Sunday, April 29, 2007

Hit Pearl Z mp3/mp4 player (review)

While I'm doing reviews, I thought I should probably review my new mp3 player, since there don't seem to be any other reviews of this brand out there on the great wide innernets. For my usual readers this will probably be pretty boring, so go ahead and skip it.

Before I begin, I take back my complaints two days ago about it not working. Geekman (wonderful Geekman) solved all my problems. I'll give more details on this below.


The player does everything it claims to do, and is pretty, and cheap into the bargain. All the specifications advertised (e.g. here) hold up to scrutiny. The case and the screen seem pretty robust so far.

The display is very animated and cutsey. Think pink bubbles and a Hello Kitty sense of style. I'm not sure if I should count this as a bug or a feature.

All in all, for something that is a third of the price of more famous brand players, I think the Hit Pearl Z is a pretty good deal.

Good points:

Comparatively big screen (1.8 inch). While it is a lower resolution than e.g. the iPod Nano, it is extremely bright and visible from all angles, even in direct sunlight.

Lots of information displayed when music is playing (battery status, total track time, time elapsed, bitrate, playlist setting (randomise or repeat), track title and artist, volume, mp3/wma, equaliser, and even scrolling lyrics for those personal karaoke moments).

Easy drag-and-drop file transfer.

Battery recharges within about two hours and lasts around eight hours of play time. The player can be used while recharging, so if you are at your computer, you can connect it to the USB port and keep on listening while it recharges. It also ships with an adapter so you can plug it straight into the wall. I received an Australian-style adapter, so presumably you will get one for whichever country you place your order from.

Bad points:

The manual is unreadable (think the worst stereotype of Chinese-flavoured English you can imagine) and no documentation can be found online. This means that I still have absolutely no idea how to play one of the games, nor (arguably more importantly!) how to upgrade the firmware.

The player crashed and rebooted randomly almost every time I played a track when I first transfered my music collection across. I thought the player itself was broken, but it turned out that the files had developed encoding errors somehow during the transfer. The culprit may have been the extremely low battery status of the player when I transfered the files, or it may have been that I did the transfer under Linux (although the player is supposedly compatible with Linux). Either way, when I deleted the files and copied them across again with a full battery and under Windows, they were fine.

The user interface is incredibly unintuitive. For example, the "random" setting for playing music is located under the submenu "repeat", which took me several days to discover. Another hard-to-find setting is the one that determines how long a period of inactivity is required before the screen dims. The default setting is only 3 seconds or so, and when you are first trying out the interface, this is very frustrating. I would have expected to find that setting under the same submenu as the "sleep" and "power down" functions, but actually it is further up in the settings menu, under "LCD".

Incidentally there are two different menus for the music-related settings, and which one you get into depends on whether you press "M" with the current track paused or playing; but if you hold the button down for too long you get into another menu entirely. This is very confusing.

A further illustration of the unintuitive interface is that when you select "music" from the various main screen options ("video", "music", "games", etc), it launches straight into playing the first file it finds, so if that isn't the track you want, you have to go through about six menu options to log out of that screen, into the root directory, and into the folder you want, before you can play the right track.

Finally, to scroll up and down through lists you don't use "up" and "down" on the keypad. (That would be too easy). Instead, the left arrow scrolls up and the right arrow scrolls down, while "up" is "select" and "down" does nothing. This is a pain in the arse at first, but gets easier with practice.

It does not recognise older ID3 tags (i.e. version 1 tags). I had to go through and retag my entire collection with the latest version tags before it could read them. (The player uses the ID3 tags for the information displayed on the screen while a song is playing.)

The list of songs in each folder shows file names, not info from the ID3 tags. This would be okay, except that the file name is abbreviated to the first 14 characters. If your music has long filenames, you may find, like I do, that your folders contain twenty files named, "Sarah McLachla" rather than the carefully labeled "Sarah McLachlan - Adia", "Sarah McLachlan - Drawn to the rhythm", etc.

The only choice for playlists is to play either all music in your collection at random, or to play an individual folder (either randomly or in the order stored). This means that you cannot have two playlists containing the same song unless you have it stored on the player twice.

The headphones it ships with are pretty crappy.

Other features:

The voice recorder is very clear if you dictate straight into the player. It can pick up someone speaking normally from around a metre or two away. Further away than that, or someone speaking quietly, and the player picks up nothing. This does mean there is not a lot of background noise in recordings, which is a good thing.

I haven't trialed the movie function.

The e-book feature is remarkably usable for something with such a small screen and low resolution. It has pale yellow text on a black background, which is easier on the eyes than it sounds, and relatively large font. Normal .txt files are readable, although linebreaks occur randomly in the middle of words. I found I got used to that pretty fast, and although I would never choose to read files on this screen if I had the choice, I can see myself maybe loading a Project Gutenberg book or two for desperate circumstances such as a long-haul flight.

Games included are "box man" (sokoban), "bricks" (tetris), "winmine" (minesweeper), and "color bead" (I haven't a clue what this last one is). They are very small, badly designed, and the keypad is not really sensitive enough to make playing these anything but extremely frustrating. But then, no one buys an mp3 player for the games, right?


Black & White Penguin said...

Oh...its so puuuuurdy.

Jana said...

Yes, it's really gorgeous! Like an iPhone.

StyleyGeek said...

I guess you saw through me. I just bought it because it was pretty :)