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Intel Pocket Concert a Sound MP3 Player

April 19, 2001|MARK A. KELLNER |

It took me awhile to get the whole digital music thing. Napster already was under siege in the courts before I fired up any MP3 downloads. A couple of heavy-duty cross-country flights in a row finally convinced me that digital portable music is a very good thing.

Also a bit late to the party is Intel Corp., which this year released its Pocket Concert audio player. This solid-state device features 128 megabytes of RAM, double that available on equivalent players for the Handspring Visor, such as the SoundsGood from Good Technologies. The company says the device will store four hours of music or up to 20 hours of spoken audio.

About the size of a pack of cigarettes and weighing 4.5 ounces, the $300 device also includes a built-in FM radio that can store 10 preset stations. Like many digital players, the Pocket Concert connects to a PC's Universal Serial Bus port to download music files using either Intel's own Audio Manager or the MusicMatch Jukebox program, which is becoming something of a de facto standard for shifting MP3s to such devices.

Although Intel is far better known for its Pentium processors, networking gear and computer motherboards than it is for purely consumer products, the Pocket Concert shows that the company is no slouch. The device offers a fair amount of music storage, the sound is astonishing and the interface is simple enough.

The Pocket Concert is compact, with a simple display window offering icons for battery strength, the title and artist information about the track being played and a bar measuring how much of the track remains. Three buttons on the front can be used to move backward and forward through a playlist of songs, as well as to play or pause an individual selection.

On the left side of the device is a connector for the USB cable and a power switch with a lock position to avoid using certain controls while moving. Since this device is being marketed for active users and other music enthusiasts (belt clip included), the ability to lock out certain functions helps avoid sudden shifts between tracks when one's arm brushes against the unit, for example. Another button switches modes from audio player to FM stereo receiver.

Atop the machine are connections for neckphones, which wrap around the back of the head, and a volume control. On the right is a jog wheel control used to navigate the playlist or to bookmark places in an audio track.

The sound is tremendous. From rock to classical to jazz, notes are crisply rendered, and the unit features 17 bass and treble settings if the defaults aren't to your liking.

Here, understanding the interface with a PC is vital. The only way to delete songs from the player is with the Audio Manager program. Loading songs can be done with that program or MusicMatch Jukebox. The latter seems faster in moving songs over to the hand-held device.

The player's brushed aluminum chassis is stylish enough, but the bright blue neckphones, with their oversized earpieces, could attract more than a little attention in public. Intel says the neckphones are better than the bud-style earphones popular with many makers, however.

The Pocket Concert succeeds as a very small, very portable audio player. Two AAA batteries offer 10 hours of music playback. Intel supplies rechargeable batteries and a recharger in an optional accessory kit that includes a device to connect the Pocket Concert to a car stereo for playback.

If you're looking for a sound traveling companion, this device easily could fit the bill.


Mark A. Kellner is editor at large for Government Computer News.


Pocket Concert

Price: $300

Manufacturer: Intel

The good: A tiny player with 128 MB of RAM

The bad: Must plug into PC to manage files

Bottom line: Nice enough

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