Creative unveils lightweight Nomads

Portable MP3 players keep shrinking, and Creative Labs is continuing the trend with the release of its smallest and lightest series of such devices: the Nomad MuVo2 line.

Each of the three new models measures an easy-to-pocket 2.6 by 2.6 by 0.8 inches and weighs just over 3 ounces.

Creative Labs expects the hard-drive-based Nomad MuVo2 1.5GB to sell for about US$230. The 512MB version of the flash-RAM-based Nomad MuVo2 Trainer is expected to go for about US$270, and the 1GB version, US$500. All models have a USB connector, a removable battery, and high-quality 98-decibel signal-to-noise-ratio audio. The name is pronounced "Nomad MuVo Squared."

They're the sleeker siblings of the original MuVo line, introduced last summer.

Product Particulars

The cheapest product in the series, the MuVo2 1.5GB, contains a very tiny 1.5GB hard drive. According to Creative, this drive can store about 50 hours worth of music--a calculation based on .wma files sampled at 64 kilobits per second. If you prefer .mp3 files, expect to fit about half of that.

The high capacity in a small package is enabled by use of Cornice technology, Creative Labs confirms. A Cornice hard drive is smaller than a flash memory card. The technology is also used by Rio in its competing Nitrus, a player introduced in August.

"Creative's products have the reputation of high-quality sound," says Rob Enderle, principal of Enderle Research, of the competing MP3 device makers. "This unit goes head-to-head with Nitrus." The MuVo2 costs about $60 less, but the Nitrus, Enderle notes, supports one additional file format: the Ogg Vorbis format.

The other key difference is playback time, Enderle adds. The Nitrus claims a 16-hour playback, while Creative says the MuVo2 1.5GB can play for about 10 hours.

"It makes for some nice competition in this space," Enderle says, noting that the lightweight MuVo2 might also challenge Apple's IPod.

Rugged Players

The MuVo2 X-Trainer models cost more than the 1.5GB version and come with either one-third or two-thirds of the storage space. Clearly capacity isn't the main selling point here.

What you get for your money with the X-Trainer units is the ruggedness that comes with having no moving parts. Creative is marketing these players, which are smaller than more versatile players with card slots, to physically active people who want music to accompany their sports-oriented lifestyle (the X-Trainer name itself implies sports).

Since these players don't use hard drives, they're much less likely to skip (or worse, get damaged) when you crash your skateboard into a cyclist or stumble on the ski slopes. The X-Trainer models also come with an armband rather than the 1.5GB's carrying case.

Simple math will tell you how much music they can hold. Using 64-kpbs .wma files, the Nomad MuVo2 1GB will carry about 33 hours worth of music, and the 512MB version, about 16 or 17 hours (and 16 hours, interestingly enough, is just about what the lithium ion battery will provide in either model).

Power Issues

You can recharge a Nomad MuVo2's batteries using the included AC adapter or through a USB connection to the PC. The battery is removable; you can buy a spare for about $50 from Creative Labs' Web site.

All the players support USB 1.1 and 2.0 and act as standard USB storage devices. This means you can plug one into any computer running Windows ME, 2000, or XP, and it will appear as just another drive. A Windows 98 driver is included. All MuVo2 models come with, but don't require, Creative's MediaSource music management software.

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