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out of 5 starsAn excellent but slightly quirky little player.
Reviewed in the United States on December 3,
Article Update History:
I wrote this on 3 December on Amazon and found it was propagating around the internet on a few other sites. I left a few article-improving comments on Amazon, which weren't propagating. So, in the spirit of full disclosure and improving humanity a little bit, I added an "Addendums" section which has the four addendum comments. For those of you reading this on Amazon, you'll see the addendum repeated in the comments. For those of you reading from a downstream mirror or copy, enjoy the additional information. Also, the dollar figures here are in USD. Prices vary around the world and from different suppliers. Also, I compare the MobiBlu DAHi quite a bit because the Digi-Block is a clone of the 'i and I own and enjoy both machines, sometimes side-by-side! For operating system connectivity, I use Linux and Mac OS simultaneously (they're clustered--Linux is the lead OS); I rarely use Windows except when compatibility obligates me to do so--and then do so under Linux. Windows's behavior with music and multimedia is slightly surreal, obfuscated, and restrictive compared to Linux's and Mac OS's straightforward manner.
Ed Smith (esmith), 20 Dec
The Digi-Block 2GB MP3/WMA player is for all intents a slightly inferior but completely serviceable clone of the Hyun Won MobiBlu DAHi. The player is pretty good, plays MP3, WMA, and WAV (a.k.a. "VOC") files, has built in equalization presets, a greenish OLED display, and like the MobiBlu fits into a one inch cube. Like the MobiBlu it charges through the the earphone jack with a special four-conductor 1/8" to USB adaptor or adapting cable. However, unlike the MobiBlu, it has no radio function and comes standard with 2GB of flash RAM.
The audio playback quality is excellent, the display clear and readable in moderate to no light, the controls are very easy to use and understandable.
The Digi-Block comes with a set of headphones built-into a white nylon-corded lanyard with the Digi-Block itself being a pendant on the lanyard. The bud earphones are integrated into the lanyard and are of fair but very usable audio quality. Audio quality is comparable to other good MP3 players with better earphones or headphones or patched into external computer speakers or audio amplifiers. Electronic noise from the system is undetectable with the supplied earphones and is very nearly inaudible with high-sensitivity earphones and external amplifiers.
The player competently plays MP3, WAV, WMA, and WMADRM audio files. The MP3 files are fully usable up to around kbps. The WMA files worked at kps (the highest speeds I had) without any problems. The WAV files, noted as "VOC" files, worked perfectly in all modes up through kbps. (In my work, I could not test the WMADRM functionality as I have no DRMed media anywhere in my domain.)
All of the files sounded good to my ear, but the highest sound quality can be achieved by kbps WAV files (identified as "VOC" files on the display), which are essentially waveform-identical to a standard CD. However, WAV files consume nearly ten times the space of a MP3 or WMA file, with a four minute song consuming up to around 40 MB of space. The WAV/VOC files also have an advantage in they have the lowest audio-render processing requirements, leading to menu access/navigation and other functions in the Digi-Cube being quickly responsive and trouble-free.
The menu functionality consists of EQ modes, power savings modes, play mode (once-through, repeat), firmware version, file deletion, music player, and audio recording. The menu is simple and lightly nested and works intuitively and easily.
Audio recording is through a built in microphone at the bottom left of the case. Audio quality is monophonic and low, with approximately the same quality as a mushy-audio telephone. It's fine for dictation of clear speech near the microphone, but not very good for any other purpose.
When connected to a computer, the Digi-Block appears as a flash drive and can accept any kind of file. (On mine for example, I added all of the files for a Cube-specific file-accessable web site--however the Digi-block cannot act as a web server per se.) While it can accept any format of file, it can only play MP3, WAV, and WMA formats, with the decode-intensive MP3 and WMA files only usable up to below kbps and WAV files usable up to kbps. While accepting file activity from the host computer, the display of the Digi-Block indicates "Reading" and "Writting" (they misspelled "writing") as appropriate. Also, the Digi-Block can be reformatted to any type of filesystem, but will only function if the Flash-based filesystem is FAT16 ("FAT16" for MacOS's Disk Utility, and "FAT" for Linux's mkfs and Windows's Format functionality). The file tree created on the Flash drive is navigable on the Digi-Block's display.
The internal operating system of the Digi-Block MP3 player has a simple multitasking system spread between the console (display and buttons) and audio rendering processes. The audio has an apparent higher priority, but in my Digi-Block, the MP3 and WMA decode processing for higher bit rates consumes so much of the little Digi-Block's CPU time that the console functionality locks up, sometimes causing the Digi-Block to crash and restart after about five seconds into a console freeze. The restarts are benign and at worst simply bring the player back into it's initial power-on state. (Music stored as WAV files and self-generated audio recordings do not cause lock-up problems as they require far less CPU power to decode.)
In rare cases, high-bit rate MP3 files (around or exceeding kbps) can yield very rare jumps, gaps, or "pops" in playback. I assume this is from the CPU being overburdened and the player "catching up". The highest practical playback rate is below kbps for MP3s.
The display is a relatively dim cyan OLED matrix behind a vaguely silvered bezel. In strong light (bright sports complex or daylight), the display is unreadably to unrecognizably dim. (This can be overcome by cupping one's hand around the display to shield ambient light from reflecting off the bezel. In dim to no light the display is excellent.) In brightly lit areas, feature and file navigation is practically impossible unless one knows the actual button press sequences without referring to the display.
Under some conditions under Windows XP the upload rate is extremely slow (roughly 32 to 96kB/s on USB). This is probably more of a problem with Windows XP as this uploads from MacOS and Linux (SuSE as tested) at around kB/s.
Also, since it uses the earphone jack for both charging and audio output, it cannot charge and play at the same time. All play must be under battery power.
Also, as a 2GB flash device, the flash memory unit can be damaged by excessive (millions) of writes to a given address. (This is true of all flash memory in all MP3 players, by the way.) Like with typical thumb/flash drives, excessive write activity will eventually cause strange behaviors (most likely crashes or file errors), rendering the MP3 player unusable. Writing is a stressful activity, so uploads should be seldom for the longest flash RAM life.
The Digi-Block cannot recognize Ogg Vorbis or MP4 files, but as this was never advertised, this is acceptable. (By comparison, the MobiBlu can render MP4 and OGG files.)
Start up time is proportional to the number of music files in it. Every boot (startup) causes the Digi-Block to assess it's file allocation tables. Hundreds of songs can yield start up times of around 15 to 30 seconds.
In the spirit of cloned devices, the Digi-Block model MP3 player very closely physically resembles the MobiBlu DAHi. However there are some functional differences: the display entities (title and operating status indicators) are arranged differently, there is no radio functionality, and some aspects of feature and file navigation differ. In all it's highly comparable to the DAHi, but in the spirit of most clones gives a subjective sense of lesser quality and functional polish than the MobiBlu.
The batteries are advertised to be lithium-ion, most likely cobalt lithium-ion, meaning the charge-discharge rules for cobalt lithium-ion apply (don't get them hot, never run the battery down completely, no memory problems, charge shortly after use, and so on). The batteries are built-in to conserve size and are not user replaceable. Replacing the batteries is a very technically involved and delicate operation requiring a competent technician and a modest electronics workstation. As per typical cobalt lithium-ion operation, the batteries will last for about two years of "typical" use (about to charge cycles, shorter runs resulting in longer life and increased cycle integrity), or somewhere around a cumulative of to run hours.
Also battery life is variable based on the audio volume, amount of console activity by the user, and the amount of decode processing required to render the audio from the MP3 and WMA files. The shortest runtime will occur with high-bitrate MP3 files at high audio volume with frequent button and display activity. The longest runtime will occur with WAV (a.k.a. "VOC") files at a very low audio volume and little to no interaction with the display and controls.
The Digi-Block when running uses a ping-ponging diamond on the screen as a power-on indicator. The power consumption is low, and it's vaguely entertaining to the simpleminded to watch the diamond endlessly "bounce" off the edges of the display.
I could write a book on this little player, but have already written a lot here. So in conclusion
This is an excellent little player, but not functionally perfect or perfectly executed. It's very much worth the $ I paid in late I'd recommend it with some additional notes about it's various quirks.
Addendums: (Added on 20 Dec )
13 Dec Addendums (1 of 3) [1 of 5 total]:
I wrote this article, but forgot to mention the actual per-use runtime of the batteries. In my Digi-Block the runtime per entire charge life (from fully charged to unable to sustain the player) is variable on use. When running at typical interaction and volume constantly with WMA and MP3 files, the runtime is slightly under seven hours with new batteries (this deteriorates slightly for each recharge cycle). When running at maximum volume with WMA and MP3 files, (when driving an amplified external speaker for example) the runtime is around to three hours. When running WAV files at low volume (efficient earphones or highly amplified external speakers) and new batteries, it will run slightly more than eight hours before losing operation. (As for cobalt Li-ion batteries, this performance will decline over about or so cumulative run hours until the battery will no longer hold a meaningful charge.)
13 Dec Addendums (2 of 2) [2 of 4 total]:
Another afterthought. The Digi-Block cannot play music files while it's charging because when charging it's mode changes and the earphone jack is being occupied by the charging plug. However, the flash RAM is accessable by most Windows and greater, Mac OS 10+, and Linux + systems. Player software available on the computer will play *any* file they can decode in the Digi-Block's flash memory. Some notables here, Windows Media Player and similar players gave the Digi-Block a status of "MTP Player", attempt to prevent the user from interacting directly with the files, attempt to build local copies of the music file contents, and keep the user in a CD-like record-company album paradigm (even though there may be no relationship per se to CDs or albums). When using the obligatory Sync facilities in Windows Media Player, copy performance is often slow and Windows Media Player may attempt to add, modify, or delete the music files stored in the Digi-Block player. iTunes on both Windows and the Mac also is synchronization-intensive. Most Linux-based players will play directly from the Digi-Block's Flash RAM without attempting to force the user into machine-localized or external commercial schematas.
15 Dec Addendums (1 of 2) [3 of 4 total]:
Another afterthought after reading the other posts about the Digi-Block is about the file capacity. This is highly variable. The Digi-Block will indeed hold recordings--if they are short, a low bit-rate, or both. The real-world file capacity varies somewhere around music files for usual radio-type pop music, or so classical opera pieces, about 40 uncompressed pop-music files, and about low-bit rate good-quality-speech MP3 recordings (news podcasts, for example). For the average user with the average formulaic pop music in MP3s, realistically expect about to files.
15 Dec Addendums (2 of 2) [4 of 4 total]:
And yet another afterthought! I read posts where the player wouldn't sync, not work, and so on. On sync, this is more of an issue with the software in the PC than the player--the Digi-Block appears to the actual computer as a USB flash drive. Macintosh, Linux, and Windows operating systems regard the player as a flash drive. Windows XP and Windows Vista regard the player as a MP3 player and will attempt to deny the user any normal access or obfuscate the normalcy of the USB flash drive functionality (example: the FAT filesystem is recognized as such by Mac, Linux, and Win2K, but is vaguely called a "heirarchical file system" (not "FAT") by Windows XP and Vista.). With Macs and Linux, file synchronization is trivial (just copy or rsync--it's just another disk drive to these systems). The provided software is for Windows and is ultimately not terribly useful. As for quality issues, I noticed there was some notes about problems with battery life (full discharges result in a temporarily short runtime for any Li-Ion unit, which typically lengthens to a more normal life within a few charge cycles) and flash RAM (I returned one unit because it couldn't store more than 21MB in its 2GB flash chip). Otherwise my units (I own two) work wonderfully. (I also own a MobiBlu DAHi cube also--that's how I could compare them!)
(Ed Smith, esmith)