By Richard Menta- 12/07/99
The size of a pager, the I-Jam is the smallest MP3 player presently shipping. What's more, the player turns out to be a pretty darn good unit that showcases the convenience and strengths of the MP3 format over established analog and digital formats. We are impressed overall with the results, though there was one particular shortcoming.
The I-Jam sells for $150 and for that you get a 32MB unit with an FM tuner, the first player to offer that feature. Running on two AAA batteries, the player comes in a choice of 5 colors; Black Rhino, Silver Bullet, Lemon Drop, Razz Jazz Red, and Chi-Town Blue. As a bonus, the I-Jam also comes with a $50 gift certificate from EMusic, which at $0.99 a song is a great way to start the music library made up of established artists.
The player comes with a parallel port flash card drive for downloading the tunes. This winter, the I-Jam will offer an optional USB cable for the unit that will not only offer speedier downloads, but with added software, make the unit Mac-compatible. With 2.5 million iMac users out there, this helps expand Apple owner's limited MP3 options.
Getting started: A-
The I-Jam uses an external memory card drive that attaches to both the printer and keyboard ports using a pass-through cable, nearly identical to the one used by the RCA Lyra. The user downloads MP3 files directly to Multimedia Flash (MMC) cards, and then inserts the card into the player. This process is more time consuming than ones used by portables like the RaveMP (See Review), which transfer MP3 files directly into the player's internal memory and any memory card inside. It took us only a moment to attach the cables.
The tiny Multimedia flash cards that the I-Jam uses are 1/4th the size of the CompactFlash cards found in the RCA Lyra. MMC flash allows the I-Jam to take on its diminutive dimensions. There is a trade off to using these small cards as they are limited to a capacity that presently tops out at 16MB (in comparison, Delkin just started shipping 224MB CompactFlash cards). Larger capacity MMC's are on the horizon.
The I-Jam comes with two 16MB flash cards for a total of 32MB of memory.
We loaded the drivers for the external card drive and downloaded several MP3 files to one of the flash cards. An icon appears for the drive in Windows Explorer and you download files to the card the same way you transfer files to a floppy disk. You can't get more basic than that and, frankly, there is a virtue to such simplicity, even if it seems a tad crude when compared to some of the elaborate interfaces in competing MP3 units.
Files downloaded quickly, about 15 seconds per track. The I-Jam has no internal memory, using flash chips to store all files. As higher capacity flash chips become available, the unit's storage potential expands, thus avoiding obsolescence due to limited memory, a problem the yet-to-be-released (and non-expandable) Sony MusicClip will soon face. Flash chips can also be collected and used like cassettes.
The I-Jam comes with MusicMatch Jukebox, one of the best programs available for ripping and encoding your favorite CD tracks into the MP3 format.
The I-Jam has small, but well laid out, controls and we had no problem manipulating the buttons. Considering how petite the unit is, we feel the manufacturer did a good job with the key layout. A hold button is offered to avoid accidental key triggering.
The Display: C -
The small one line display is the I-Jam's weakest link. The text isn't all that clear and we sometimes had to tilt the unit to read it because of side glare. The backlight didn't help all that much either, a further dissapointment. The unit does not display the file name or any ID3 info. It just shows track1, track2, etc. when in MP3 mode.
The unit itself gave us excellent sound. The player offers tone and bass control which is better than the 3 or 5 tone presets (Jazz, Pop, Rock, etc.) competing portables offer.
The earbuds that came with the iJam did an ok job, but we noticed a significant improvement when we shifted over to the Sennheiser MX-4 earbuds, especially in the bass. We recommend upgrading the ear and headphones on all of the units we have tested so far, so rather than count against it in the scores, we simply suggest buyers incorporate the cost of a pair of Sony or Sennheiser buds, about $15-$20, when pricing units.
The I-Jam's greatest virtue is it's size and that's what sets this player apart from the competition. The unit offers great sound in a tight, light package which should make it a favorite of joggers and anyone else big on daily exercise. If the smallest unit obtainable is what you want, look no further than the I-Jam.
Granted, there is a cost to these modest dimensions and that comes in the form of a substandard display which, despite the limited acreage on the units faceplate, could have been better.
The FM radio is another plus as it allows music to continue to flow after the user runs through all the MP3 tunes. With the I-Jam presently running around $150, it's the least expensive unit to offer this option by about $100.
Final Score: B+
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