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Dell DJ review: Dell DJ

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The Good Solid value for a decent if unspectacular player; easy to operate; compatible with DRM-protected WMA files; reasonable sound quality.

The Bad No major extra features; mediocre battery life; scroll barrel is no match for iPod's Click Wheel; Janus DRM support is coming--but when?

The Bottom Line If you're looking for a simple high-capacity player and don't want to pay for extra features, the Dell DJ 30 is a fine choice.

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7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Performance 8

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Dell's new MP3 player is likely to give you "DJ vu." It looks nearly identical to the first-generation model, albeit a little smaller, lighter, and decidedly sleeker. It is designed to work with Microsoft Windows Media Audio (WMA) and MP3 formats. The straightforward, functional design isn't as chic as the Apple iPod's or the Creative Zen Touch's, and it can't match the features on enthusiast players such as the iRiver H320. But at $249 for the 20GB model or $299 for the newly released 30GB version, the Dell DJ undercuts most of the competition, making it a great no-frills player for those who prefer WMA. The new Dell DJ 30 looks an awful lot like the old DJ, right down to the anodized aluminum case, the scroll barrel in the center, and the blue backlighting on the display and buttons. But the second-generation version is notably smaller and lighter, with edges that are a bit rounder.

In fact, at 4.0 by 2.5 by 0.7 inches, it is roughly the same size as the Apple iPod (20GB), albeit a little thicker. The DJ weighs 6.8 ounces, however, which puts it in a slightly heavier weight class along with competitors such as the 20GB Creative Zen Touch (7.1 ounces); in comparison, the 20GB iPod is a svelte 5.6 ounces. Nevertheless, the new DJ is highly portable, and it has a clean, sturdy, and efficient design that works equally well at home, in a dorm room, or at the office--just about anywhere.

The 1.9-inch backlit display is easy on the eyes, though it can't match the color screens on costlier competitors such as the iRiver H320 (20GB), which can show photos. The layout of the controls is simple. Below the screen are navigation buttons, as well as play/pause, Forward, and Back keys. The rest of the controls, all located on the top panel, include power, hold, and volume, as well as a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. The connector at the bottom is for an included dongle that connects both USB 2.0 and power. Alternatively, you can get a docking cradle for an extra $29.

The Dell DJ and its bundled accessories (the docking cradle is available as an option for $29).

For this second generation of DJs, Dell has refined the interface. The top-level menus now include Music Library, Now Playing, Play Mode, Date & Time, Settings, and Info. Overall, it reminds us of the interface on Creative's nonflash MP3 players--and that's a good thing.

The Dell DJ 30 is designed to work with both MP3s and Microsoft WMA files. It's also compatible with any of the popular online music stores that use secure WMA formats, including BuyMusic, Napster, MSN Music, and Wal-Mart. Of course, it doesn't support AAC files or work with iTunes Music Store--that is strictly the province of the various iPods--nor does it support alternative formats such as OGG (Ogg Vorbis).

We were disappointed that the second-generation DJ does not yet support Microsoft's latest digital rights management (DRM) features out of the box, even though the new features were available within Windows Media Player 10.0 before the new DJ models arrived. Dell says it will provide a free downloadable flash upgrade in early February to support WMP 10.0 DRM (previously known as Janus), but that is extra work for users and is likely to cause some confusion. The primary reason to get the new DRM is to take advantage of the entire catalog of subscription content from services such as Napster.

The DJ provides room for all but the largest music collections. The 30GB drive is sufficient to hold 7,500 CD-quality MP3s or nearly 15,000 CD-quality WMAs, according to Dell's calculations. When connected, the DJ shows up in My Computer, and clicking it brings up a DJ Explorer window that lets you easily transfer data files back and forth.

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