Editor's note: The rating of the MobilBlu B2 has been lowered from 5.7 to 5 because of the appalling battery life discovered during CNET Labs' testing.
The last MobiBlu MP3 players to grace the CNET Reviews desk--the US2 and the Cube2--scored very well with the editors, thanks to innovative designs and useful features. More than a year later, we got our hands on MobiBlu's latest device for the States, the B2. Currently available with 2GB of flash memory for $99, the B2 suffers from an unimpressive design and some crippled features. However, the player still offers some worthwhile extras and reasonable sound quality.
At 2.8 inches wide by 2 inches tall by 0.4 inch thick, the MobiBlu B2 is unquestionably compact and that makes its 2.3-inch color OLED display large by comparison. Since the screen dominates the face of the device, all of the controls and ports reside around the edges. The top side has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, a record button, and keys for shuttling through tracks and starting and stopping playback. The bottom spine houses the standard mini USB port (for charging/syncing), a power/hold switch (though no markings indicate this), volume keys, and a menu button. All in all, the placement of the controls related to the headphone port makes the device sort of awkward to hold. In fact, several buttons are so close together, it makes them somewhat difficult to use. Not a deal breaker, but something to consider.
Other physical attributes include a pinhole mic on the right edge of the B2, a lanyard loop on the left, and a reset hole on the back. Two items of note are the speaker on the back of the player, which outputs sounds if headphones are not attached, and an unmarked slot in the left spine. We studied the manual and MobiBlu's Web site but didn't learn until plugging the player in that the slot is an expansion card slot--more research revealed it to be TransFlash-compatible. Another notable feature that should appeal to some users is the B2's voice-recording capability (in WMA at 32Kbps or 64Kbps). The unit can also record from the FM radio (in WAV), which is possibly the player's most redeeming feature. The FM radio offers 20 presets, an autoscan function, easy manipulation of presets, and great reception.
The MobiBlu B2 offers some features of varying interest. The player deals with a fair array of music file types--MP3, WMA, FLAC, WAV, APE--but is unable to play DRM-protected files. You'll want to note that album art is not supported, and media browsing is handled completely by folder tree. That means there is no way to easily sort by artist, album, or genre. However, you can store a M3U playlist in a folder for access. Video playback is limited to MPEG-4, and the specs list only JPEG as the supported photo file type. However, we discovered by accident that the device will display BMP files. Unfortunately, you can't view photos while listening to music, and images overall look grimy because of a protective coating on the screen. The B2 also includes: text viewing, one game (Tetris), seven EQ presets, and a five-band user-definable mode. Shuffle and repeat playback modes are also offered.
Anyone with a PC running Windows versions from 98 on should have no problems hooking up the MobiBlu B2. For testing, we connected the player to our XP test system with no issues. Files transferred relatively quickly through Rhapsody, but the ability to drag and drop via Windows Explorer is faster. Surprisingly--despite a relatively low signal-to-noise ratio of 83dB--the B2 sounded pretty decent. Music was not as rich and sparkly as we like, but high-end detail was clear and the low-end was present. We did our testing using a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7s; the included earbuds are fine and seem durable, but they aren't that comfortable to wear. The rated battery life of 10 hours is pretty disappointing, but the 5.1 hours eked out by CNET Labs is flat-out awful.