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Transcend Digital Album (20GB) review: Transcend Digital Album (20GB)

With built-in card slots and an MP3 player, the Digital Album is a decent device with poor battery life.

James Kim
Account in memoriam for the editor.
James Kim
4 min read
Transcend Digital Album (20GB)
As an MP3 player, Transcend's portly 20GB Digital Album is reminiscent of the bricklike 100GB DMC Xclef HD-500. Though it's sheathed in attractive and protective metal that's comfortably rounded on the bottom, the chassis is too big to be stylish, and it states to onlookers, "If I were a car, I'd be a Hummer." Yet with a spacious color screen for viewing photos and compatibility with virtually all flash memory cards, the $368 Transcend Digital Album is the ideal blend for digital camera enthusiasts who happen to like MP3s--theoretically. Unfortunately, inadequate battery life and a thin feature set are the reality, so stick with the Digital Album only if JPEGs are much more important to you than MP3s.

Next to an iPod, the Transcend Digital Album just looks silly. But its oversize body (measuring 4.2 by 3.2 by 1 inches) can accommodate all sorts of flash memory cards. It's less a MP3 player, way more a photo viewing/storage device. The Digital Album has 294x228-pixel resolution on its bright and colorful 2.5-inch display. It may not be the sharpest or largest screen available in this category (see the gorgeous VGA screen on the Epson P-2000), but it's still a delight for viewing photos, particularly compared to the smaller screen of the Apple iPod Photo or a typical digital camera. And there's no need for a CompactFlash adapter, as on other dedicated photo viewers such as the Flashtrax SmartDisk, because you have a slot for CompactFlash/microdrive and another slot for SD/MMC/SmartMedia/MemoryStick.


Transcend Digital Album (20GB)

The Good

Nice high-resolution color screen; memory card slots galore; simple interface.

The Bad

Bulky; poor battery life; digital audio options limited; supports only MP3 and JPEG playback; can't listen to music and view photos simultaneously.

The Bottom Line

Poor battery life and a thin set of features makes this photo viewer with a built-in MP3 player a secondary choice.

Centered under the screen is the primary five-way controller, which is tactile and exact. On either side of the five-way are tiny (but, again, tactile) buttons for Select/Copy, Exit/Delete, Memo/Record, and Menu/Power. Depending on your mode, pressing a button activates the first option, and holding it down for a couple seconds activates the second option. The rest of the Digital Album's various ports and controls are located on the right spine and include dedicated volume buttons, a lock switch, a USB port, power in, a built-in mic, and indicator lights. Each memory card slot has a protective and attached rubber cover. Overall, the controls are a quick learn, and the folder-driven interface is intuitive as can be. In fact, if you don't have any cards inserted, you get only one choice on the intro screen: an icon for the unit's hard disk.

This is the Digital Album's simple top menu screen. Additional icons appear for each media card inserted.

Basically, the Digital Album is a file browser and a decent file manager. Once you drill down into a folder, you'll see your files, either in thumbnail mode (better for photos) or list mode (better for everything else). The photo thumbs are small but viewable, and you can see up to eight of them on the screen simultaneously. Selecting a thumbnail opens a full-screen version--a snappy process, even for 2MB files, which take about 3 seconds to load. You can set a simple audioless slide show with a few transitions and delays of 2, 4, 6, and 8 seconds, as well as append each photo with a 10-second voice memo. It's also no task at all to transfer files from memory cards to the hard disk or vice versa: simply select your files, then activate Copy. Transfer speeds are decent at 1.2MB per second via a standard 1GB SD card, and we appreciate the Copy Entire Card feature, which, inexplicably, isn't mentioned in the manual.

Free storage for the selected "disk" is displayed in the upper-right corner, and battery- and volume-level indicators are located in the lower-right corner. You'll also get the file path and the number of files in the folder displayed. Unfortunately, the Digital Album supports a limited number of file formats for playback--in essence, only MP3, JPEG, and M-JPEG (digital camera movies). There's no TIFF, WMA, or raw support.

As an MP3 player, this thing is as basic as it gets, with no EQs or true playlist support (you can, however, play folder contents in order), and annoyingly, you can't hold the volume buttons down to adjust the level in multiple steps. You get the convenience of a built-in mono speaker, which is nice for playing memos, but the sound quality is predictably subpar. Finally, the fact that you can't listen to MP3s while viewing photos is a real bummer. Our advice for MP3/photo enthusiasts is to get a 30GB iPod Photo and a Camera Connector for about the same price as the Digital Album. If your camera is compatible with the Camera Connector, the larger screen and some file-management tools are the only features you give up for better audio and a compact form factor.

The Digital Album doesn't get very loud, and sound quality is average, with a hint of background noise, not-so-crisp highs, and muddy bass. But, again, this isn't an audiocentric device. Photos appear sharp and vibrant on the screen, and depending on the resolution, they look nice when output to a TV via the included A/V cable. Probably the most disappointing aspect of the Digital Album is its battery life of just 3.8 hours for music and considerably less for a photo slide show, an unacceptable amount for music and a disappointing one for a photo viewer. Transfer times over USB 2.0 average an acceptable 1.7MB per second, and the Digital Album mounts as a UMS device. The Digital Album ships with a decent carrying case, A/V and USB cables, a wireless remote control, another utility case for media cards, a hand strap, a cleaning cloth, and some average earbuds. The Windows-only software CD includes a Windows 98 driver, Photo Explorer 8.0, and a user guide.

The Digital Album's carrying case, utility pouch, headphones, power adapter, and remote control.


Transcend Digital Album (20GB)

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 5Performance 3