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Regardless of whether you love cuteness, you have to acknowledge that this little 128MB player is a sign of things to come. It won't be long before companies start putting MP3 players into all sorts of casings. So in a way, the Mubie is a bit of a pioneering device. And like most pioneering devices, it has some kinks that need to be worked out.
Honing in on kids and teens who adore all things ultracute, Korean manufacturer Aria stuck an MP3 player inside a baby-blue-and-white, teddy bear-shaped plastic body (the Mubie also comes in powder pink and pastel purple). Measuring 3.1 by 2 by 1.6 inches and weighing only 1.8 ounces, the Mubie M4150 looks at first glance more like a doll than a gadget that plays your tunes. But upon closer inspection, you'll see a headphone jack built into the Mubie's head and a USB interface embarrassingly located in his rear. Get familiar with its arms because they function as the control buttons. The power button and the play/pause/stop button are on the bottom of the right arm, while the top right serves as the fast-forward. The top of the left arm changes modes between play and record, and the bottom left starts and stops recording. Where's the rewind button? You got us. In order to return to a previous track, you'll need to fast-forward through all the others.
The Aria Mubie M4150 also lacks an LCD, so it's often tough to know what's really going on with this little guy--including which song is playing or even which mode you're in. Instead, the Mubie's LCD substitute is the music note on its belly, which blinks red, green, and yellow. These color-coded signals are explained in the manual; for example, blinking green means that the Mubie is playing, and blinking red means that it's recording.
The Mubie comes with earbud headphones, which are built into a lariat that lets you hang the bear around your neck (apparently, the preferred method in Asia for carrying portable electronics). But the lariat isn't adjustable, and it's too long for young listeners who may like to wear the Mubie as an accessory. Besides, the sound quality is so poor on the headphones, you'll want to swap them out for a better pair anyway. Just be sure to get some 'phones with a volume adjuster since the Mubie has no onboard volume control.
The Mubie is apparently a minimalist breed of bear. It has very little in the way of extra features. Other than MP3 playback, it can handle voice recording (encoded in MP3 format at up to 128Kbps) through a tiny hole-size microphone in the back of its head. To its credit, the player's voice recording isn't half bad.
The Mubie can also double as a portable storage device. When you connect the player to your computer (no drivers needed for Windows XP or Mac OS X), the Mubie shows up as a removable drive; the Mubie comes only in 128MB, 256MB, and 512MB varieties. That interface also makes for easy transfer of your music files, of which the Mubie accepts MP3 and, surprisingly, protected WMA formats.
With a 90dB signal-to-noise ratio, sound quality on the Mubie is downright weak. High-quality MP3s ripped at a high bit rate come out sounding tinny. The Mubie isn't even equipped with EQ presets that would let you improve the sound of your songs. If you hate the way your music sounds on the Mubie, the only relief is that the player never gets very loud, even with your headphones' volume cranked to the max.
The Mubie's big saving graces are its extremely easy setup and its even easier battery charging; the Mubie's built-in lithium-ion cell is charged via USB. Transfer times over USB were an unspectacular 0.71MB per second. Aria claims eight hours of playing time between charges, and in informal testing, we got just about that amount. The makers of the Mubie M4150 claim that it will soon be compatible with Microsoft's next-gen DRM (formerly known as Janus) via a free firmware upgrade. This will allow music service subscribers to download and transfer songs to the Mubie.