Gateway has followed Dell's lead by introducing a hard drive-based MP3 player. Dell's shares certain elements with Creative's devices, while Gateway's is based on the less successful eDigital Odyssey 1000. A year ago, the $299, 20GB DMP-X20 would have been more competitive, but it still has its allure.
To make the X20, Gateway essentially rebranded the Odyssey 1000 and smoothed out some of its kinks. The company wisely shrank the player, slimming the dimensions to a relatively svelte 3.99 by 2.64 by 0.83 inches and reducing the weight to 7.7 ounces, probably by decreasing the size and the resilience of the internal battery. We admire the device's looks: the finish is a shiny aluminum alloy, and the blue-backlit display measures a massive 2.5 inches, occupying almost half of the face. The rubber flaps covering the USB and power ports keep dirt out but are a pain to open and close.
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The included case affords access to every control except the On/Hold/Off slider, which is on top of the player.
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You can use the in-line remote with any headphones; Gateway provides an over-the-ear model.
The player's navigation roller, though nowhere near as elegant as the iPod's jog wheel, works well for left- or right-handed scrolling. Encircling it are the Play/Pause, Back, Menu, Mode, Fast-forward, and Rewind buttons. We enjoyed having both Back and Menu for maneuvering through the X20's features; most players offer one or the other. The only design gripe we had was with setting Hold, which occupies the middle position of the top-mounted On/Hold/Off slider. If you're not careful, the control will often slip to On or Off. As for the interface, we found it functional and easy to use, with simple graphics and a logical layout.
Gateway includes a clip-on in-line remote for playback and volume adjustment. The control doesn't have a display, but it works with either the provided over-the-ear headphones or a replacement pair. You also get an open-faced carrying case with a Velcro top and a belt clip. Finally, the X20 comes with a simple adapter cord, which attaches to the player with a 1/8-inch connector and to a stereo with an RCA jack.
The X20 plays MP3, WMA, and Audible files. You get the standard playlist, shuffle, repeat, and intro playback modes, and they conveniently work in conjunction with your songs' attributes. For instance, if you activate shuffle and select an artist from your library, the mode juggles all of that artist's tunes. Unfortunately, like Dell's Digital Jukebox DJ, the X20 does not play an album's tracks in their original sequence, even though the ripping process adds ordering information to most ID3 tags. To work around this shortcoming, you'll have to re-create each album as a properly sequenced playlist in the companion Windows Media Player software.
You get a decent range of EQ options from six presets and a custom five-band equalizer. The volume control has 30 gradations, ensuring that you'll find a comfortable setting. A bookmark function saves your place in audiobooks or other audio files. After you've returned to a bookmark, though, you have to delete it before you can hear any other song--a slight hassle. And the X20's on-the-fly playlist feature beats the iPod's by letting you name playlists and save them for later listening.
When you make voice recordings with the internal mike, the player stores them in a separate folder for easy access, and you can upload them to your PC as WAV files. The X20 also packs an FM receiver with 12 easy-to-program presets. But if you're a fan of the Odyssey's voice-navigation feature, you'll be disappointed to find it missing from the device's new incarnation.
Gateway also wisely trashed the Odyssey's file-transfer method, which forced you to reorganize all your songs in a certain folder structure. Instead, the company went with a more conventional syncing system that uses Windows Media Player 9.0 and an included plug-in. To Gateway's credit, you can also drag and drop tracks, but you'll still need to fire up Windows Media Player afterward to make the X20's new contents playable.
We had no trouble setting up the X20 on our system, but the player's USB 2.0 file-transfer rate, 1.51MB per second, was slower than the competition's. A USB 1.1 connection yielded a run-of-the-mill 0.53MB per second.
The audio quality was clean, with a signal-to-noise ratio of 90dB and a total harmonic distortion of 0.1 percent. Higher frequencies, however, seemed louder than normal even on the Flat equalization setting. The bundled headphones sounded average. Through our ultrasensitive reference pair, the Shure E3c, the sonics improved considerably, and we could detect almost no hiss between songs.
On a single charge, the cell typically lasted about 10 hours, which matches Gateway's battery-life rating. The X20's FM reception was commensurate with that of most other portable players: OK but not as clear as on a home or car unit.