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MPMan: The Blade
With all the choice available in the MP3 player market it’s often worthwhile to have a unique selling point, a hook to pull consumers in. MPMan has a wizard wheeze up its sleeve; it claims to be the inventor of the MP3 player with the MPMan F10 as developed by South Korean company SaeHan Information Systems.
Though that was all the way back in 1998, the MPMan brand still exists today with The Blade being the latest offering. It’s a diminutive device that’s only 7mm thick and weighs only 30g. It features a small 1.5in 128 x 128 colour display, audio and video playback, photo viewing, FM radio, voice recording, SRS WOW and two 3.5mm headphones sockets.
There are two editions of the player, a 1GB and 2GB, costing £80 and £90 respectively. Regrettably, this immediately puts The Blade up against some rather stiff competition with the likes of the iPod Nano and SanDisk’s excellent Sansa eXXX range of players available for similar money.
Clearly the response has been to pack The Blade with as many features as possible, and on paper there are reasons to be optimistic. The addition of a FM radio is always a welcome one, while you can also record radio as well as voice files thanks to an in-built microphone.
However, the video and photo viewing abilities are somewhat moot considering the minute 128 x 128 display. It’s difficult to imagine anyone wanting to watch videos or view photos using The Blade, and even if they did the need to convert videos into MSV files would likely put them off.
The Blade comes packaged with software for converting video files into MSV, a derivative of the MJPEG movie format. For testing I converted a 350MB video file into MSV, or at least I tried to, but because the source file name had dots in the title the software was evidently confused and failed to add the requisite tail.
MJPEG isn’t renowned for excellent compression, and this was confirmed by the fact that the file created was 228MB despite being reduced to the 128 x 128 resolution of the screen. A second test, using a file with no dots in the title, did produce a usable movie; albeit one that suffered from some synching issues when played on The Blade.
In short, it’s simply not worth the bother and the same can be said of the photo viewing too. With most people carrying mobile phones with cameras and larger screens there’s little reason to ever use the inferior little display of The Blade.
The topic of mobile phones brings us nicely onto the design, which has more than a whiff of Motorola RAZR about the shape and button design. Below the display is a set of buttons which function rather like a 5-way joystick with a menu button, next/previous and volume up/down buttons for controlling playback and navigating the menu. Unfortunately, these buttons feel rather stiff and aren’t very pleasant to use day-to-day.