I have wanted a small MP3 player for sometime now. After unfortunately sitting on an airplane with nothing to listen too and nothing to do, I knew it was time to make an acquisition. I have gone back and forth about getting an iPod and in the end, I decided to look at other possibilities.
I wanted my MP3 player to be as small as possible and I wanted it to have a very simple battery option (preferably rechargeable or disposable AA/AAA). So with that in mind, I ruled out in one-way or another, a CD or MD player. It also ruled out the iPod because my main issue with the iPod is with the fact that I carry way too much stuff as it is when I travel so I didn’t want another device that needed to travel with another charger. Since I carry a AA/AAA recharger for the DSC-U20, I thought that something which uses this might be an option.
After careful consideration, I decided to look into the Korean makers who were coming up with some really nice models. The Digitalway MPIO models were particularly nice and I knew they were available here. So after doing some investigative work, I went down to the store and settled on the FL100. The main swing-factor was that it encompassed both an internal memory as well as an SD/MMC card option. It also looked great.
The FL100 is particularly nice because of its design. Without even starting on how amazingly light and small the player is, the FL100 has to be one of the best-looking MP3 players in the market. I especially like the mirror/reflective surface on the face of the player – it really makes it look outstanding. In addition, the 3 line LCD is stunning with its bright display. The brilliant blue LED backlighting is a also a really nice touch that makes it stand out.
One complaint I have is that the FL100 does not have a uniform face depending on what country you are in. In Hong Kong where I bought mine, there are these big JNC letters stamped on the upper left of the face. Strangely enough, everywhere else has the non-JNC stamping which means the cover is plain. I prefer the sleek looking face without the big JNC letters, but this is a minor aesthetic issue.
I like the use of the dial like button which fast-forwards and rewinds songs – very similar to Sony products. The other buttons are well placed, in particular the big play button on the face. The reason I bring the buttons is that it’s not that easy to accidently hit stop or fast forward without putting the machine on hold. This can be a slightly annoying problem if you’re not careful. The SD card slot is also well designed and placed at the bottom in a well enclosed slot which simply flips open and close. I also really liked the cover of the US port which ‘flips’ open. I was never a fan of devices that used rubber like covers to protect USB ports – these always broke or tore off, so it was a good thing that the FL100 uses its own flip closure.
As an MP3 player, the FL100 does extremely well. It plays back MP3 songs with relative ease and with good quality. Again, the key determinant of the quality of the sound is the quality of the recording. The MP3 player can only sound as good as the recording. 128kbps recordings don’t sound nearly as good as 256kbps recordings on the FL100 as expected. Still, in general, as far as playback goes, it’s all very good. I particularly like the different equalizer settings which do work well to enhance the sound. In addition, the volume levels are more than adequate to satisfy most people, especially with better quality recordings. Some 128kbps recordings do sound pretty horrible at louder volumes. All in all, the FL100 does very well at its primary function of playing MP3 files.
You get several options in terms of memory. First, the FL100 comes with 128MB or 256MB (also a 64MB version though this was no longer sold where I bought mine). I chose the 128MB model because I thought I could always just add more memory through an SD card. Boy was that a mistake. My advice to anyone that decides on getting a FL100 is to pay the extra US$40 or so for the extra 128MB. I am only a fan of MP3 recordings that are made at high quality levels (>256kbps) as that’s the only way that MP3 sounds even decent. 128MB can fill up really fast when some songs take up 9MB. I’m upset with myself because I could really have used the extra space. That’s not the fault of the FL100 but just a quick buying guide for those of you out there.
I guess I shouldn’t really complain because in addition to the internal memory, the FL100 also accepts SD/MMC cards which is great for expanding its capacity. I have a 128MB SD card from my Minolta digital camera so I used that and it was easy to read. One word of advice, I had a little bit of an issue with formatting the card because I stupidly selected the PC to format the SD card with FAT32 instead of just FAT sectors. Anyway, to make a long story short, the FL100 did not read my SD card at first, but I fixed this by formatting the SD card on a PC to FAT sectors. Compatibility issues are important.
You get a lot of different controls within the menu function that lets you control everything from erasing files, repeating songs, to selecting different languages. The menus are very functional and easy to navigate. One interesting aspect is that you can make different folders to better organize your music. But with limited memory, you’ll probably change the music pretty often so what’s really the point?
The software that comes with the FL100 is designed simply for transferring files. It is rather simplistic, which is actually kind of nice. Realplayer is included though I didn’t bother to install it. FYI, the player can also take WMA format files so this makes it pretty friendly to different music types. The software also comes with a very cool function that upgrades the firmware of the device. Thus far, even though I have tried, I have not had much need or even been able to find an upgrade for the firmware. Anyway, it’s nice that they thought about it.
I should add that the FL100 can actually act as a memory disk if you really want it to. The main hindrance that I found is that it needs the MPIO software installed to be able to transfer files back and forth. I could be wrong, but I could not get my computer to recognize the FL100 as another drive or disk. Still if you need, you can download files onto its memory or SD slot and move it between different sources. Not really what I bought the FL100 for so its not an issue to me.
The FL100 also has a built in radio and voice recording functions. You can even record FM radio as I understand though I didn’t try this. Both of these are not functions that I would really ever use, but I did try the voice recording. It was reasonably clear and was pretty easy to use. If this is important, then you’ll be happy.
The FL100 does go through batteries pretty quickly. I get through at least one rechargeable AAA battery during about 1 day of usage in my office. You get more power out of a good Duracell AAA battery but the rechargeable AAA is easy enough to recharge. I disagree with the company’s assertion of 11 hours, it’s closer to 6-8.
So at the end of the day, what’s the verdict? Well if you want a small MP3 player… look no further. This is it, the ESSENTIAL MP3 player to date. It is small, light, takes regular batteries, has solid sound, and is expandable through the SD slot. At just over US$200 I guess it’s not cheap, but I still think this is something I would highly recommend right now. I believe the iPod is almost a completely different type of device so I’m not drawing any comparisons. Versus, other MP3 devices like USB keys and other comparable models, I think this one is your best choice.