Apple's recently announced iPod Shuffle is sure to light a fire in the world of high-capacity flash-based players, but the competition is already well underway. Like its sibling, the U2, JetAudio's feature-filled iAudio G3 (priced from $149 to $249) shoehorns as much as 1GB of music and voice recordings into a minuscule, very lightweight package. And while we're largely impressed with this great-sounding device, we do voice some concern over its less than durable design.
A bit larger than a Zippo lighter at 2.5 by 1.8 by 0.7 inches but much lighter at less than two ounces, the G3's trim form factor belies its ability to offer as much as 1GB of storage. The player boasts a clean look, with only a large and informative four-line backlit display and a navigational joystick on its face; buttons on the top let you play, pause, record, and switch among operational modes. The downside to the pocket-friendly design is the G3's durability. Though we didn't manage to destroy it during our testing period, we have concerns about its plastic construction, which feels somewhat chintzy. In particular, the battery cover and the flap that hides the USB port feel as if they might break after extended use.
The G3 plays MP3, WMA, protected WMA, WAV, and OGG files and features a five-band equalizer as well as JetAudio's well-known BBE, Mach3Bass, MP Enhance, 3D Surround, and Pan effects. The device also includes an alarm clock.
When we fired up the included JetShell software, we were initially wary of its chaotic, multipaned interface. But after a few minutes of study, our trepidation vanished as the program makes it easy to drag and drop individual files or entire folders onto the player, which appears as a drive in Windows Explorer. Navigating your music directory and switching between playback, recording, and FM radio modes is also not a huge chore, thanks to the aforementioned user-friendly joystick.
In terms of accessories, the iAudio G3 provides most of the essentials, including a case with a belt clip, a neck strap, and a 1/8-inch-to-1/8-inch cable for recording directly from sources such as a tape deck or a record player. You also get pair of eerily familiar-looking white earbuds, which actually handle high sound levels better than most we've heard. However, we should note that you'll need to purchase an adapter or an additional cable if you plan to record from the 1/4-inch jacks or RCA jacks found on most consumer electronic devices. It would also be nice if the device shipped with a rechargeable battery instead of requiring a continual supply of AA cells.
However, we don't have many complaints about the G3's performance. The player has enough volume to block out the majority of city noises, and the FM radio delivers clean reception. And thanks to a 95dB signal-to-noise ratio, digital tunes produced rich sound with little noticeable background hiss. Recording voice memos, FM radio transmissions, and line-in audio was equally trouble-free, as the G3 places said files in separate directories for easy location. Battery life, at 36.8 hours, is notably less than the company's rated time of 50 hours but impressive nonetheless. File-transfer speeds reached an average of 1.5MB per second in CNET Labs' tests, which is a little slower than average for USB 2.0.
At $249 for the 1GB version, the iAudio G3 doesn't exactly come cheap. Still, active music lovers who don't tend to abuse their devices may find that this player's diminutive form factor, painless operation, and strong feature set make forking out the dough worthwhile.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.