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A Tiny Device With Big Features

Holiday Buyer's Guide 2005
By

Looking at the size of this device you might not realize what capabilities lurk inside. The V-Pod 360 can store and handle digital multimedia of many kinds, including video, music, and photos. It can act as a personal voice recorder, and even offers two Tetris variants, plus a memory capacity monitor and a clock/calendar. In short, it's a nifty toy for serious gadget freaks who need something new to play with, or for traveling media maniacs who don't mind watching on or listening to an ultraportable, small-screen playback device.

The unit weighs in at a mere 6.8 oz (192 g), and includes its own built-in, rechargeable Li-Ion battery pack. Its dimensions are 3.25 x 5 x 0.83" (8 x 12.5 x 2.3 cm), and it includes a 3.6" (9.2 cm) diagonal 640x480 TFT LCD display, with surprising color and clarity. Your humble reviewers received an engineering sample sans many amenities that the US distributor assured us are included with units that people actually buy, so we had to jump through several hoops to load media files onto the device, then figure out how to play them back. Of course, documentation or instructions would have sped things up, but we called on our ingenuity by reading about similar products online and ferreting out the necessary file format and playback details. The US distributor, Amax Incorporated, was also helpful in answering questions we were unable to answer on our own.

Fortunately, our Iogear standard USB (Type A) to four-pin USB (Type B) adapter cable worked like a charm with the V-Pod. As soon as we connected the device up to a USB port on a Windows test machine, XP recognized it as a storage device, and showed us four tell-tale folders in the root directory that told us what went where. The DCIM folder is for photos (Canon digital cameras use this folder name, and we quickly learned its Media100 subfolder was where digital snapshots belonged); DVR is where video is recorded through the mini-RCA jack from a cable box, TV set, or other live video source; MP3 is for digital music files in various formats, and video, for digital video files in viewable formats.

Given its Explorer-friendly interface, all we had to do was drag'n'drop test files from our hard drive into the right directories on the V-Pod to use this tasty little device. Though its display is small, photos and videos are clear and colorful enough to look good, though you wouldn't want to watch it in bright light indoors or in full sunlight outdoors. After a bit of fiddling, we figured the interface out well enough to find and then look at, listen to, or watch various media test files that we downloaded to the device. Sound quality from a set of earbuds was perfectly acceptable, comparable to our own Rio and DigitalWay MP3 players. As an ultraportable DVD player the unit isn't bad at all, particularly when used with a decent set of earbuds.

The V-Pod comes equipped with 128 MB of built-in flash RAM, but accepts SD cards up to 4 GB in size - even though the packaging we received still says 1 GB, Amax confirmed the larger figure by phone - as well as MMC cards up to 256 MB. The handy Memory widget in the Accessory menu tells you how much space you've used - and by deduction how much free space is left - with a couple of quick button pushes. Remember to push those buttons firmly, and hold them down for a bit longer than you might like: we had to adjust to the V-Pod's control style...

The unit ships with a software CD that includes transcoding software to convert audio and video formats to those it recognizes. We had no trouble using files stored in those formats, either, so it works as you'd expect - though you may be in for extra time and effort prepping files if you have a large library of pre-recorded DVDs. Fortunately, the unit's integration with Windows Media Center Edition formats is nearly perfect. File formats the V-Pod recognizes include:

  • Audio: mp3, wma, wav
  • Video: mpeg4, divx3, divx4, divx5, xvid5, avi, asf
  • Photo: jpg

As you copy files in those formats to the V-Pod, playing them simply requires navigating through its menus, and picking entries inside the Photo, Audio, or Video sub-menus. Otherwise, you'll need to convert them into something the V-Pod can handle first. When we copied gif and bmp files to the photo directory to experiment, the device simply didn't list those files in its selection menu.

At an MSRP of $249, this device offers neat functionality at a middling price. With 1 GB SD cards running under $50, and 4 GB cards $250-300, the only remaining question is: how big a memory card will Santa bring you for your new V-Pod 360?

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