It's taken some time, but we're finally seeing a number of portable personal media players (PMPs) hit the market, and most of them are cramming every last feature and gadget possible into their casings. The Novonde NV-15 PMP could practically be the poster child for this kind of all-you-can-eat thinking, as it combines the normal functions you'd associate with a PMP -- video and audio -- with a digital camera, personal note taker and even simple text file reader.
The NV-15 sports a 3.5-inch display screen with a small five-way controller sitting on the upper right hand side of the screen, along with menu, A-B repeat, onscreen display and an escape button. The power switch sits on the opposite side of the LCD, just below the two-megapixel camera, which rotates through 180 degrees, making the NV-15 a simple but capable camera as well. A rubber cover hides the USB cable and, in one bit of annoying design, the power input socket. It's thus a somewhat fiddly process recharging the NV-15 from a power socket, and we suspect the rubber flap might not survive too much abuse.
The review sample we tested came with a 30GB hard drive, used for storing video, photo or music files. It'll also act as a rudimentary still and video camera, with a 1.3 megapixel CCD. FM radio functionality is built in, and as is common with most digital devices that offer FM radio capability, you won't get much in the way of reception without a pair of connected headphones acting as an aerial. The Novonde also offers an inbuilt speaker, with volume controlled using the five-way controller.
From a file format perspective, the Novonde supports AVI, DivX, XviD, WMV and MPEG1, 2 and 4-compliant video files, as well as MP3, AC3, and WMA audio. Simple text files can also be displayed on the Novonde's screen, making it a rudimentary ebook reader to boot. The drive attaches as a simple USB host drive, and file synchronisation is as simple as dragging and dropping to the NV-15's drive, where specific directories are set aside for each function group.
There's an apt but over-used phrase that describes the Novonde NV-15: it truly is a jack of all trades and master of none. There are a few areas where it does very well -- most notably video, where the inclusion of line in and out ports means it's capable of playback and recording to and from other sources and visual displays -- but in almost every other instance it's a functionally capable but rather tricky-to-use device. This fundamentally comes down to the interface design, which relies on either long or short button presses to enter or exit specific menus. There's not too much wrong with the feature set that the NV-15 offers, but remembering which button to press to get to, say, audio shuffling can be difficult, and in a market where ease of use is the practical mantra, that's not good enough.
There's a word for the Novonde's camera performance. Sadly, that word is pitiful. It would be unfair to expect poster-quality shots every time out of a simple 1.3 megapixel camera, but even so, you'd expect to get some passable shots in a large enough test group. The NV-15 seemingly had problems focusing, and ironically, the crisp screen showed off just how bad its shots truly were.
Given the asking price, the NV-15 has something of an uphill battle ahead of it. It's certainly crammed with lots of functionality, but could have done with more work at the interface/control level, where it lags rather badly behind a lot of other portable audio/video players.