Editors' note: The current version of the Baylis Revolution MP3 player uses a quieter crank mechanism than the model we originally reviewed. Our review has been updated to reflect this change.
We get a lot of cookie-cutter, humdrum MP3 players here at CNET, but the Baylis Revolution is not one of them. Aside from the fact that it's thick as a textbook, the Baylis Revolution has the unique distinction in the MP3 player world of having a built-in hand crank and an LED flashlight. Like a portable media Swiss army knife, the multipurpose, utility-minded design of the Baylis Revolution isn't for everyone, however, priced at $179 (4GB) and $209 (8GB) it may be just the thing for all you camping and adventuring types.
When we got our hands on the first Baylis wind-up MP3 player in 2007, we had a bit of a laugh at its chunky design, clunky interface, and high price tag. Now in its second generation, the Baylis Revolution wind-up MP3 player still weighs in on the chunky side, but its design and value have improved substantially.
The first thing you'll notice is that it has a hand crank on the back, which can be used to recharge the internal battery or even charge other gadgets. The crank is made from a metal shaft and hinge, which is more durable than the first generation's plastic design.
If having a crank on your MP3 player doesn't turn heads, the sheer girth of the Baylis Revolution will certainly draw some attention. Measuring 2.5 inches wide by 4.5 inches tall by 1.25 inches deep, the Baylis Revolution looks more like a portable cassette player than an iPod. Fortunately, the Baylis Revolution's substantial size makes it easier to grip if you sincerely intend to use the crank for recharging.
The rest of the Eco Media Player's design is fairly humdrum. A color 2-inch color LCD is found on the top half of the front panel. Beneath the screen lies a circular four-way direction pad with an oddly off-center button located near the middle. It takes a little time to get the hang of the navigation pad, but the system is much more intuitive than the first-generation model and a small menu button located above the pad takes you right back to the main menu if you ever get lost.
The left edge of the Eco Media Player includes ports for line input and mini USB, as well as an SD card slot with a retractable door. The top of the Baylis Revolution includes a power button, hold switch, 3.5mm headphone jack, and an LED flashlight operated by a nearby button. If your friends ever make fun of you for spending $179 on a wind-up MP3 player, just blind them with the flashlight.
Compared with the first-generation model, the most substantially improved element on the Baylis Revolution is the onscreen interface. Superficial improvements to the menu fonts and background pattern bring the interface into the 21st century, making the whole user experience much more pleasant. The Baylis Revolution's main menu includes listings for music, movies, photos, FM radio, recorder, e-book, and settings, which are selected by pressing right on the navigation pad (not the center button, as one would expect). Combined with the improved navigation pad, the overall operability has improved dramatically from the original model, putting it on equal footing with something like the SanDisk Sansa Fuze.
Any MP3 player bold enough to include a built-in flashlight had better not skimp on conventional MP3 player features. Luckily, Baylis really does make good on its promise of utility by including several unique features along with above-average support for audio formats.
As an audio player, the Baylis Revolution handles all sorts of file formats, including MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, WAV, and Audible. You won't get DRM support for subscription music or FairPlay iTunes purchases, but music purchased in the DRM-free AAC+ iTunes format works just fine. Unlike the first generation model of the Eco Media Player, the Revolution lets you browse your music by artist, album, or genre, even if content is loaded onto the player via SD memory or drag and drop over USB. Features such as a five-band custom EQ, album artwork, and on-the-go playlists are also a welcome sight.
The Baylis Revolution also includes an FM radio with an autoscan feature, automatic and manual presets, and FM recording that encodes to WAV files. Recordings can also be made from the Revolution's built-in microphone or 3.5mm stereo line input jack, all of which encode directly to WAV.
The Revolution's video player isn't shabby either, with support for WMV, H.264, AVI, and MP4 files. You'll still need to resize your videos to a 220x176-pixel resolution (up to 30 frames per second), but a PC-only video converter application is included that converted most formats we threw at it without any difficulty. Video playback is noticeably brighter than the first-generation model, and at its brightest setting rivals the iPod Classic.
The text reader and photo viewer built into the Baylis Revolution work just as you'd expect them to and are easy to operate. An integrated speaker on the back of the Baylis Revolution can be switched on and off manually through settings and offers a handy way to enjoy your music or movie audio out loud. We're happy to see that the FM radio also works over the integrated speaker, considering that the original model required a connected pair of headphones to act as an antenna.
Another feature of the Baylis Revolution we can't neglect mentioning is its capability to recharge other portable gadgets you may have with you. Four phone adapter tips come with the Revolution, including a proprietary adapter for Nokia phones and a mini USB tip.
The audio and video performance of the Baylis Revolution doesn't blow us away, but it's much better than it needs to be for such a niche product. The sound-isolating earbuds included the Baylis Revolution offer decent sound quality, but an upgrade will certainly improve the listening experience.
Baylis rates the audio battery life of the Revolution at an impressive 48 hours, more than double that of the original model. Charge time takes 3 hours to complete over a USB 2.0 connection. If you're powering the Baylis Revolution using the built-in crank, you can expect 1 minute of winding to produce 45 minutes of audio or 3 minutes of cell phone charge time. No word on what to expect for video battery life, but our CNET labs were able to coax 17 hours of continuous video playback from the first-generation player. We'll update this review with CNET Labs results as they become available.