    • Cheap looking. You might think that’s a bad thing, but I hate leaving expensive-looking items in plain view in my car. If I were a thief trying to decide whether or not this device was worth stealing, I think I’d probably wonder what it was and decide that it wasn’t worth breaking a window for. That appearance means I don’t take it pull it out of the cigarette lighter when I park and lock my car.
    • Audio in. Though I haven’t had a reason to try it yet, it has a jack that allows you to plug in a cable to connect any other audio source. I believe that it accepts a small male stereo jack (like on the end of a pair of headphones).

Minuses:

    • Small LCD screen. I specifically selected this model over the lower models for this feature. It’s a nice feature, but it’s so small (and my cigarette lighter is so badly positioned) that I can only look at it safely if I’m fully stopped.
    • No fast forward or rewind. You can skip full tracks, but you can’t search within a track. If you were hoping to use this device to listen to podcasts, this is a critical flaw. Every time the device regains power it starts back over on the track that you were listening to, even if you were one second from the end of that track.
    • FM transmitter quirks. This may be more a function of the technology of FM transmitters than a shortcoming of this specific device, but occasionally I have trouble getting a good signal. A changing mix of radio stations on my commute is also possibly to blame because static on one frequency in one location may morph into a strong radio signal somewhere down the road.
    • Occasional slow startup. It’s odd (and may be related to the speed of the USB flash drive) but I’ll sometimes startup the car and drive for several minutes before the dang thing starts to play any music. I haven’t detected any real pattern, though having it set to shuffle the tracks may also have an impact.
    • Random can mean slow. Sometimes it takes several seconds to switch songs when it’s set to play in a random order.
    • No advanced features. I haven’t had a chance to try anything too advanced, but I don’t believe that it supports MP3 play lists or a hierarchical directory structure for organizing your music. You pretty much play the songs in the order it wants to or you hit shuffle and the playback is a little more random.

I don’t have a scale on which I’ll rate this device but I can tell you that it essentially met my expectations for a no-frills way to listen to MP3s in the car. Given the same circumstances I’d repurchase this device, especially because I already had SD cards and USB flash drives.

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