Thursday, July 5, 2007

New LED Touchbutton MP4 Digital Media Player, 2.4 inch screen

MP4 and MP3 players from China are looking better and better, and more and more different ones, with some unique styles (and plenty of clone ones too!) are becoming available. I was browsing the Blogosphere today, and on Technorati I ran across the blog for ChinaVasion, a wholesale import company selling all kinds of Chinese electronics and whatnot. On their blog, Wholesale Electronics, they just announced a new digital media player they will be carrying, a LED Touchbutton MP4 Digital MP4 Media player, with a nice big 2.4 inch screen. It's a new release, at least for ChinaVasion, but it looks at least a bit similar to many other models available online, be it from eBay or other online retailers.

According to ChinaVasions wholesale bog website, this touch button MP4 digital media player features not only a big 2.4 inch screen, but also allows videos to be played in .AVI format, a nice change from many smaller clone players that only play as .AMV or .MTV, two video formats for MP4 players that are decidedly not as high in quality as a .AVI file. This player also supports the audio files MP3 and WMA, two popular audio file types. It doesn't (at least from how it is advertised) support the very popular iPod music format, but I do not know of any non-iPod players, even clone players, that support this music format. Of course, you can always convert your music over to the format of your choice if you have an mp4/mp3 converter program that will convert such audio files.

The headphone jack is apparently 3.5mm, which is very good-many older Chinese MP4 and MP3 models only had 2.5mm headphone jacks, which do not fit normal headphones used commonly in the United States of America. The MP4 player holds 4GB, and ChinaVasion is selling it for roughly $80, although the price drops if you buy a bulk lot (I don't know why you would, unless you are planning on selling them back online or to your friends). The screenshots of it and its firmware look terribly decent, although not as slick as the fantastic looking Meizu digital media player, which has even impressed the tech powerhouse review website CNET with its functions and price.

Overall, I'd say that this new model being advertised by ChinaVasion looks pretty decent, and has an ok price for a 4GB model. It definitely looks like the Meizu, or some of the current Zune/iPod models out there, but it's not close enough to be called an exact MP4 clone player, like some Nano Clone models. I'd love to get my hands on this MP4 video player to review it, and if I do, I'll certainly post a comprehensive review. Let me note, in closing, that I have not ordered from ChinaVasion before, and I do not know how their service is.

Supporting links:

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The iPod Nano Clone Part 2

The iPod Nano MP4 2GB clone we received came in a small package, nothing fancy, along with headphones, a CD (for Drivers and Video AMV converter), a USB cord, and a wall charger. The USB cable for the MP4 player was pretty poor quality, and our computer didn't recognize it, but we had an extra USB cable from a digital video camera that worked. The drivers on the CD weren't needed, as we had Windows XP, and the computer automatically recognized the device once the USB cable was connected. Loading music was accomplished by just adding a Music folder into the device by going through My Computer to access it. First off, we checked the device using MP3 Player Utilities programto find out if it was truly 2GB, and it was, so we didn't have a hacked player (Whew!)

The MP4 player came with two videos preloaded onto it, one song, and a few pictures. The videos on the iPod clone 2GB MP4 player worked fine, and didn't exhibit much 'ghosting', the song sounded fine, and the pictures were easy to find. However, at first it was somewhat difficult to navigate the MP4 player's firmware, and browse between different functions, but this was accomplished after getting the hang of the MP4 player.

From the outside, it is hard to tell the iPod Nano Clone MP4 we received, and a real iPod Nano, apart at first glance. We compared a real Nano with our model, and a few things stood out. First, the screen on our MP4 player is 1.8 inches, larger than the small 1.5 inch screen on the real Nano. The players weigh about the same amount, but the clone player has a USB port on the bottom, while the real Nano has a connection point to mount it onto a charging and syncing dock. Besides that, they look basically the same, and most people probably wouldn't be able to tell them apart. True iPod's have a 'click' wheel on the front that is used to scroll between selections. This iPod Nano clone has wheel that looks exactly the same, but it does not work for scrolling. Instead, it functions with a push-button function, a 'push-click' like method.

The CD also came with a MP4 video conversion tool program, but it did not work. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, this wasn't too much of a hassle, as we found a great MP4 video converter called AMV Converter that would convert .AVI and other files to the needed .AMV format to play.

While we are on the subject of videos, let’ talk about how these players play videos. MP3 players do not play videos, like the iPod Nano or iRiver H10, and only play music. MP4 players play both music and videos, although the video file format differs for different MP4 players. The cheapest MP4 players only play a video format called .MTV, and it is supposedly very low in quality. Most MP4 players, though, play a video format called .AMV, which is higher in quality in than .MTV, and is more widely used than .MTV. The clone player we bought off of eBay was advertised as playing only .MTV format, but it ended up playing .AMV format fine. Finally, some of the newer MP4 players coming out of China, and other countries can play .AVI and other more common video formats without having to convert them, and are quite high quality according to reports.

Back to our MP4 iPod Clone player-after fiddling around with it, we were able to navigate it with ease, add and view videos, photos, and listen to music. Videos play fine, but don’t expect high-definition quality, or anything of that sort. Subtitles are pretty much impossible to read, so don’t buy a Nano Clone MP4 player if you are looking for a portable Anime player. The only problem we still haven’t been able to figure out on the MP4 player is how to prevent the player’s built in date and time stamp from refreshing every time the MP4 Nano clone player was turned off.

The player’s background and it’s “firmware’ (the browsing system to select from different types of media in the player) is probably the most tricky part. People who aren’t too technologically savvy will probably have a difficult time figuring out the player, as the included instructions aren’t much help (written in poor, broken English). Others who are used to simply booting up iTunes and loading up their music files to their iPod will probably have a harder time figuring out how to load music onto an MP4 player. However, it’s really not too hard to load music, videos, and pictures to the MP4 player, as it works similar to a USB flash drive.

This mini-review of the firmware and browser wouldn't be complete without mentioning the player’s graphics. They are somewhat harsh and garish compared to the iPods sleek navigation system, and don’t look anywhere as nice. However, they are easy to understand (100% real English, plus other languages that may be selected from), and, they can be replaced (although this is a risky step!) with your own background images by editing the firmware with software available online (be careful doing this though, and make sure to back-up your MP4 firmware before trying this).

All in all, this little iPod Nano 2GB Clone Player works quite well, especially for its cost. My friend is really happy with his device, and has loaded a lot of music, videos, and pictures to the MP4 player. For about $40, he has received a 2GB MP3 player that looks almost exactly like a Nano, but has a bigger screen and plays videos. It can be a little difficult to navigate and figure out in the beginning, but it is truly worth it, as my friend will tell you. If you are looking for a low-cost alternative to most MP3 and video players, and are willing to figure a MP4 player out, then look into these awesome little MP4 players.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Part 1: The iPod Nano 2GB Clone Review

It feels like just yesterday I bought an iPod Nano MP3 clone MP4 player off of eBay. In fact, it was several weeks ago that I bought this MP4 player, but I’ve since then become really interested in the “other side” of the portable media and audio business. Before I confuse anyone, let me explain what I mean when referring to the “other side” in regards to iPods, Zune, iRiver, and other digital media players, both MP4 and MP3.

I was searching on eBay for a good deal on a real iPod Nano 2GB model. As expected, eBay will save you a few dollars here and there on these name brand iPod models, but it’s really hard to find an incredible bargain, although these do exist. Imagine my surprise when I came across what looked like an iPod 2GB for only $40! After some more careful searching, I found that it wasn’t a real iPod, but a clone that looked exactly like the Nano, and that it supposedly played not only MP3 and other audio files like the real Nano, but that it also played videos (hence the name MP4), and had a larger screen. Excited, but still skeptical, I did my research through search engines like Blingo, and looked more for these MP4 players on eBay.

It turns out that there are many, many MP4 and MP3 players, some clones, and some just unique models. Most people only know of a few companies that make these media players, like iRiver, Zune, Sandisk, and, of course, the over-hyped iPods from Apple. However, many of the clone models, and other models sold on eBay and online are from smaller Asian companies, many of which are made in China, alongside real Apple iPods in factories. They (the small companies MP3 and MP4 players) cost less than larger brand-name companies models, but often have a wide range of features.

Digging a little deeper online, I searched for reviews of these MP4 players, and found very few. Few tech websites even talked about these clone models, although I was able to scrounge up a few reviews on some blogs. Finally, I came across a couple of helpful MP4 and MP3 player forums for these ‘China Players” and found more reviews.

Some reviews I read decried these cheap MP3 and MP4 players for being too hard to use, nowhere near the simplicity of most popular media players like iPods, and simply being pieces of cheap trash. However, the reviews on the media player forums like MyMpxPlayer were generally pretty positive, as most reviewers understood how these MP4 and MP3 models worked, and weren’t expecting something exactly like an iPod or an iRiver. One of the biggest complaints people had was that their purchased player wasn’t really the 4GB or 2GB they were promised, and instead it was only 512MB or 1GB. It turns out that some untrustworthy sellers had ‘hacked’ their MP4 players to show that they had a larger capacity than they really had, and that this wouldn’t become apparent until after files were loaded onto the MP4 or MP3 player. However, there were many sellers selling real, legit models, and some of these eBay sellers were recommended to me by users of MyMpxPlayer.

I’m always one to look for a good deal, and, while my friend wanted a real iPod, I was really intrigued by many of these cheaper Asian media player models. I already owned an iRiver H10 5GB MP3 player, but the siren call of the video playing iPod Nano clone MP4 players was becoming stronger by the day. Frankly, I don’t care at all (well, not much) about brand names, and I’d rather save money than spend more just have the name ‘iPod.’ However, I was still really hesitant to buy one, as I didn’t want to have to deal with returning an item to an eBay seller from Hong Kong, where most of the players are sold from. Remember, Asia is awash in electronics, some amazing and much more advanced than tech gear in many Western nations, but some poorly constructed and of shoddy quality.

Finally, another friend who was interested in getting an MP3 player heard about these models, and asked me to help him. I did some more research, and found several ones that he was interested in on eBay. I told him about the problems some people had to work with when buying one of these players, but he was fine with it, and asked if I could purchase one on eBay for him. I found a seller with good feedback, and that was recommended by others from the MP4 forums, and found a 2GB Black Nano-style MP4 player for only $40. Keep in mind that an iPod 2GB Nano from Apple will cost about $130+. I purchased this MP4 model, and eagerly awaited its arrival. Estimated delivery was about 7-14 days, although we were warned it could take longer. After exactly 7 days, we received the MP4 player, in our USPS mail.

What happened next? Did the player work? Was it good quality? How do videos look on it? All these questions, and more, will be answered in Part 2. Stick around!