17 November 2005

Quest for Mobile Music

The MP3 player is one of the last gadgets that I have yet to acquire, until now. I think it is one of the bare 'wants' (not 'need') of any self-proclaimed geek. I used to get envious when I see people with a new MP3 player. I know I probably don't need it, but it's still a cool thing to have around. The one factor that kept me from buying one was the price. Whenever I see the RM200+ price tag, I immediately snapped out of my daydream and resumed my boring, MP3-less life. That is, until now.

I usually throw away those product catalogues they stuff into my mailbox, but for unknown reasons I took a look at the Tesco catalogue this morning. And to my astonishment, they were offering a 256MB MP3 player for RM99.90! To me, RM100 is the psychological price barrier and I kept praying for MP3 players to become this cheap - and it has. Instantly, the logical side of my brain shrunk to the size of a walnut while the needy-greedy-I-want-more side took control.

Sure, I could donate RM100 to the earthquake victims who are now experiencing the drastic winter.... but an MP3 player is more fun. The best part is it also has a voice recorder so I can make an audio journal instead of writing every thought down while I'm travelling. Trust me, trying to write coherently while in a moving bus can be nerve-wrecking. This feature will definitely come in handy when I go to Singapore next month.

Anyway, after several hours of deliberation (actually, it's 2 minutes to decide and 3 hours to convince the logical brain) I drove down to Tesco. I walked up to the electronics counter and asked to test the MP3 player. The guy said I had to pay for the item first. I was slightly taken aback by this modern-age shopping technique. While this practice is perfectly normal in western countries, it is pretty new here. For decades, Asians will only pay for a product after testing it, not the other way round. But since I'm pretty sure of buying it already, I paid with confidence (plus Tesco has a refund policy). Another interesting thing to note is that the receipt is the 1 year warranty card. What happened to mailing a post card to some weird location?

Anyway, it's now time for testing. I had planned to bring some MP3s on my thumb drive to be loaded into it, but I guessed they already have a testing station that will do that. I guessed wrong. Luckily the manufacturer, M.Walker, was one step ahead and had already preloaded two songs for my listening pleasure. However, they could have done better by including more recent songs instead of The Carpenter's "Yesterday Once More" and Aqua's "Barbie Girl". Well, at least I got to test it.

Unfortunately, I was asked to leave the testing counter after the lady found out that I had already paid for it. So I packed up the items and continued strolling around Tesco. I was getting displeased with the fact that I was pushed aside before I was satisfied with the product's quality. I felt I should be given the chance to fully work the player until the cow comes home. So I came up with two options. I could either:

a) March back to the testing counter and demand my right to continue testing it


b) Save myself the walking trouble and test the MP3 player right there, between the cooking oil and soya sauce aisles

Being the practical person that I am, I chose b). So there I was, in the middle of Tesco, unpacking my MP3 player and wearing it on. And then I practically walked around the large hypermarket, listening to Aqua and the Carpenters over and over and over again. While doing so, I discovered I have never been looked at by so many people in my life. Men, women, and children are drawn to the black thing dangling from my neck. It sure felt good to be noticed! (If even for the wrong reasons)

For a RM99.90 item, its strengths are few but firm, and its weaknesses are many but trivial. It is a fairly full-featured MP3 player with basic equalizer settings. It runs on a single AAA battery so I can replace it easily. It can work as a thumb drive as well. However, the main issues I have with it is that the LCD display does not show the artist and song title, an important item to have. Also, I always preferred MP3 players that use expandable storage like SD cards, but 256MB is no slouch either. And last but not least, I wonder how long those flimsy controls will last.

But even if there's a small buzzing sound when music is played, I can finally bring my kind of music with me instead of being fed unhealthy doses of Britney, Jessica, and Lindsay all the time. And that, my friends, is priceless.

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