Third in my search for a cheap, basic digital MP3 recorder was the Impecca MP1202FB 2GB MP3 Player with FM Tuner Black. Just to be clear, I have very specific needs:
1. Easy to use – I mean REALLY easy. Lets assume the end user doesn’t speak more than 100 words of english, has never used anything digital except a cell phone, and is more afraid of breaking technology than they are frustrated at the clunky irrational user interface most digital recorders have.
2. Cheap – Ought to cost under $20 in 2010, and really the technology I need shouldn’t even cost $10, but the MP3 recorder market keeps making things more complicated than we need and pricing themselves out of the African would-be-bloggers living on $3 a day market. These guys own $10 cell phones and spend <$10 a month on all luxuries like adding cell phone minutes. An hour at an Internet Cafe costs <$1 in most places, so charging the device and adding music isn’t too expensive. I’d like to send a bunch of MP3 recorders out to African friends and grow a little network of village podcasters.
3. Must record MP3s – I’d prefer it have a 1/8″ line-in jack (for external microphones) but a decent built-in mic should be sufficient for podcasts or for writing up transcripts of interviews.
4. True Plug-n-play on any PC – MP3 format and USB compatability (not MTP) are also essential, as proprietary formats are death in Africa where people don’t have hours of extra time to fish for drivers and don’t run the latest version of Windows. Besides, my buddies never use the same computer twice (Internet Cafes) and don’t have the right to install software.
The Impecca MP1202FB are the cheapest ($19.99) of the four models I tested, but still provided the same features on paper. There is a difference in feel with Impecca, compared to Cowon iAudio, iRiver LPLAYER (https://chewychunks.wordpress.com/2010/03/11/reviewing-iriver-lplayer-pretty-good-for-audio-podcasting-in-african-villages/), and the E-matic EM102VIDBL.
Ratings (on a scale of 1 to 10):
Price: $19.99 – 9 (out of 10)
Recording quality: 3
the microphone will work for conversations, but it has a tinny radio-shack quality to the sound. Clearly muffling some of the sound spectrum. I can’t even locate the microphone on the device, but it does record. I would rank the built-in microphones of the five devices I tested in this order:
1. Eridol (best)
2. iRiver LPLAYER
3. Cowon iAudio U2
4. E-matic EM102VIDBL
5. Impecca MP1202
Memory: 2GB is enough
Simple to use: 4
it has 5 buttons that can be used in 8 unique ways, but I have to guess constantly on which button does what when you are recording sound or playing it back. The menu is pretty simple to navigate, and starting a recording is just 2 clicks away from ON, but saving it and moving to a different function like FM radio took some effort to figure out. Someone could learn this quickly, but it is not an intuitive design.
Language-independent UI: 9
this was the only model of the 5 that uses icons in the menu instead of words from languages. Pictures are better for users that don’t speak one of the standard languages shipped with digital equipment.
After using the Cowon iAudio U2 for years as my default, I am beginning to appreciate how much more intuitive their interface is. I miss the mini “joystick” for navigating. Only the LPLAYER has a comparably simple feel, and even looks simple.
PC Compatability: 10
it is simple, has the USB connector built in, and works with USB 1.1 or 2.0 without extra drivers needed. Also important note: Only the Impecca uses a AAA battery instead of USB charging. This is helpful, but sometimes AAA batteries are hard to find in Africa. If it were AA-compatible, that would be the simplest village-ready device.
Looks and feel: 3
this one feels like a cheap recorder, but it works.
Overall: 7 out of 10
in a head-to-head comparison of the features, the Impecca falls short. But for my stated purpose I would have to recommend buying a bunch of these over the others because it gets the job done at half the cost of the iRiver LPLAYER and one-tenth the cost of the Eridol. But I will probably buy a mix of LPLAYERs and Impeccas, since I don’t trust the quality of the IMPECCA recorder for podcasts or production on This American Life. (I can dream of getting my material on there, right?) If I were going to broadcast these recordings, I would trust the LPLAYER most among the cheap models’ built-in microphones.