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Gateway MP3 Photo Jukebox (4GB) review: Gateway MP3 Photo Jukebox (4GB)


6.7

Gateway MP3 Photo Jukebox (4GB)

The Good

Affordable way to display pictures, listen to digital audio, and download pictures from compatible cameras or via a USB memory-card adapter; compatible with subscription-based downloads and protected WMA files; compact and easy to use; removable battery.

The Bad

No belt clip or holster included; hollow-sounding earbuds; some details missing from step-by-step instructions, despite massive manual in the box; mediocre battery life.

The Bottom Line

Gateway's latest digital audio player offers solid audio playback along with some nifty features for photo buffs on the go, but check out others in its class before you buy.
Intro
Using your MP3 player to stash photos from your digital camera isn't a new idea; Belkin's Digital Camera Link plus a dock-connector iPod will do the trick. If you want to actually look at those photos on your audio device, you could pay a bit extra for an iPod Photo or choose from a growing list of photo-friendly MP3 players such as the iRiver H320, the iRiver H10, or any one of Samsung's latest. Or you could consider Gateway's $200 MP3 Photo Jukebox. It offers the same 4GB capacity as Apple's iPod Mini and includes a built-in color screen for browsing photos. The topper? You can transfer pics directly to the player from select cameras via a USB connection or, if your camera isn't on the list, to a USB flash-memory adapter. You can then browse them on the color screen while you're listening to your favorite songs in MP3, WMA, or protected WMA. Best of all, it doesn't cost any more than an iPod Mini, but be aware of other photo-friendly devices with more features and bigger hard drives.
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. In terms of dimensions, weight, and screen size, Gateway's MP3 Photo Jukebox (3.8 by 2.3 by 0.7 inches; 3.4 ounces; 1.6-inch screen) is almost indistinguishable from Apple's iPod Mini (3.6 by 2.0 by 0.5 inches; 3.6 ounces; 1.6-inch screen). We'd like a bigger display on the MP3 Photo Jukebox, as any kind of fine picture detail is just about impossible to make out at the Gateway's 128x128 resolution; it's like looking at a thumbnail of your digital photo. We still enjoyed viewing pictures on it, especially while we were trapped on a plane. The MP3 Photo Jukebox is noticeably lightweight, and its curved silver body is attractive. However, we noted that the plastic shell feels a bit fragile.

At 1.6 inches, the MP3 Photo Jukebox's screen isn't ideal for photo viewing, but it's nice to see pictures while you're listening to music.

While the four-way thumb-control button on the Photo Jukebox isn't nearly as elegant as an iPod Mini's Click Wheel, we found it just about as painless to use. Around the big thumb button (which navigates all your menus, launches your songs or playlists, and selects your pictures to display) is the usual collection of buttons: fast-forward/skip, reverse/skip, and play/pause, the last of which also powers up the unit. Additionally, there's a fourth button that launches the menus available for whatever section of the interface you're in. The volume control is on the right side of the unit, while the Hold switch and the headphone jack are on top. We found all the buttons quite easy to use with one hand.

Another nice touch is the removable battery, which has a rated life span of 8 hours. An extra battery will cost you $30. The Photo Jukebox comes with a soft faux-suede pouch, but if you want the belt/armband clip, you'll have to pony up $20 to purchase it.


The MP3 Photo Jukebox with its pouch, wall-wart power adapter, two types of USB cables, and headphones.

If we could change one thing about Gateway's MP3 Photo Jukebox, we'd give it a larger hard drive. That said, its 4GB drive can store 600 or 700 songs and still have a gigabyte left over for photos. Remember that there are other similar players in this space; competing 5GB models such as the new iRiver H10 and the Samsung YH-820 feature photo-displaying color screens, FM tuners, and other useful amenities.

As far as features go, the MP3 Photo Jukebox is a lot like the iPod Photo: neither has much to offer besides digital audio and photo playback. Although we enjoy being able to listen to music while browsing our pictures, it's a shame that you can't create photo slide shows on the device itself. We had to arrange photos into folders on our system, then copy them to the MP3 Photo Jukebox to get the slide shows that we wanted.

The MP3 Photo Jukebox doesn't require drivers to interface with a computer, so it's a good candidate for keeping files with you on the go. You'll want to take the USB cable on trips because it's the only way to use the 120V charger; it plugs into the USB cable, not the player itself. You could also carry extra batteries, as it's easy to swap in a fresh one.

If you plan on saving files from your camera, you'll need the MP3 Photo Jukebox's second USB cable to connect with the camera's USB cord. Don't fret if your camera isn't compatible; just pack a USB media-card adapter and plug it into the USB dongle.

The MP3 Photo Jukebox is fully compatible with Windows Media Player (WMP) 10.0. It will autosync audio content with your WMP 10.0 library but not photos. In addition, the portable requires WMP 10.0 to play DRM-protected WMA files purchased online.

If you don't have WMP 10.0 loaded, you can manually drag MP3s or unprotected WMA files onto the Music folder inside the MP3 Photo Jukebox when it's connected to your computer. Use the same procedure for photos, unless you're uploading them from a camera. Finally, the Jukebox is compatible with subscription-based downloads and comes with one month of Napster To Go service right out of the box.

There is a software install CD in the box with the Gateway, but it's more a utility than a necessity. It can help load firmware updates, attempt to recover a lost music library on the portable's hard drive, or format the hard drive in the portable.

Our biggest complaint with Gateway's MP3 Photo Jukebox arose when we tried out the various preset EQ settings; instead of enhancing the audio, they left it sounding overprocessed and weak. Perhaps it's a matter of taste, but listening to the EQ set to flat sounded the best for our mixture of punk, Johnny Cash, sundry pop hits, and Sinatra.

Our only other problem surfaced nearly every time we connected the MP3 Photo Jukebox to our test bed. Almost invariably, the screen read "busy" long after any files had been transferred to the portable and it should have been safe to disconnect. It's a minor problem (we just waited until Windows or WMP was done copying files before we yanked the cable), but we'd like to see it go away.

As we mentioned earlier, a larger screen would be an excellent addition to the MP3 Photo Jukebox, even at the cost of moving up to a larger case. That said, we were surprised at how well received the tiny 1.6-inch screen was when we passed around the unit. We were also surprised at how fast the JPEG files from our 5-megapixel camera loaded up onscreen.

The removable battery lasted an average of 8 hours, right in line with Gateway's rating but certainly below our standards for good battery life. Transfer times over USB 2.0 were speedy, at about 2.5MB per second.

6.7

Gateway MP3 Photo Jukebox (4GB)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 6Performance 6