The LXPI is the first media player from Australian company Life! Best known for its laptop luggage, camera cases and beanbags, the brand has also been venturing into the realm of iPod docks and speakers. This places the decision to release an MP3 player slightly in from left-field, but Life! still has quite the task ahead if it's going to take on iPod Nanos, Clixes and the latest models from Samsung.
The 4GB and 8GB LXPI players are priced identically to the equivalent-capacity iPod Nanos at AU$189 and AU$249 respectively. There's also a 2GB version for AU$159. With all players incorporating expansion slots, FM radio and voice recording, it looks like Life! is hoping to draw an audience away from Apple by offering more features at the same price point.
The 120-gram LXPI is a landscape-oriented touchscreen player with a 2.4-inch colour TFT display. At 78mm by 54mm by 15 millimetres it fits comfortably in a palm and has the same basic layout to that of the iRiver Clix -- but the screen is recessed rather than being submerged beneath a layer of smooth plastic.
A silver band decorates the perimeter of the player and houses an array of ports, buttons and slots: mini USB, hold switch and headphone socket up top and SD/MMC slot, volume keys and power button down below. The mini USB and memory card slots don't have protective covers, so watch that they don't become receptacles for dirt and discarded chewing gum at the bottom of your bag.
As you might expect from a company that made its name with a range of funky bags, the LXPI includes a protective wallet-style case and lanyard for slinging the player around your neck.
On paper, the LXPI's features list is impressive. The SD/MMC card slot, voice-and-radio recorder, video playback and 45 hours of rated battery time place it far above the iPod Nano and among such esteemed company as Creative's Zen media player. Add a six preset equaliser, lyric and audiobook support and a multi-year calendar and you have quite the formidable specs list.
In the "unexpected bonus" category, Life! has generously slapped a two-year warranty on the LXPI -- pretty much unheard of in the disposable-gadget MP3 player market. (You'd have to pay an extra AU$59 to wrangle the same level of gadget cover out of Apple.)
Let's start with that touchscreen. Now, it's all very well to cherry-pick features from iPod products and whack them into your own device -- presumably aiming for success by association -- but such inclusions need to behave well and function logically in order to win fans. While the Life! player's touchscreen isn't quite the pinchable, accelerometered version found on the iPod Touch, it's cooperative and responsive. The main concern is the size of the on-screen buttons and the fact that they're squished against the edge of the display. A stylus is included with the player, but tapping away at the screen with a teeny pen isn't conducive to the kind of fast-paced sporty lifestyles that the LXPI seems to be targeted towards.
Audio was surprisingly good, though the top volume wasn't quite high enough to block out train noise on the journey home.
Our main performance problems related to video, with the biggest issue being with clips that are longer more than a few minutes. While you can fast-forward the action by holding down the skip button, there is no way to navigate to a particular point. A progress bar shows your relative location, but it's impossible to go straight to another section by pressing a point on the bar. Major downer.
We also encountered audio troubles when fast-forwarding video clips; dialogue fell out of sync with the on-screen action by up to a second if we advanced through more than 15 minutes of a clip. There were no problems when we played the clip from the beginning in real-time, but this sync issue will be a deal-breaker for anyone planning on loading entire movies onto their device.
Life! is a funky Australian company that we feel rather warm and fuzzy towards, but its plucky enthusiasm and desire to include a laundry list of cool features in the LXPI has a downside. While the LXPI looks pretty sweet when you consider the specs, there are some performance problems -- mostly related to video -- that hold it back. When it comes time to design a second-gen player, we'd like to see the funky folk at Life! spend more time on user friendliness. Even if it means cutting back on a few features.