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Digitalway MPIO review: Digitalway MPIO

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The Good LCD remote; clean sound; excellent battery life; expandable memory; belt clip; FM tuner; voice recording.

The Bad Oversensitive remote controls; somewhat flaky file-transfer software; doesn't get incredibly loud.

The Bottom Line Strong features and design make this player worthy of consideration but only for those who don't need high-volume playback.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

Review Sections

Intro

The MPIO FD100 is another small wonder from Digitalway. After impressing us with the ultraportable FL100, the company packed the same strong feature set into the slightly larger FD100. Though the FD100 is bigger, its wired remote, nicer headphones, and longer battery life make it more attractive to MP3 fans who do not value small size more than other factors. The FD100's chassis measures 2.5 by 2.5 by 0.75 inches and is available in red, silver, light green, or blue. A four-line backlit display sits in the center, and along two sides are the forward/reverse jog dial, the play/pause and record controls, and the catchall function button. A third side sports the covered USB port, the hold button, and the memory card slot.

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The FD100's remote has a screen, unlike most other remotes we've seen to date.

Digitalway includes a finger-sized wired remote that controls all basic music-playback functions. Unlike most other MP3-player remotes, the FD100's has a display--a one-line backlit LCD--so you're not left guessing which songs you've scrolled past. The 30-inch remote cable terminates with a standard female minijack connection, so you can plug in your favorite headphones and still use the remote. That said, the bundled earbud headphones are a cut above average.

The FD100 features a SmartMedia memory slot, providing the potential for hours of more music; it supports cards of 16MB to 128MB. In the absence of a memory card, a plastic replica keeps the slot free of dust and dirt. The player also ships with a clear plastic case that has a handy belt clip. The FD100 packs the same impressive feature set as its tiny brother, the FL100: voice recording; an FM tuner; and MP3, WMA, and ASF playback. While it doesn't support playlists, it does allow the creation of multiple folders, in which you can group songs by artist, album, or genre for playback. The shuffle function can randomly play all the songs in memory or just those in a specific folder.

The FD100 also includes seven EQ presets, plus a custom EQ mode with a five-band equalizer. In fact, you can tweak most of the FD100's features. The LCD backlight duration, the autoresume function, the title displays, the sleep mode, the menu language (you can choose from English, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese), and a host of other settings can be modified with a few clicks of the function button.

A built-in microphone records verbal notations as WAV files, which you can upload to a PC or a Mac with the included MPIO Manager software (for Windows or Mac OS 9.x). The FD100 also has an FM tuner and can record FM radio. The tuner's 20 presets can be annotated with station names or other text from within MPIO Manager. You can toggle voice and FM recording quality between low (33Kbps) and high (89Kbps). Recording time is constrained by only the amount of free memory, and the unit displays recording-duration and time-remaining counters. If you run out of space while recording, it's easy to delete files on the device itself without connecting to a computer.

The RealOne media suite is included on the bundled software CD, as is a small plug-in that lets Windows Media Player load music files onto the FD100. For more detailed file management (folder creation and firmware upgrades), you must install MPIO Manager. Macintosh users will appreciate the software's support for all recent versions of Apple's OS; the iTunes plug-in works with OS X, and MPIO Manager works with OS 9.x.

Unlike some competing MP3 players, such as Creative's MuVo, the FD100 is not directly accessible as a data drive. However, nonmusic files can be uploaded to and downloaded from the unit with MPIO Manager. All other audio files are locked on the device and can't be uploaded to a second computer, even if it's running MPIO Manager.

The wired remote's ultrasensitive, joystick-style five-way thumb button is the control for volume, forward/reverse, play/pause, and power. Because it handles so many functions, smooth operation requires you to master a light touch. Even with practice, it's easy to find yourself turning off the power when trying to lower the volume. Still, this remote is better than the ones you get with most MP3 players since the single-line LCD lets you keep the player nestled in your pocket or backpack indefinitely. The FD100's sound quality was quite good, with a signal-to-noise ratio at a respectable 85dB. On the other hand, we wish the clean signal could get louder. Volume levels were adequate in most situations with our standard, 64-ohm Sennheiser HD-280PRO earphones, but the low (6mW per channel) output level couldn't compete with noisy areas such as New York subway platforms. In addition, 6mW is not enough juice to drive large, 32-ohm, "home style" headphones at high volumes. Listeners who really like to pump up the volume may find the FD100 a bit underpowered.

The manufacturer rates the battery life at an amazing 24 hours; our battery was still going strong after 19. File-transfer speed was 0.51MB per second, so filling 128MB takes about four and a half minutes--that's not incredibly fast or slow. Also, the file-transfer software occasionally locked up or added noise to the audio files, especially during large transfers.

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