MobiBLU enlists in the microdrive player army

Hyunwon, the Korea-based parent company of MobiBlu, is a major competitor in the MP3 player market in its home country but thus far has not created waves here in the States with offerings such as the DAH-900. Its latest U.S. release, however, seems poised to change the brand's relative anonymity. The MobiBlu DHH-100-5 (5GB, $229.99) boasts a number of desirable features we've yet to see in any of its competitors, and considering the current momentum of microdrive players, this distinction is definitely a good course of action.

Upside: At 3.0 by 2.1 by 0.8 inches and just 3.5 ounces, the MobiBlu DHH-100-5 is smaller and lighter than the iPod Mini. Plus, you get the bonus of using the MobiBlu as a plug-and-play, USB mass-storage device (that is, no software is required to transfer files). In addition to voice recording, the player offers line-in recording with direct MP3 encoding--something we haven't seen in any other microdrive player to date. Other unique features of this MobiBlu MP3 player include an SD/MMC expansion slot, which lets you add up to 1GB of memory, and built-in stereo speakers, for sharing your tunes with others in a small room (in initial testing--to our surprise--the speakers didn't sound half bad). The DHH-100-5 also supports DRM-protected WMA files, though you must currently install a Windows Media Player plug-in (this takes about five seconds). We're fond of the player's industrial-looking black-and-silver design, too, save for one complaint.

Downside: About that complaint: The player's black, plastic, center faceplate (which houses both the screen and joystick) sticks out about a millimeter from the main body and gives the player a cheap feel. The DHH-100-5 also lacks an FM tuner and currently has no playlist support. MobiBlu plans to offer a firmware update in the near future to remedy this last deficiency.

Outlook: The extra features found in MobiBlu's DHH-100-5 will definitely appeal to certain users, and considering several of them can't yet be had in another microdrive player, we won't be surprised if the DHH-100-5 makes a name for MobiBlu in the United States. But the real test is that of the player's quality and performance in hands-on use. Stay tuned for the results in an upcoming full review.