mobiBLU is best known for manufacturing the world's smallest MP3 player, the DAH-1500i (aka the Cube). This was a novel and surprisingly usable MP3 player, despite its gimmicky premise. Now it seems that mobiBLU's quest for marketing superlatives has brought it to a place where their new DAH-1900 boasts 153 hours of battery life (hence its alternative name, B153).
In fairness, battery life has always been an important consideration when buying an MP3 player. Though 153 hours might seem ludicrous -- and has clearly done little to benefit the styling of this player -- there's nothing else that comes close to the continuous play time of the DAH-1900.
If you value endurance over usability, this player is a plausible option. Compared to the video iPod's battery life of around 15 hours, the DAH-1900 is a powerhouse. But is exceptional battery life enough to offset a number of serious flaws elsewhere in this player?
Stick a huge battery to the side of the world's smallest MP3 player, and what do you get? A medium-sized MP3 player. mobiBLU has effectively jimmied a bigger battery into what would otherwise have been Cube-sized.
The DAH-1900 is a 2GB flash-based player, so the size of the MP3 player circuitry itself is tiny in comparison to the power source. The super-sized battery makes the player unusually heavy, although it's not much bigger than a matchbox. It's perfectly pocketable, but won't quite fit into the famous 'iPod nano pocket' in your Levis.
The small OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screen on the mobiBLU is more seamless than Sony's recent efforts at the same thing, but the overall quality of the display is reminiscent of a calculator from the 80s. This is not an unappealing look, and almost gives the player a so-bad-it's-cool look and feel. Regardless of the retro aesthetic, the display is clear and bright, with an excellent viewing angle.
A basic directional pad on the front of the player lets you navigate through menu options, and there's a set of transport controls on the top including play/pause, record, SRS (surround) and LDB (a lyrics database feature that we later discovered didn't work). These buttons have an occasional tendency to get stuck under the fascia if you depress them slightly off-centre. Next time you come to press the button, you'll find it doesn't respond.
Despite the temperamental buttons on the DAH-1900, there is a general ruggedness to the design. We dropped the player a few times onto concrete and it emerged unscathed. The chassis material is certainly less liable to become scratched than the iPod's, but the chassis is emblazoned with unnecessary logos and specifications. This gives the player a slightly kitch look -- like a Ford Escort XR3i with Max Power stickers on the back window.
The mobiBLU DAH-1900's on-screen interface is confusing to navigate, and the play/pause button will frequently turn the player off rather than pause a track. Navigation is a constant struggle against the OLED's refusal to display more than three songs simultaneously.
One area where the DAH-1900 gets it right is the method of song transfer. Like the, the DAH-1900 mounts as a generic USB drive on any file system. This instantly raised it in our estimation -- there's no fiddly transfer software, no DRM lock-in and no platform dependency. This is the way things should always be.
Codec support is restricted to MP3 and WMA, but it's rare that you'll want to stray beyond these market leaders. Because the player uses a simple drag-and-drop system, you can always convert more obscure formats like OGG to MP3 on your computer before you transfer it to the DAH-1900.
Because the DAH-1900 won't allow contiguous playback of any tracks outside the current folder, you'll be tempted to dump your entire music collection into the root directory. While this overcomes the problem of not being able to randomise playback of songs organised in folders, it does mean the length of your playlist becomes unwieldy. If you have the patience to scroll down to the end of the average MP3 collection using the interface mobiBLU has designed, you have the patience of a monk. For most this is too frustrating to contemplate.
For voice recordings, you can use the DAH-1900's built-in microphone, or an external microphone using the bundled USB to male 3.5mm jack. The bundled cable is perfect for recordings direct from a line-out source, like a CD player. But if you want to plug most small microphones into the player you'll need to buy a cheap male to female 3.5mm adaptor. This will let you plug the male end of the microphone lead to the male end of the USB-to-3.5mm cable.
Radio fans can listen to FM broadcasts on the built-in tuner. Reception is constantly monitored by a series of bars that indicate the strength of the current station in a similar way to the bars on a mobile phone. Mesmerising though this graphic is, there's a rather more simple way to tell how strong the current reception is, and that's by listening to it -- something you're probably doing already when in radio mode.
Supernatural battery life aside, the most interesting feature of the DAH-1900 is its timed record function. This lets you schedule recordings in advance. The player will either record from the built-in radio, or from the line in via the bundled USB cable. This makes it perfect for espionage. Set the player up in a discreet location and time it to record when the subjects of your surveillance are likely to be present.
We auditioned Breathe by The Prodigy on the mobiBLU DAH-1900 and then compared it to the same track on our reference system using flat-response headphones.
The track begins with a low-fi drum beat, and the DAH-1900 managed this 5-second intro well enough. But when we expected the bass end to come crashing in, as it does on our reference system, the DAH-1900 fell dismally flat.
The low-end sounded muddied -- there was none of the frenzied clout of the original MP3 -- the mid-range lacked definition and, strangest of all, the separation between instruments had been completely lost. Headphones usually over-emphasise the positions of instruments in the mix, because there's no chance for the sound to mix in a room. However, something very odd happens with this player. The left and right channels almost sound like they've merged.
Auditioning the Beach Boys' Good Vibrations couldn't have been more ironic. The DAH-1900 delivered a passable effort, but most of the fidelity of the original recording had evaporated. It's difficult to understand how mobiBLU got this one so wrong. The Cube wasn't nearly so disappointing to listen to.
Podcast lovers may be prepared to tolerate the low quality of the DAH-1900, simply because the battery life on this player is so incredible. For them, poor fidelity may not be a deal-breaker. However, mobiBLU has made some serious compromises to extend the battery life of this player.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide