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The MP3 gallery just got better
Sunil Jain
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September 30, 2005

While Apple's trying, pretty successfully it appears, to change the landscape for MP3 players with its slim Nano powerhouse which costs around Rs 11,000 in India (for the 2GB machine which costs $199 abroad) and can hold up to 650-700 songs, one of the more exciting recent MP3 offerings to my mind is the Samsung YH-J70 since it combines a lot of features most MP3s don't have like an FM tuner and a reasonably good screen on which you can watch video films, all at a price which is pretty affordable at Rs 19,900 for a 20GB machine (and Rs 22,900 for a 30GB machine) -- given an average song size of 3 MB, that's a storage of around 6,500 songs (10,000 for the 30GB one).

iPods, in comparison, don't have either FM or video capabilities, though those who use them swear that the sound quality is unmatchable and well worth the extra price.

The YH-J70 also has a line-in and line-out facilities which allows you to record directly from any amplifier that has a line-out facility; and the YH-J70's line-out allows you to plug in the MP3 to a home audio system -- few, if any, other MP3s allow you to record without using a computer as an interface.

For another Rs 500, you can get a connecter that plugs into the cigarette lighter slot in your car and automatically tunes your MP3 to an empty station on your car stereo as well, so that others driving with you can get to hear your music.

The level of accessories available for iPods still beat those available for Samsung but the company says it's working on them. Like other MP3s, you can also store data on the YH-J70 from your laptop, the way you'd do on any flash drive (just drag and drop) as well as make recordings.

If you're downloading music from the net onto your laptop, it's already in an MP3 format, so can be put onto the Samsung in just a few seconds. Go to the folder where it's stored, right click your mouse to copy it, go to the Samsung icon on your machine and copy.

No proprietory software of the iTunes sort is required here, it's just like copying on to an external hard disk, with speakers.

If you want to copy from a normal audio CD, however, these are in a CDA format -- the Samsung Media Studio, available for free with the YH-J70, allows you to select the track you want and 'rip' it (I presume the term finds it origins from ripping off which is slang for theft) which essentially involves converting it into an MP3 format, and from there it's the usual drag and drop.

Each song takes about a minute to convert. I got one of these CDs from Samsung while reviewing the machine, and have successfully converted various audio CDs at home to MP3 formats and now use my Sony Ericsson P910i PDA-phone as an MP3, minus the FM of course -- a normally reserved colleague nearly broke into a dance hearing Sunidhi Chauhan's Sajna ve Sajna from Chameli on it!

Of course, I wouldn't recommend something like this for any music buff since like all cheap solutions, it's just that. Cheap. The battery on a phone that's not meant for music lasts just a couple of hours, as compared to 25 hours for a YH-J70 or an iPod. It's advisable to change the name of tracks you 'rip' on the computer itself, and create folders for each disk/singer as managing 10,000 songs can be quite a handful as RJ Amber of radio station Salaam Namaste will tell you.

A similar process of 'ripping' is required for converting video CDs to a format that's usable on the YH-J70, though this takes a lot longer. I tried copying one of the ad films that Saregama usually puts in the Batman movies I buy for my son, and that took a few minutes -- a full length movie's obviously going to take more.

I must confess I was really sceptical about watching a movie on a screen that's just 1.8 inches across diagonally, but the quality was really good, perhaps not surprising given Samsung's leadership in the plasma screen business -- for those interested in trivia, the screen is 260,000 colour TFT LCD one.

In order to get a decent viewing, however, you need to bend your elbow and hold the machine about a foot away from your face (colleagues with better eyesight, I admit, have had a better experience) and that can get a bit tedious if you're watching anything more than a few minutes long. I guess you could put it on the table like they do in the Hutch TV ad, but unless it's at eye-level, the picture quality gets distorted.

While the iPod's rotational dial is quite addictive, and on a par with Sony's revolutionary phone jog-dial, it doesn't take too long to get used to the Samsung buttonry either.

Of course if you want to carry something smaller and lighter than the YH-J70, Samsung's got a whole host of flash-memory based MP3-cum-FM tuners for you, usually ranging between Rs 4,900 for the YP-U1 which can store around 85 songs in its 256 MB memory (no FM here, though) to Rs 8,900 for the 512 MB YP F1 which you can hang around your neck and has 3 replaceable shells as accessories.

Most of these operate on a single AA battery of the type you use in your alarm clock/torch and the music lasts for over 40 hours at a stretch. The display background is white and the letters are in black (for the YP-F1, it's the other way around).

Other high quality flash drive MP3s available in the market include the Sony Network Walkman series which have a 3-line display. Prices range from Rs 13,000 for the NW-E505, which has an FM tuner and a 512 MB memory and plays for 3 hours for each 3-minute recharge through a USB port.

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