Thanks to the folks at Ultra Products, what was to be one lone review of the ULT31576 8-in-1 MP3 player (which I loved and still love to this day,) is now part one of a three part series. I have not only reviewed the ULT31576, but also the ULT31103 (today's review) and the ULT31102 (next week's review.)
Ultra ULT31103 with ear-bud neck-band installed.
The ULT31103 is advertised as a "4-in-1" MP3 player. What's funny is that it is actually a 6-in-1 device, just like the 8-in-1 MP3 player in the last review! It's an MP3 player, FM tuner, voice recorder, thumb drive, e-mail client, and SD/MMC reader. It also has the software that allows the editing of the ID3 tags. What we "lose" with this model is memory. For an MSRP of $89.99 ($75 at ZipZoomFly) as opposed to $129.99 (found for $99.99 at ThinkGeek.com or ZipZoomFly) you only get 128MB instead of 256MB. This review would be over if this was the only difference, and I would give this gadget an 8 out of 10, just under the score I gave the 8-in-1 player. But my appeal for the ULT31576 becomes greater and greater the more I played with this device.
With 128MB of memory, at 128Kbps bitrate, I was only able to copy over just over 2 hours of music. This complaint was negated by the ability to use an SD or MMC card to expand the capability of the device. I was able to take a 512MB SD filled with MP3's, insert it and my play list was immediately tripled in size. The only odd thing about this is how the added SD or MMC sticks out of the side of the device.
The installed MMC or SD card sticks out of the side a bit.
The feel of the player is nice. It has the same rubberized plastic material as the more expensive player, and the device is very light (38g.) The same neck-strap/ear-bud assembly is included with this device, which is practical, fairly comfortable and sound somewhat decent. I was a little harsh with them in my last review, but I got over it. The problem I had with the last neck-strap/ear-bud assembly breaking at the clip seemed to be an isolated incident as I had that neck-strap replaced and had yet to have a problem with it and I've not yet had any issues with the clip on this neck-strap.
The first thing you notice with this model is the smaller LCD. We lose the little dancing stick figures of the ULT31576 (big loss, right?), but we also lose a lot of visibility. MP3 mode just has a smaller font for ID3 tags, and the mode list is only two modes tall (one can only see "Music" and "Voice" on the menu, then "Voice" and "FM Tuner", and so on.) The FM tuner doesn't show the FM band bar and it doesn't show the indicator bar that shows the user what preset they are on (you simply have a "Preset: 01/09" to show your on preset 1 of 9.)
The ever so familiar "Indiglo" screen. This time, only a bit smaller.
So is a smaller LCD and less RAM the only thing we're missing out on? Not quite. We also lose the ability to recharge our batteries! Better find some coupons for batteries in Sunday's paper. This device comes with one Energizer alkaline, and after 8 hours of use it's dead! Of course, MOST thumb drive type MP3 players don't recharge their own batteries when you plug them into the USB port. But I came to appreciate this feature so much when using the ULT31576 that I just refuse to accept anything less. I suppose in retrospect, if you think back to any portable audio device you may have had in the past, like a Walkman or CD player, you may not have had the ability to charge it on the fly, so I suppose it's really not a big deal.
So it doesn't recharge it's batteries via USB port, it has a smaller LCD and less RAM. It's also $25 to $40 less than the other model. That cash buys a lot of batteries and a decent SD/MMC card so I'm still good, right? My wife likes the player just fine. I keep turning around and finding it missing. But now comes the "personally, I don't like" part of the review..
I think that Ultra asked the manufacturer to make the buttons as awkward as possible just to make their ULT31576 (the "8-in-1") look that much better. I was immediately comfortable with the ULT31576's joystick and buttons. It seemed normal. Logical. This device seems simple enough, but I found myself frustrated with hitting play to select and pressing right to scroll down and left to scroll up and what does "Q" on the Record button stand for anyway?
The AAA battery slides into the back of the device.
I would love to give this device as high of a rating as the one I gave the ULT31576, given that it costs significantly less than it's big brother and has all of the features. The construction quality and sound is just as good too. Of course, on the down side it has the same slow USB 1.1 transfer speeds and mediocre tuner reception as it's big brother. Unfortunately, there are a few shortcomings that knock it's rating down a bit and some of the design differences are inexcusable. In my opinion, if Ultra took this device and gave it the same design as the ULT31576, the housing, where the SD/MMC slot is, the buttons, and the LCD, and the only real difference between the two devices was the built-in memory capacity, I would easily give the device an 8. But with the awkward buttons, the memory sticking out of the side and small LCD Therefore, I can only give this device a rating of 7 out of 10.
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