So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Astone Xinc Ultra
- SD/MMC card slot, highly portable, external speaker, decent sound quality
- Confusing button arrangement, low-resolution screen, music not organised by tags
At this end of the market, you won't find another portable media player as full-featured as the Xinc Ultra. However usability needs serious work from both a hardware and software perspective.
Price$ 129.00 (AUD)
Barely larger than a box of matches, the Astone Xinc Ultra is a surprisingly full-featured portable media player. In addition to the expected photo and music playback, the Xinc Ultra also throws in video support, an FM radio, voice recorder, and even an eBook reader. Remarkable for a device that only weighs 42g and measures 64mm x 36mm x 14mm.
However, small size and an extensive feature set doesn't always a good portable media player make. As our experience with the iPod has shown, an attractive hardware design and intuitive user interface can be equally important - if not more so - and unfortunately this is where the Astone player loses out.
The Xinc Ultra is nothing special in the looks department, with a plastic silver and white casing that's more derivative than daring. A 1.5in CSTN colour screen takes up the top half of the player's face, but this only displays a limited number of colours and a low 128 x 128-pixel resolution.
Navigating through the various features and settings is confusing due to the inconsistent multifunction buttons. From the main menu, scrolling through the options is accomplished by using the back and forward buttons; when you're not in the main menu, on the other hand, you have to use the volume up and down keys for scrolling.
Content organisation also needs work. Even if you load music onto the Xinc Ultra using folders, all songs are displayed in one flat list, sorted using the track's filename. The 512MB of on-board memory is small for a music player, only storing roughly 128 songs, although this can be upgraded to as much as 2.5GB using the included SD/MMC slot. As with most budget, flash based MP3 players, there is no search facility for quickly finding the track you're after, which makes the whole interface even more cumbersome.
The music playback screen certainly doesn't skimp on information. Unlike the song listing screen, it displays the track name and album name from the file's ID3 tag, as well as the elapsed time, song length, song type (MP3, WMA or WAV) and equaliser preset used. It doesn't hold back in colour use either - if anything, it overuses them, with mish-mash of gaudy, non-matching colours all vying for attention on the screen. One annoyance is that you can't browse through music while a song is playing - going to the song listing screen automatically stops playback.
Transferring content from a PC can be done through Windows Explorer or Windows Media Player. Installing a driver is unnecessary as it's recognised as a removable hard drive. If you've got an SD or MMC card in the slot, this will also appear in both Explorer and WMP as a separate drive.
Picture and music transfer works well in either application, but videos need to be converted to a proprietary SMV format using the supplied SigmaTel Motion Video application. This supports all of the popular video codecs, and files are converted at approximately 128MB an hour using the medium quality level. The Xinc Ultra's small screen size and limited colour depth and resolution makes video playback more of a gimmick than a worthwhile feature, but converted files play back smoothly.
Unusual for a media player this small is the external speaker, which produces very loud, if slightly tinny audio. Sound quality through the 3.5mm audio jack is much better than expected for an entry-level player, even using the supplied earbuds. Six equaliser presets can be flicked through during playback by pressing and holding on one of the side-mounted buttons, and matching music to the relevant preset makes an appreciable different to bass and treble levels. Just make sure to flick one of the unlabelled sliders on the right-end side - otherwise, music will play through the speaker as well as the headphones.
The Xinc Ultra uses a non-removable lithium ion battery rated for 14 hours of music and five hours of video. Included in the box is a mini-USB cable for syncing content and charging from a PC, as well as an AC charger - a rarity for a player in this price bracket.
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