We can't argue against the convenience of the CenDyne Grüvstick, a 128MB MP3 player that also serves as a USB storage drive and a voice recorder. But you can find a more solidly designed plug-in player for the same price.
To expose the USB connection, pull off the cap--just don't lose it.
Though it feels slightly flimsy, the player proved its resiliency by surviving several five-foot drops. The Grüvstick is designed to attach to a keychain, but unless you carry a custodian-style keyring, you won't want to transport it that way. Your other options are to attach the device to the included neck strap or just slip it into one of your pockets.
We didn't have any problem with the unit's operational controls, but we were a little disappointed with its menu structure, which is a bit convoluted. For instance, you have to navigate four menu layers to start a voice recording. On a more positive note, CenDyne makes good use of the three-line, blue-backlit LCD; it scrolls the current track number and title, albeit in a font that is a bit blocky for our taste. Tiny icons at the screen's top display remaining battery life, repeat mode, and Hold-button status. When the backlight powers off during playback, the LCD shows moving sound-level bars.
The Grüv-X FM transmitter connects to the player's headphone jack, sending the audio to any FM stereo in its immediate surroundings.
The Grüvstick has five EQ presets--Jazz, Classic, Rock, Pop, and Normal--but they sound similar to each other. You can pause a tune for one minute without losing your place before the player automatically shuts off and drops you back at the first track. Currently, the Grüvstick has no bookmark or resume functions, so every time you power it on, the first song will queue up.
This device is also a competent, basic voice recorder, storing your memos as rather tinny-sounding WAV files in a Voice subdirectory. You can copy the recordings onto your computer for playback/transcription or for e-mailing.
CenDyne's amateurish Digital Audio Manager software adds no extra file-transfer capabilities over the much more stable Windows Explorer, so you're better off loading the player from Windows.
CenDyne sells the Grüvstick by itself--in 64MB or 128MB capacities--or in an bundle that includes the Grüv-X, a tiny transmitter that's powered by its own AAA battery. The Grüv-X plugs into any headphone jack and broadcasts the audio at a user-selectable FM frequency. To set up this option, find a frequency with dead air on your radio, then match it on the Grüv-X. As long as you stay in the same geographic area, you won't have to adjust this frequency, which is a good thing, because doing so involves tediously scrolling through the digital dial, click by click. The MP3+3 provides decent audio performance. Its 85dB maximum signal-to-noise ratio doesn't sound as clean as that of similarly rated players but should please most casual listeners. Also, this model can output a loud enough signal to be heard clearly above New York City traffic. Picky listeners will probably want to toss the cheap, uncomfortable bundled earbuds. Our tests with Sony's MDR-G72 headphones delivered a significantly better audio experience.
CenDyne claims that users will get 12 hours of life from a single AAA battery, and our experience confirmed the company's numbers. But we did notice one problem: The Grüvstick simply stops playing every once in a while due to a firmware bug. CenDyne's tech support acknowledged that this was an issue with some units. Toward the end of March 2003, the company plans to issue a firmware upgrade that will solve the problem, and CenDyne vows to replace any units purchased before the firmware upgrade. We also encountered another troubling incident: At one point, the Grüvstick emitted a loud, continuous beep, interrupting the song that we were listening to. Then, when we tried to shut the unit off, the song kept playing--even though the screen went blank, indicating that the unit had powered down. CenDyne's tech support assured us that this was an isolated incident, but we feel that it's worth mentioning.
Files transfer at a rate of about 0.34MB per second, which is near the middle of the road for a USB 1.1 connection. As for the Grüv-X transmitter, your mileage may vary. Because it relies on unused frequencies in the FM band, it's likely to be a bit easier to configure when driving through the empty desert rather than in a crowded city. When coupled with the Grüvstick's low signal-to-noise ratio, the result is FM radio of middling quality--through either car or home stereos.