Sometimes pleasing sound isn't enough to satisfy the CNET editors. Surely there's little to complain about the iBead 1000's audio quality, which sounds great with both earbuds and larger headphones. The iBead--which, though designed, produced, and marketed in Korea, is available in a few places stateside--even boasts a decent feature set. But while the list looks good on paper, many of these tools come off as half-baked when put into use. And although its petite color display is a nice touch, a 1.5GB microdrive player seems antiquated when you can find flash players that offer a comparable capacity and better performance.
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. At first glance, the iBead 1000 (available in black or white) is an unspectacular, rectangular block of a gadget that looks a lot like a cell phone. A five-way navigation key for playback and volume control sits on the bottom half of the device, below the screen. Three buttons, Menu, A-B, and Mode, reside on the unit's right spine, while the left spine houses the Hold switch, the Record button, and a built-in mic. Headphone and line-in ports are found on the top of the player--nothing special here.
When you power on the device, however, you're presented with a small but gorgeous 128x128-pixel, 65,536-color screen. The cartoonlike interface, which includes scrolling ID3-tag info, bit-rate and sampling-rate info, a battery-level indicator, EQ selection, the current track number, and the total number of tracks, looks nice in color, and as you might guess, it's equipped to display digital photos. In Play mode, a fresh graphic equalizer moves to the beat.
At 3.66 by 1.65 by 0.7 inches and 2.82 ounces, the iBead is on the small side for a microdrive player, but you can find smaller, more stylish flash players that feature a similar 1GB-plus capacity. The device feels sturdy enough; all of the buttons give a responsive click and are tightly set into the casing. Those of you with fairly large thumbs may find the five-way navigation control a bit tight at first, but it's easy to become accustomed to.
The iBead 1000 ships with both USB and line-in cables, but the USB power adapter works only with European-style outlets. U.S. residents will have to either pick up the appropriate adapter or recharge the nonremovable lithium-ion battery via a computer's USB port, which requires 5 to 6 hours for a full charge.The iBead 1000 mixes some useful offerings with a few baffling limitations. The player supports MP3, Ogg Vorbis, and unprotected WMA files, which means music downloaded from legal sites such as Musicmatch or Napster won't work on this device. Following the trend set by iRiver, the player includes an image viewer. But you can't view photos during music playback or associate album art with a track, which are the main advantages in having image support.
iBead wisely includes an FM tuner that supports as many as 10 presets. Because reception was subpar--typical of many MP3 players--we found it best to set the presets manually rather than through the autopreset feature. The player also includes FM and line-in recording capabilities, but again, their implementation leaves much to be desired. Recording in FM mode requires two steps: press and hold the Rec button to activate the recording mode, then quickly press the Rec button again to begin recording. The extra step is a bit frustrating when trying to catch the beginning of a song. Also, although you can adjust the bit rate--all recordings are saved as MP3 files ranging from 16Kbps to 192Kbps--the player also automatically adjusts the sampling rate. So a song ripped at 128Kbps has the standard sampling rate of 44.1KHz. But at 96Kbps, the iBead downshifts the sampling rate to an abysmal 22KHz; there's no way to manually set both rates.