Here's something new and fresh. Damon Dash, best known as the cofounder of Roc-A-Fella Records and owner of an empire that includes music, film, clothing, and even vodka, has launched Roc Digital, which is introducing two new MP3 players to the mix: a 20GB device designed to compete against the
Upside: Style is a priority here, as evidenced by the shiny-black chrome face that's one part minimal, two parts bling; it looks like a Klingon's version of the third-generation iPod, minus the scrollwheel. A 2-inch blue-backlit display, tactile buttons that glow blue, and a rubberized backside round out the notable physical features. The Roc Digital Rocbox is compatible with MP3, WMA (including protected files), and WAV formats; includes 25 preset EQ modes; and supports MTP (Media Transfer Protocol), which allows autosynchronization with Windows Media Player. The USB 2.0 Rocbox ships with a USB cable, a travel charger, a custom belt clip, and "exclusive" Roc Digital earbuds--we can't wait to listen through these.
Downside: We're disappointed that Roc Digital doesn't add any amenities to differentiate itself from the current MP3 king. Like the iPod, the Rocbox doesn't have extra features such as FM and recording abilities. And at $299, it had better be a good-quality, easy-to-use player in order to compete since looks alone don't succeed in the technology market. Speaking of looks, the empty space under the buttons doesn't mean you can't navigate the Rocbox; instead, the device includes a BlackBerry-style thumbwheel on its side. Also, at 4.4 by 2.9 by 0.7 inches, the Rocbox is definitely bigger than the svelte iPod. Then again, next to a chromed-out Hummer, the Rocbox will look tiny (and appropriate). Finally, the Roc Digital Rocbox mirrors the iPod's rated battery life with a less than stellar 13 hours.
Outlook: Any new high-profile player designed to shake up a still-young market is welcome, and any unit set to compete directly with the iPod (using a hip-hop-infused marketing blitz) is, at the very least, amusing. Given its strategic retail approach--you'll be able to snag one of these at CompUSA and Macy's in November--Roc Digital might be onto something. Check back soon for our full review to see if this player's legit.