It is a rare day indeed we come across a piece of technology that so utterly fails at its intended purpose, but American electronics manufacturer Coby has managed to produce just such a device: the Coby MP-C7000 series MP3 player. Though Coby products haven't been received as particularly impressive here at CNET, neither have they scored miserably low, so we were a bit surprised at the atrocity of this digital audio player.
Coby may not have a history of outstanding gadgets, but we expected the MP-C7000 to be at least usable. In fact, aside from its compact and rather cute design, it fails miserably at every level. The player is relatively cheap: it comes in three versions--the 512MB MP-C7052, the 1GB MP-C7082, and the 2GB MP-C7092--that retail for $59.95, $69.95, and $79.95, respectively. But a low price hardly matters if you can barely use a product; plus, the SanDisk Sansa Express (1GB only) retails for less and is actually easy to use.
The Coby MP-C7000 is a cute-looking MP3 player. It's about the size of the iPod Nano, but with rounded edges, and it's ensconced in a rather Mac-like white-plastic casing. An ample (1.8-inch) color LCD dominates the front of the device, and a five-way control pad sits below that. On the back of the player, you'll find an unusual thing: an on/off switch. A mechanical power switch isn't a bad thing, but it's certainly rare in MP3 players these days. Finally, we have two annoying proprietary ports: a super-mini USB on the bottom and a 2.5mm headphone jack on top. The MP-C7000 won't work with your standard stereo headphones without a 2.5mm-to-3.5mm adapter.
Upon powering the Coby MP-C7000 on, you're greeted with a nice and colorful main menu with an icon-driven selector circle. Pressing right or left on the control pad serves to navigate around the circle. This is where the simplicity ends, however. The control pad is the main issue--it's just plain awful. There's a play/pause/select key in the middle, track shuttle keys going left and right, a button marked "VOL" on the bottom, and one marked "M" on the top. None are very responsive or accurate, and we got buggy reactions on several occasions while pressing any of them. The "M" button fairly reliably takes you to the main menu with a press and hold, but a quick press gets varying reactions, from pulling up a contextual menu to flashing on a settings menu, depending on whether music is playing or paused.
Once you get into the contextual menus, pressing up or down on the control pad either does nothing or causes a flashback to several prior screens. It turns out that you use right/left to navigate up/down through the lists in the internal menus--call us crazy, but that seems a bit counterintuitive. If music is playing, hitting the "VOL" key brings up a volume meter that can then purportedly be adjusted with the left/right buttons, but we got varying results with this. It took no fewer than 10 tries to get the volume down to a listenable level.
We could fill pages upon pages with the interface quirks of this player, but suffice it to say that they are enough of a hindrance to negate any value of the plethora of features included. The MP-C7000 offers an FM tuner (with an autoscan function that doesn't really work), a voice recorder, and even video support, but--truly--getting video onto the device is a lost cause in our book. Further, the device doesn't offer one feature that most users demand from an MP3 player: logical music sorting. Select the music icon on the main menu and you're taken directly to the playback screen, with no easy way to find exactly the track you want. In contrast, the playback screen itself displays a wealth of useful info--indeed, that is one of the few useful aspects of the player.
In the end, all of this hardly matters. The Coby MP-C7000 only outputs sound to one channel--the right. We tried a variety of headphones and never managed to get stereo sound. As you might imagine, the experience gleaned from a single earbud was unsatisfying to say the least. Of course, the single channel issue is almost certainly a defect with our sample unit, but even stereo sound wouldn't change our opinion of the player. Music sounded hollow and flat and was lacking bass. At this point, you probably don't even care what the rated battery life is, which is a good thing because Coby doesn't provide one. It hardly matters: even a record-breaking, 1,000-hour cell couldn't convince us to recommend this product. There are far better options out there, and plenty of them.