Not all portable video players cost hundreds of dollars. Case in point: Mattel's Juice Box, a $70 PVP designed for kids aged 8 to 12 years old. While it lacks most of the high-end panache of an Archos AV420, this rubberized portable offers playback of video found on tiny preloaded cartridges called JuiceWare. Sold separately, these JuiceWare "chips" cost from $10 to $25 each and feature popular cartoons, extreme sports, and music videos. With the addition of the MP3 Starter Kit ($45), the Juice Box can also be used as an MP3 player and photo viewer. The Juice Box, with its small screen and simple interface, is anything but cutting edge, but kids (and their parents) are sure to love this time-consuming "early adopter" gadget--as long as the JuiceWare titles keep flowing. With its 2.75-inch, backlit color screen; a grippable, scratch-free rubber front border; and a toy-grade plastic rear, the Mattel Juice Box has "kid-friendly tech toy" written all over it, and available colors include bright red, royal blue, and lime green. And at 4.3 by 3.2 by 1.2 inches and 8 ounces (including batteries), the player is compact enough to fit comfortably in your child's hands but not so tiny that it's easy to lose. Large, simple playback and navigation buttons plus a tiny power-indicator light line the left face of the Juice Box. The left side includes a stereo headphone jack, a dial-style volume control, and a port for a power adapter (not included). The right side includes a power switch and a 1.3-inch slot for JuiceWare chips, which protrude about an inch from the device. The built-in mono speaker and a battery compartment reside on the back. A handy transparent blue screen that protects the LCD flips back and serves as a kickstand for hands-free viewing. In addition, a soft plastic film protects the LCD from scratches, food, and other gooey things. All this makes for a durable electronic device--essential, considering the player's target audience.
The Juice Box uses three AA batteries (not included) that you can install only after unscrewing the battery door with a Philips screwdriver. The player also doesn't include any accessories: a Juice Box carrying case, a content carrying case, a car adapter, headphones, and an AC adapter are all available for optional purchase.In case you were wondering, the Mattel Juice Box doesn't have a hard drive nor does it record video. It only plays videos that come preloaded on JuiceWare chips. Included in the box is a dummy chip that allows you to view snippets of content preloaded in the device's ROM (you can't turn the Juice Box on without inserting a chip). To date, there are 24 titles available ranging from The Powerpuff Girls and Dexter's Laboratory to Vans BMX Championship and Music Videos Volume 1. Each chip contains about an hour of video and is usually divided up into several episodes. For example, our test chip contained two captivating episodes of Codename: Kids Next Door. Typically, the chip's main menu gives you these options: Play All, Episode, Info (which displays the various functions of playing a video), and About. In Episode mode, the titles of each episode are listed along with a thumbnail-size video intro for each.
Once you start viewing the video, you can pause, skip to either the next or the previous chapter, or fast-forward/rewind; this speeds up the video and the audio, which we surmise will generate some laughs. You can also adjust screen contrast and brightness.
With the $45 MP3 Starter Kit, the Juice Box can be expanded to play MP3 and photo files. The kit includes a USB SD/MMC card reader, a JuiceWare-style SD/MMC card adapter, a 32MB MMC or SD card (note the word or), a USB extender cable, and a software CD. Getting MP3s onto the Juice Box is a matter of dragging and dropping files using Windows Explorer. No drivers are necessary for the card reader in Windows XP or Mac OS X. You can also use the included Juice Box software to transfer files. Unfortunately, the Juice Box is limited to playing MP3s with a maximum bit rate of 128Kbps. This means your little audiophile is restricted to this common-but-mediocre file quality. So if your child's existing collection includes any near-pristine 320Kbps tracks, they won't play on the Juice Box. Our advice: If this is the case, get them one of these. The integrated MP3 Ripper software allows you to rip CDs at a maximum bit rate of 128Kbps and burn files to CD. You must use the Juice Box application to get photos onto your card. They are converted to proprietary JBP files and max out at 57K.