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7/17/2009


Review: V-Touch Personal MP3/Video Player

Filed under: Reviews and Impressions — Charlie Summers @ 6:13 pm

As most of you know, I am canceling my XM Satellite Radio, which means I need something for the car…something that can play music and downloaded podcasts, particularly news and talk shows like The Bob Edwards Show. But I’m afraid the V-Touch VL-875 isn’t anywhere near it.

Wow, what a deal!

This player, according to the distributor’s web site, has a list price of $249.99, and I only paid $60!!! Um, no, to be serious, if you pay more than $90 for this player, you’ve been severely ripped off regardless of the manufacturer’s list price. I purchased mine when buy.com had a sale with free shipping, including a set of “high-end” earphones. (The earphones turned out to be Visual Land’s SSB-10’s, which list for $30 and are commonly available for under $10. And I’m not a fan of in-ear earphones anyway, preferring something that sits outside the canal. But still, it made the $60 a somewhat better deal, although not much, as you’ll see.)

The player has a 2.8″ touch screen which is a whole lot smaller than it sounds, and plays MP3/WMA/WAV/AAC audio files (depending on where on the website you read…some places omit the AAC, and others omit the WAV as well - me, I’ll bet on MP3 and forget the rest), and AVI/3GP/MP4 video files (more on this mess a little later), as well as JPG/GIF/BMP photo files, and plain-text “ebooks.” (Yeah, it has a text reader. Be still, my heart.)

Opening Up…

The box is kinda classy, a book that needs to be opened to expose the player. Mine was sealed in a cellophane bag (you know the kind, with the folded sticky-strip on the end), with the accessories (included earphones not dissimilar to the SSB-10’s, USB cable, USB wall-wart, and sexy little carry-bag) in the larger side. The first disappointment was a small mar on the touch screen…I couldn’t remove it using my favorite screen cleaning method, vinegar-and-water with a micro-fiber cloth. It’s still there, and visible while watching video; I can only assume it occurred either during manufacturing or testing…I’d hate to think the unit I received was remanufactured, even when on sale.

So the first thing to do is charge the unit; this is accomplished by plugging it into any computer USB port or powered hub, or via the USB wall-wart included. (No auto adapter in the box, but one can’t ask for everything.) If you connect it through the wall-wart, it charges while the unit can be operated, but if you connect it to a live computer through USB, the unit goes into disk-mode and is only available as two discs on the desktop - the internal memory and any miniSD card you have installed (more on this in a while). While connected to the Belkin hub, I decided to transfer some music to the 8G internal memory on the device. I copied a folder of 70’s hits I legally recorded from Slacker radio - 1,127 song titles encoded at 44mHz 128k. And before you tell me how low-grade that encoding scheme is, let me remind you XM Satellite Radio is running under 30k for their music channels, so for me, it’s a serious step up.

Anyway, it took over an hour-and-a-half to copy those files…that seemed pretty long, but it isn’t every day I copy more than four gigabytes worth of files to an external device, so let it pass. I copied the “70’s hits” folder inside the \MUSIC folder…the on-line FAQ is a little confused about where music files should be placed, and I’m an experimental kinda guy, so let’s see where this leads.

I also converted a video file (an XVID-encoded AVI of the first episode of Better Off Ted, a series my wife has no interest in seeing but I wanted to taste, using the included MP4 Tool. I should note that while the device comes with a disc of support software, I never opened it, since the software is available directly on the player’s flash drive. I think that is an excellent idea…I copied the all of the data which shipped on the device to a folder on my computer, then felt free to remove, move, or otherwise muck with it knowing I could always put it back as-shipped whenever I wanted.

Anyway, why convert the XVID AVI? Because it d*mned well won’t play standard movie files, that’s why. This isn’t exactly a slam on this machine, since most small devices require video to be re-encoded to whatever the player’s processor and screen will handle…it’s like trying to play MKV files on a Nintendo DS…it just ain’t gonna happen, no matter how much you dream about a 1080i handheld.

What a lot of people do, though, is copy various files onto the player, and then complain that they won’t play. Me, I just assume they won’t as a default, and convert whenever I want to copy video to a portable player, especially when the player comes with converter software already. Just convert any video you want to put on the player, even if you think it “should” play it natively, and you’ll save yourself one whole lot of stress and bother. Life’s too short to be disappointed unnecessarily.

(For the purposes of this review, I did copy a “standard” XVID AVI file to the unit, and attempted to play it. Got a “File Format Error” after which it removed the XVID from the video list - didn’t delete the file, just made it inaccessible from the player. Nice to know my instincts are still sound.)

Let’s Play the Puppy

So anyway, I remove the device from the USB figuring that hour-and-a-half should be enough charge for at least a little testing, and I’m confronted with the touch-screen UI. It really isn’t difficult to understand, but it is a little hard to get any kind of accuracy with a finger…I borrowed a Nintendo DS stylus from my daughter, which made controlling the device a whole lot more pleasant, but using a stylus in the car is going to be neigh-on impossible, so there’s a serious strike against it already. (There is a small stylus included, but I didn’t use it - there isn’t anywhere on the device to put it, anyway.)

It was relatively trivial to set the device up to play all songs, and play them randomly - the random setting sticks between restarts, which is a really good thing, and I admit a little unexpected. What I didn’t, and don’t, understand is why the device says it has 579 songs…it even lists each random play as “xxx of 579,” where the number changes depending on the song. I know there are 1,127 songs on the device…heck, I checked it in Windows Explorer before disconnecting.

Ok, so back to USB connection, and move all of the files out of the “\MUSIC\70s hits” directory and straight into the /music directory. Moving the files in Windows Explorer took a speedy 15-seconds or so; once the device was disconnected from the USB and came alive, I went into Audio, selected “Update Audio Lib” which took a lot longer than 15-seconds, then selected “All Songs” - hitting the first one to get it started, the player now thinks it has 691 songs. While an improvement, it’s still wrong…and since the plan was to completely fill the 8G of flash memory with songs, and these 1,127 songs only take up a little over half of it, this is a pretty serious problem. 691 songs will last a while, but assuming 2,000 songs fit on the memory and it only plays 700, this is unacceptable.

But apparently Visual Land is aware of this little “quirk;” inside their FAQ, they give two, completely contradictory pieces of advice:

Songs Not Showing in Playlist

If your songs are not showing up in the playlist after updating it, try removing any subfolders within the MUSIC folder.

Not All Songs In Player Showing In Playlist

If you are updating your music list and the player is not showing all your songs in the playlist, try creating subfolders in the MUSIC folder and splitting the songs between those folders.

Al….righty then…let’s see if setting up 6 folders, with 200 songs in each helps. We’ll name them \MUSIC\001 to \MUSIC\006. Move the files, safely remove, select Music, then “Update Audio Lib” (the “Wait a second…” HINT window that appears is way too optimistic, as is the “Success” report when it’s finished), “All Songs,” hit the first one, and play…”001 of 637.” Ok, back up and try “Update Audio Lib” again…wait…then play the first song on the list to find…”001 of 637.”

Ok, ok, it’s pretty clear this device is never going to recognize the number of songs that will actually fit on the device. And I know I’m wasting some time trying various permutations of the seemingly infinite combinations available, but just for giggles, I’ll put 600 in the /MUSIC directory, and the others in subdirectories under it. Now I have 676…and these are a completely different 676, since the first song is JD Souther’s You’re Only Lonely. (My songs are named Artist-Title, so alphabetically this “scrape” of the songs started with J?)

And there’s something else odd about this player; while it must include the ID3 tag data in the internal database, it doesn’t display any of that information when playing a song…only the filename of the song, and that on one scrolling line leaving a large area of unused screen real estate where ID3 tag data could easily have been displayed. Seems kinda odd that you can select songs by artist, album, or genre from the ID3 tag, yet the player can’t show you that information for the playing song. (And I personally hate the spectra display; since the player isn’t fast enough to display it in real-time anyway, I don’t know why they bothered.)

And while we’re on the subject of playing MP3s, the unit has a built-in speaker. Again, dunno why they bothered, since it is completely useless. The only way to hear it is to hold the player up to your ear like a telephone, and it sounds worse than your standard 1960’s-era MaBell telephone. I tried the little square speaker I sell at the OldRadio.Network Shop, and that gives out enough volume to be listenable, but headphones or earphones are required for most listening through this thing.(And yes, kids, I did set the volume to 100%, and that sticks between restarts, too. Hey, I’ll take the pluses where I can find ‘em.)

But What Else Can It Do?

Alright, as an MP3 player this unit is a bust. Let’s look around at the other features. It has a built-in, 2MP camera. Uh-huh. Well, there’s a camera alright. It makes a cell phone camera look like a professional SLR, though - the video or photos it takes are badly exposed, and for some inexplicable reason the camera defaulted to a ten-second delay, as if this thing would ever sit on a tripod for me to get into the picture or something. The UI is awkward at best, and in some cases just d*mned stupid, way too much work to take photos or video, so I never bothered mucking around with the various buried settings to see if I could come up with anything acceptable. Just skip the camera…if you’re buying it for this, save your money.

Ok, let’s watch some video. Remember I converted an episode of Better Off Ted? Well, I watched the entire episode on that tiny, 2.8″ screen. Ignoring the pitiful nature of that program (the Mrs. was right, and that’s 22 minutes of my life I’ll never get back), the video was…ok, considering the size of the screen. My guess is my eleven-year-old daughter, with her eleven-year-old perfect eyes, wouldn’t have any problems with the screen. Me, even with my glasses on, that’s d*mned small to be watching television on.

I admit the FM Radio isn’t too shabby…we have a small transmitter in the house connected to one of the computers transmitting at 100.3, and it was kinda nice to walk around the house without having to have every radio in the place turned on. The radio will not work through the internal speaker - you must have earphones plugged in. I’m guessing the unit uses the earphone wire as the antenna. Adding or removing station “presets” isn’t hard (but not particularly intuitive, either), and if you can stand the annoying jocks and commercials on FM, this’ll work well for you. Me, not so very much - heck, I stopped listening to my geographically-closest public radio station, preferring to pick my own programming from stations all over the country, so I won’t even be using it for that.

One other “feature” the unit has is a miniSD slot for expansion. miniSD is an odd-ball, used for very little and almost nothing since the advent of the microSD (formerly “transflash”) card. And it doesn’t handle SDHC, only SD, so lots of luck finding any cards to go in here. I use microSD cards, and happen to have some 2G and a miniSD adaptor card, so I’m ok. But if it can’t handle the 8G flash memory it already has, what good is adding another 2G of microSD card in a miniSD adaptor, anyway?

(FWIW, I did some tests with a 4G microSDHC card in the miniSD adapter, and the unit actually did recognize the card, and even played a few songs from the card via the file explorer. Of course, to add the hundreds of songs I put on that card to the device’s playlist, I’d need to add them one at a time, something I declined to do, what with having a life and all. Still, it’s nice to know it actually recognizes SDHC cards, so carrying a Bob Edwards Weekend on a walk wouldn’t be impossible, just a little difficult since there’s no way to position the player within a large file. Yep, you stop playing an hour-long file, you start right back at the beginning. The best the player can do is playing audio or video at 2x…so it would take better than ten minutes to “fast-forward” to the middle of a Bob Edwards Weekend podcast. Yuck.)

There’s some other stuff in the device, but none of it really worth mentioning. I mean, it’s being sold as an MP3 player, and it is an abject failure at that, so if it can display photos of the kids (something you can do with a $20 pocket photo frame), who really cares? And for those looking at the graphic above, I should mention the “Games” icon clearly visible there isn’t on the unit…the website notes there are no games available on the device.

Another thing I should note here is that this is a rather generic player from China; the exact same device is sold under a variety of names, including Eclipse. Just saw that one on-line marketer has another name of this exact player for $50 after rebate…still $40 too much, as far as I’m concerned.

Here’s the bottom line: avoid this device like the plague. It is a complete waste of money (I’d return it, but between shipping and the 15% restocking fee it ain’t worth the trouble), even at $60. The touch screen might impress a ten-year-old, but anyone older will skip the “Ooh, shiny!” and go straight to, “Hey! Where’d my music go?”

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5 Responses to “Review: V-Touch Personal MP3/Video Player” »

     

  1. bob53186 Says:

    ….Shoulda bought an iPod!

    Seriously, though, I’ve been an Apple user since the early 90s because as the joke goes “I don’t want to know how my computer works, that’s why I use a Mac.”

    My iPods (a 20 Gig for mowing the lawn and snow removal, and a 60 Gig for everything else) have been the perfect home for my music and my OTR.

    First-rate review of this product, though. You covered all the elements that anyone interested in buying a portable media player would need to know!

    Thanks!

  2.  

  3. Charlie Summers Says:

    bob53186 Says:

    ….Shoulda bought an iPod!

    Er…no. There’s no way I’ll purchase an Apple device, for more legitimate reasons than I care to get into. While before OSX you couldn’t find a greater Apple promoter, since Steve Jobs returned and decided he’s running an entertainment company and really fouled up the Macintosh OS by importing the un*x-based NextStep and eliminating the Apple menu, I’ll pass. The idea of installing the bloated sales tool iTunes on any of my computers makes me shudder (although I might install it on the firewalled machine that currently has Audible’s software on it, since it only gets fired up about twice a year). And the only Macintosh I have running anymore is the last machine that can dual-boot to OS9, since that operating system is truly simple (and effectively immune to viruses). And yeah, I removed a whole bunch of software, including iTunes, from that Mac’s OSX install. I’m a little surprised you’re actually allowed to install third-party software on OSX, as much as Steve believes in controlling everything you put on any of his other devices.

    My best friend gave my daughter an iPod Shuffle. The first thing I did was research the Net and install this program to her machine Shuffle. Now, instead of iTunes locking the Shuffle to one machine and reporting back to Apple any time I put any songs on it, I can copy songs from any computer into the \MUSIC folder and just run the tiny iShuffle program directly from the Shuffle itself. I know you think iTunes makes your life easy, but it really doesn’t and you are giving up any privacy you might have. I’d rather work a little harder to have a truly simple life and protect my privacy at the same time.

    And the iPod Touch or iPhone? Don’t get me started…it’ll be a cold day in Hades before I purchase a phone or computer where I have to pay Steve before I install any software. (I’ve been asked twice this week why I don’t have an iPhone, so I’m thinking about writing a longer blog post about why Apple devices are fine for the “Ooh, Shiny!” crowd, but I’m not paying any “Steve-Tax.”)

  4.  

  5. ilamfan Says:

    Yeah, Charlie, I agree with the nix on the iPod (took me *hours* (!) to get my niece’s Shuffle working, since I routinely hit “no” on those tons of setup questions - nobody’s business what’s on the player!).

    My player of choice is the Archos Jukebox Recorder. Even though they have been discontinued for several years, now, they can be had on auction sites for almost (dare I say it?) a SONG. They work on a standard replaceable laptop hard drive (formatted to FAT32), use standard replaceable AA rechargeable batteries, read and organize files by their filenames, work fine with subfolders, the mediocre supplied software is easily upgraded to the open-source Rockbox software (which greatly increases the player’s usefulness), even includes screensavers/games/calendar/clock if you’re into having that on your player, are generally very durable (hence their continued availability)…and they record audio, too! Reads as an external hard drive on the computer, just drag and drop files of any kind - stores them all, plays only mp3’s.

    I just got one at an online auction: MINT condition, brand new 60 GB hard drive, Rockbox already installed, for $90. This is a bit more than I originally planned to spend (as I only intended it as an additional backup player), but it sure worked out fine. This unit is beautiful - the previous owner really took care of it. Usually the 20 GB units sell for $50 or $60.

    Changing out the hard drive is not that big of a deal, though the unit wasn’t designed for this to be done often or very easily…but still very do-able for anyone with patience and a tiny screwdriver.

    No colors or flashy graphics or video on the green backlit screen, but who needs any of that for audio in the car?

    How soon till somebody makes a player with NO memory, just a USB port where you plug in your thumb drive? I picture a small handful of drives, each loaded with their own categories of audio: “podcasts”, “classic rock”, “old time radio”, “comedy”…

    Million-dollar-idea, if you ask me…

  6.  

  7. Charlie Summers Says:

    ilamfan Says:

    took me *hours* (!) to get my niece’s Shuffle working

    Took me about twenty-minutes of research and under five minutes to install the tiny iShuffle program to Katie’s iPod Shuffle, and it works like a charm. Any time we add or change music, a simple double-click on the iShuffle executable already on the Shuffle itself and the database is updated, without reporting anything back to Steve. There are other programs that do this, too - a simple web search on “shuffle without itunes” will be seriously instructive.

    ilamfan Says:

    They work on a standard replaceable laptop hard drive

    Not a big fan of mechanical devices in something I’m going to carry around; much prefer solid-state.

    ilamfan Says:

    How soon till somebody makes a player with NO memory, just a USB port where you plug in your thumb drive?

    Er…that would be really inconvenient considering the probability of damage (it would be trivial to snap off the USB connector or break the flash drive while carrying one plugged-in to a portable MP3 player while on a jog), compared to the reality of MP3 players with microSDHC card slots (i.e. almost the entire SanDisk Sansa line). Those cards (formerly known as “transflash”) are tiny, and hold stupid amounts of data (the Sansa Fuze microSDHC slot will support up to 16 Gig cards, and they make even larger ones). Even for the boombox I bought my parents to replace their XM Satellite Radio (which does have a USB slot - a blog post about this is in the works), I copied their music onto microSDHC cards, and they use an inexpensive card reader to select the style of music they want, plug it in to the USB port, and select “Random” from the boombox’s over-complicated menu system. I even bought them a small aluminum case to hold the cards and the card reader. And if Dad suddenly decides he needs to hear some jazz, copying to another 4- or 8-Gig card is trivial.

    ilamfan Says:

    Million-dollar-idea, if you ask me…

    Been done, even more elegantly.

  8.  

  9. Nostalgic Rumblings » Review: SanDisk Sansa Fuze Says:

    […] As I’ve mentioned before, I am (eventually) canceling my XM Satellite Radio, which means I need something for the car…something that can play music and downloaded podcasts, particularly news and talk shows like The Bob Edwards Show. I’ve already found the V-Touch VL-875 sorely lacking, so I stepped up, or over, to the Sandisk Sansa Fuze to see if that will fit the bill. Short answer…don’t think so, and I think you’ll agree with me in a little while… […]


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