Last year I asked what do you give a person who has everything, and proceeded to describe the Swissbit Swissmemory USB Victorinox – a flash drive inside a Swiss Army Knife (SAK). One year down the track, you can buy this person the Swissbit S.Beat MP3.
As you might have guessed, this is another Victorinox SAK, but with a beefed-up USB flash drive that also features an MP3 player. I have bought at least two MP3 players a year and in my children’s hands none of them survives the year. They tend to be dropped, fried or otherwise rendered unusable. At the Las Vegas Showstoppers event run by Steve Leon I reacquainted myself with the Swissbeat representatives who kindly provided a unit for review.
Choosing an MP3 Player
Typical concerns when choosing portable audio players include the charging technique. Some make you supply your own battery, either disposable or rechargeable. Rechargeable is obviously the better approach, but here your choices are between an external charger (typically one or more AAA batteries) or an internal one. You might ask whether an internal battery could be replaced, but I suspect that you will be using a newer player by then.
You also need to consider how the device will connect to a computer, since this is the most likely source of updating its content. If the device has a USB Flash drive form factor, you just plug it into the PC or a hub; else you will need a special cable with a USB connector at one end.
The Swiss Army Knife now includes an MP3 player, voice recorder and FM radio. The player is also available without tools for use by frequent air travellers. Thanks to brilliant marketing, the Apple iPod slugs you more money for items that other manufacturers include in their players. These include an FM tuner, a voice recorder, USB charger, and so on. You could argue that you shouldn’t pay for things you don’t need, but some of these competitive offerings end up cheaper than the base iPod.
Do you need a voice recorder? If you are a journalist, you would want a dedicated recorder but for most of us the need could be unpredictable. Perhaps you want to record the voice of an aged relative when you visit them, or some other sound snippet to send with an email? Similarly, an FM radio tuner is handy when you are in a new city and need to check a weather forecast or sample the local music? Let’s get back to the S.Beat MP3.
What about the display? Large players have a large screen, increasingly in colour, to display the menu, song or video selections and playback. For audio-only players, a small display that shows the menus and name of the tune is necessary.
Audio formats supported include MP3, Windows WMA (8-320 Kbit/s), and OGG Vorbis. It records from line-in, FM tuner and the microphone in WAV format (8-48 Kbit/s). There are six equaliser modes: Normal, Jazz, Classic, Rock, Blues and Pop.
Its 1 GB Flash memory can be used for audio and data storage thanks to the USB form factor. You can store about 250 music files, depending on quality settings and duration.
The remote control is cleverly engineered into the Victorinox logo shape by making the cross a four-way joystick. I found the tiny joystick on the player sufficient for my needs, as I didn’t want too many appendages on my chest. Others who place the player in their handbag or on the arm-strap will find it useful.
The FM radio has 15 presets, so you can find your favourite stations without having to search for them. You can record from the radio.
The 3-line display with a blue backlight is quite legible. It shows the modes of operation and information about the file or radio station being played. The menu can be displayed in one of five languages: English, German, French, Italian or Spanish.
The built-in Lithium Polymer battery can be charged by simply plugging the device into a USB outlet. The traveller model comes with a multiple-voltage, multiple-pin power adapter that has a USB outlet. For a traveller without a portable computer, this is a great way to charge the player. The same adapter can be used to connect your other small appliances to a foreign power outlet. How clever of Swissbeat to think of a traveller’s other appliances! The tools include scissors, pen knife, screw driver and nail file. You are warned not to leave the player in the knife housing when cutting fruit that has a lot of acidic juice. Sensible advice.
The MP3 sound quality, volume and earphone fit were excellent. The voice recorder was quite sensitive and would meet the needs of, say, an interview. I didn’t get a chance to see how it would do in a large conference room.
I used Windows Media Player to manage the transfer of songs to the device and had no problems with this simple technique. I don’t like loading my PC with applications, so in a way I was grateful that the S.beat MP3 player didn’t want to install yet another media manager program.
I like to listen to the radio during my 2 km walk from my car park to my office but found that the FM radio is not very sensitive. It had no problem picking up the powerhouse stations such as the ABC, but my favourite, Gold FM gave poor reception from the city centre. When the S.beat MP3 is not carried with the tools, a small plastic cap protects the USB connector.
I leave the knife at home as it adds 40 g to the unit’s 32 g weight. A small cap protects the USB connector and also serves to anchor the earpiece and neck strap. While travelling, the knife stays in the checked luggage.
Overall, this is a reasonably priced MP3 player in a compact, lightweight package. You could spend a lot more and get less features with some other offerings.
The S.Beat MP3 with 1 GB capacity can be bought online from http://www.swissbit-shop.com for US$197.25. With a travel charger, it costs US$237.75. 2 GB and 4 GB models will be available by the time you read this. You can also buy a version minus the tools for use on aircraft at a slightly cheaper price.