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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.
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.