Reg Review Creative's Nomad MuVo is a hybrid device. Noting the growing demand for Flash-based ultra-portable storage systems, Creative realised that the keychain drive and the solid-state MP3 player have rather a lot in common. Both are about providing an easy, cheap and convenient way of carrying around data that normally lives on a PC. That data can be anything - pictures, text files, spreadsheets - but if it happens to be music, which not allow the user to listen to it?
The MuVo then is essentially a Flash drive with a built-in MP3 player. While the original was perhaps closer to the former, the second-generation of the product line, the MuVo NX, stress the portable music player role by adding not only an LCD screen but a voice recording facility - now de rigueur on MP3 devices, it seems - an equaliser
The NX's core is a 5.2 x 2.2 x 1.3cm (2 x 0.9 x 0.5in) unit with a standard USB connector at one end. This goes into a spare USB port on your PC just like any Flash drive does, and appears on your desktop of My Computer window as a removable drive. To load the NX with music, just drag over a stack of MP3 or WMA files into its icon and wait for them to copy across the USB 1.1 bus. Windows, Mac OS X and probably Linux provide no barriers to transferring files this way. There's no need for special jukebox or music transfer software unless you particularly want to manage your song collection.
When you're done, just eject the mounted volume and you're ready to go. While a regular Flash doesn't require its own power source, a music player does, so the NX ships with a couple of battery holders - one silver, the other metallic red - into which the above unit slides. The two parts connect using a USB socket built inside the battery pack, which holds a single AAA cell.
Now the NX looks like a classic ciggie-lighter shaped micro MP3 player. With the battery pack in place it measures 7.5 x 3.6 x 1.5cm (3 x 1.4 x 0.6in) and weighs about 42.5g (1.5oz), including the battery.
On the top of the NX is the 3.5cm earphone jack. On the right side is the obligatory jog-dial control and separate volume up and down keys. On the front of the device is a tiny play/pause button which also turns it on. Below it is the microphone and, under that, the 2.6 x 1.9cm LCD.
Such a small screen can't provide a lot of information: just the time elapsed since the current track began playing, its file name, the EQ setting, a battery charge indicator and an icon to tell you whether the NX is in playback or recording mode. Alas, you get none of the extra info encoded in the song's ID3 tags, such as song title, artist or album title, all of which are likely to be far more useful than a, say, 'mad_worl.mp3'. And that assumes your songs have 'meaningful' file names and haven't be named numerically - '0001.mp3', for example - to allow you to specify the order in which they'll be played.
Now, Creative claims that the NX does use ID3 tag information. However, neither ID3v2 tags inserted by iTunes nor ID3v1 tags appeared on the NX.
Flipping the jog-dial in either direction takes the player to the next or previous song - keeping it pressed cycles through the tracks more quickly. It works, but it's not fast - it takes about ten seconds to move through 24 songs.
Pushing the jog-dial calls up the player's menu of options, including shuffle and repeat preferences, track delete and - if you're using the device as a Flash drive - a folder skip option that prevents the player from listing files that don't contain encoded songs.
The menu also allows you to choose the player's mode. One is music playback, the others are record and voice playback. Recordings are encoded as WAV files. The quality's not bad and is certainly good enough for the odd memo. You can record up to eight hours of your muttered thoughts - enough to fill up the player's 128MB of storage space. Creative is also offering a 256MB version of the NX, and that can hold 16 hours' worth of voice memoranda.
The menu also allows you to customise the player's basic settings - the screen contrast, how long the backlight's on for, how soon the NX automatically powers down when it's not being used and so on. One very nice touch is an LCD orientation option, which flips the display upside down the better suit how you prefer to hold the player when you're looking at the screen.
The display may be tiny, but Creative has managed to program in a five-band equaliser screen to allow you to apply your own sound settings instead of the four unremarkable pre-sets (Rock, Pop, Jazz and Classical). There's no other bass or treble boost option.
Loaded with a couple of albums' worth of 128Kbps MP3s, we went off for a trot around town with the NX. The sound is crisp but trebly, though our bass-boosting custom EQ setting helped a bit. Creative's own earbuds are a little on the tinny side, perhaps, lacking the more rounded sound of our reference iPod 'phones. Out and about with the volume turned up there was little sign of distortion.
A personal niggle: they're also of the 'one ear's cord is longer than the other' variety - we like our phone cables to be of equal length, left and right. One plus: Creative has bundled a cheap but cheerful belt clip.
The player also ships with Creative's MediaSource music ripping, management amd playback software. For Mac or Linux users who've bought the device because it's one of the few MP3 players that are compatible with their operating systems, that's of little use. Time to address your cross-platform software support, Creative.
The MuVo NX isn't the most feature-packed of MP3 players, but it is one of the best. It is one of the smallest players we've seen that plugs straight into a USB port - and one of the lightest. Its drag-and-drop approach to file transfer makes it ideal for anyone who doesn't use Windows, so it scores points for its cross-platform support - though Creative loses a few for only bundling Windows software. If Rio's parent, Digital Networks, can at least bundle iTunes, so can Creative. We'd also like to see support for the AAC audio format.
The NX isn't bad looking, either. Not as stylish as some of the newer Rio players, but more colourful than many of the no-name players coming out of the Far East. And at least Creative provides buyers with an alternative colour scheme with the second bundled battery holder.
Most MP3 devices offer decent playback these days, but the NX has a better sound quality than most and while Creative's earbuds aren't entirely to our taste, they're nevertheless better than some of the cheap pairs bundled with too many portable music machines these days.
In all, a very fine micro MP3 player. And with on-the-street prices at under £100, good value too. ®
|Creative Nomad MuVo NX 128MB|
|Pros||— Nice, compact size
— Doubles up as a Flash drive
— Excellent sound quality
— Works on multiple platforms
|Cons||— ID3 track idiosyncrasies
— USB port not readily accessible
— No scope for memory expansion
|Price||£120/$150 (128MB) £TBA/$200 (256MB)|
|More info||The MuVo NX web site|