Transcend Digital Album (20GB)
As an MP3 player, Transcend's portly 20GB Digital Album is reminiscent of the bricklike 100GB . Though it's sheathed in attractive and protective metal that's comfortably rounded on the bottom, the chassis is too big to be stylish, and it states to onlookers, "If I were a car, I'd be a Hummer." Yet with a spacious color screen for viewing photos and compatibility with virtually all flash memory cards, the $368 Transcend Digital Album is the ideal blend for digital camera enthusiasts who happen to like MP3s--theoretically. Unfortunately, inadequate battery life and a thin feature set are the reality, so stick with the Digital Album only if JPEGs are much more important to you than MP3s.
Next to an iPod, the Transcend Digital Album just looks silly. But its oversize body (measuring 4.2 by 3.2 by 1 inches) can accommodate all sorts of flash memory cards. It's less a MP3 player, way more a photo viewing/storage device. The Digital Album has 294x228-pixel resolution on its bright and colorful 2.5-inch display. It may not be the sharpest or largest screen available in this category (see the gorgeous VGA screen on the Epson P-2000), but it's still a delight for viewing photos, particularly compared to the smaller screen of the Apple iPod Photo or a typical digital camera. And there's no need for a CompactFlash adapter, as on other dedicated photo viewers such as the Flashtrax SmartDisk, because you have a slot for CompactFlash/microdrive and another slot for SD/MMC/SmartMedia/MemoryStick.
Centered under the screen is the primary five-way controller, which is tactile and exact. On either side of the five-way are tiny (but, again, tactile) buttons for Select/Copy, Exit/Delete, Memo/Record, and Menu/Power. Depending on your mode, pressing a button activates the first option, and holding it down for a couple seconds activates the second option. The rest of the Digital Album's various ports and controls are located on the right spine and include dedicated volume buttons, a lock switch, a USB port, power in, a built-in mic, and indicator lights. Each memory card slot has a protective and attached rubber cover. Overall, the controls are a quick learn, and the folder-driven interface is intuitive as can be. In fact, if you don't have any cards inserted, you get only one choice on the intro screen: an icon for the unit's hard disk.
Basically, the Digital Album is a file browser and a decent file manager. Once you drill down into a folder, you'll see your files, either in thumbnail mode (better for photos) or list mode (better for everything else). The photo thumbs are small but viewable, and you can see up to eight of them on the screen simultaneously. Selecting a thumbnail opens a full-screen version--a snappy process, even for 2MB files, which take about 3 seconds to load. You can set a simple audioless slide show with a few transitions and delays of 2, 4, 6, and 8 seconds, as well as append each photo with a 10-second voice memo. It's also no task at all to transfer files from memory cards to the hard disk or vice versa: simply select your files, then activate Copy. Transfer speeds are decent at 1.2MB per second via a standard 1GB SD card, and we appreciate the Copy Entire Card feature, which, inexplicably, isn't mentioned in the manual.