Late last year, I marveled as I watched news about Napster, which started as an Internet phenomenon, take over popular media.
Every news program, magazine, and newspaper had to have Napster-related news and opinions on digital music, even if the hosts of the programs didn't know an MP3 from an SDMI.
My feeling is that 2001 is the year digital music will really start going mainstream; every computer with multimedia capability has an MP3 player/ripper, and hard disks are both voluminous and cheap. Factor in the allure of having your favourite music at any computer you use, and it doesn't take a genius to realize that even non-geeks will want to get in on this action.
Furthermore, this appears to be the year when companies are producing digital-music-playing gadgets beyond the realm of the simple Walkman-style MP3 player. There's all kinds of fascinating stuff starting to trickle into stores, and many more in the works. So this year, a reoccurring theme for this column will be reviews of interesting or offbeat digital audio devices.
First up is the Iomega HipZip
, a chic handheld player which uses Iomega 40 MB Clik! (now called PocketZip) disks. It's an attractive-looking device, sporting Iomega's new signature color scheme of purple and brushed metal, and the layout is very sensibleómy fingers had no trouble remembering where the different buttons were during an afternoon trek. The backlit LCD screen is easy to read, and the menu easy to navigate. However, the HipZip tends to clip off the last half-second or so of the playing track. This is only a problem for music which doesn't fade at the end; I didn't even notice it until I encoded a CD where most of the tracks flowed into one another.
The 40 MB disk size is a bit of a stumbling block, as you can't fit a 74-minute CD's worth of MP3s onto a disk at any reasonable quality, assuming 128 kbps to be the minimum acceptable bitrate for CD quality. The HipZip also reads Windows Media (WMA) files, which can achieve higher quality at lower bitrates; you can just about squeeze a CD onto a disk that way, but if your music collection is already in MP3 format, you'll either have to re-encode everything or suffer with splitting up your albums and playlists.
Despite the smaller storage space, there is an advantage to PocketZip disks: price. You can pick them up for about $20-25 apiece, whereas a 32 MB SmartMedia or CompactFlash card, standard for many other players, will set you back about $100. The lower media price offsets the HipZip's $489 price tag, too. And here's the kicker: the disks can be used in other PocketZip drives. In fact, the HipZip doubles as a USB removable drive as well, which is fine for moving smaller graphics, documents, spreadsheets, and of course MP3s.