The Trevor Baylis Eco Media Player ($350) is an MP3 player that can be powered using either a USB connection or a built-in hand crank. In spite of its novelty, the Eco Media Player is a relatively full-featured MP3 player that includes video playback, an FM radio, voice recording, line recording, and a photo viewer. Price, bulkiness, and low storage capacity, however, make the Eco Media Player strictly a specialty item meant for campers and people living under extreme conditions.
The Eco Media Player is a chunky little guy that measures 2.5 inches high by 4.5 inches wide by 1.25 inches deep. Don't judge him by his looks, though; the Eco Media Player is designed with utility in mind. Like the Swiss Army Knife of portable human-powered entertainment, the Eco Media Player's design is packed with every imaginable MP3 player feature--and even some features you might not expect on an audio device (flashlight, anyone?).
The Eco Media Player is designed to be used under circumstances where computers and power sources are few and far between. While its fun to think of all kinds of uses for a wind-up MP3 player (bomb shelter, ice fishing, FBI stakeout, mountain climbing, a weekend with the Amish) more than likely you'll be using the Eco Media Player outdoors. The Eco Media Player's durable design and rubberized exterior reflect its intended use as a rough-and-tumble camping accessory. The Eco Media Player doesn't seem to be any more or less water resistant than an iPod, however, so be sure to keep it dry.
The back of the Eco Media Player reveals its most interesting design element: a built-in hand crank. The crank uses a 3-inch plastic shaft that folds out from a metal-reinforced hinge. We found the Eco Media Player's crank also works as an impromptu kickstand for watching video.
The rest of the Eco Media Player's design is fairly humdrum. A color 1.8-inch LCD screen is found on the top half of the front panel. Beneath the screen lies two pill-size buttons for menu and power, as well as a small built-in speaker. The center of the Eco Media Player's front panel is taken up with a butterfly-shaped conglomeration of five buttons, including volume, track skip, and play/pause.
The left edge of the Eco Media Player includes ports for line input and mini-USB, as well as an SD card slot with a retractable door. On the opposite side you'll find a hold switch and that all-important flashlight power switch. The flashlight itself is found on the top edge of the Eco Media Player, next to the 3.5mm headphone jack.
For better or worse, the rough aesthetic of the Eco Media Player's hardware is carried on in its user interface as well. The main menu screen requires users to scroll vertically through a series of crude graphic icons representing each of the Eco Media Player's features. Selecting any one of these features brings you to a file list that feels positively antiquated compared to that of most modern MP3 players. In all fairness, the intended audience for the Eco Media Player is not looking for an iPod-killer with cutting-edge graphics. We found that navigation on the Eco Media Player is generally sluggish, especially for a Flash-memory-based MP3 player.
OK, so you're not going to buy the Eco Media Player for its sleek looks and advanced operating system. There are still plenty of reasons to hand your money over to Trevor Baylis for this funky little gadget. For instance, you can use the Eco Media Player to charge other gadgets as well. Using the hand-crank and a handful of included USB power adapter accessories, charging your cell phone via the Eco Media Player requires only a few minutes of elbow grease (every 1 minute of winding should result in approximately 2 minutes of talk time).
Wind-up novelty aside, the Eco Media Player boasts a surprisingly vast array of MP3 player features. First and foremost, the Eco Media Player is a portable music player. Although it lacks support for sorting music by genre or album, the Eco Media Player's simple drag-and-drop file structure can be as organized or disheveled as you wish. Keeping in character with its renegade attitude towards electricity, the Eco Media Player is equally disgusted with DRM-protected music files and flat-out refuses to play them. Less restrictive formats such as MP3, WMA, ASF, WAV, and OGG should play with no problem. We appreciate that the Eco Media Player allows for both audio and video files to be deleted manually from the player. There's nothing worse than being stuck in your cabin with no way to delete "Macarena" from your music library. Seven EQ presets are also included as part of the music player, although we weren't particularly fond of any of them.
Video playback on the Eco Media Player does not share the same drag-and-drop simplicity as the music feature. Fortunately, the included video conversion software makes short work of converting popular video formats such as MPEG, AVI, and WMV. For those who watch videos in small doses, the Eco Media Player automatically resumes playback where you last left off.
While the Eco Media Player's music and video player can be played through the built-in speaker, the FM radio will play only though headphones. This idiosyncrasy is due to the FM tuner's reliance on your headphones' wiring to act as a radio antenna. Despite our disappointment with the FM tuner's inability to play via the built-in speaker, the Eco Media Player compensates by allowing up to 20 station presets and excellent reception. With all of the Eco Media Player's recording capabilities, the lack of an FM radio recorder seems like an obvious oversight, although it's not a deal-breaker.
The Eco Media Player's voice recording and line input recording functions are easy to set up and produce satisfactory results. Recordings are made directly to an MP3 file set to a 64Kbps, 128Kbps, or 192Kbps resolution. Finally, the photo viewer accepts JPEG, GIF, and BMP images without the need for resizing, and the eBook reader supports any basic text file.
For a device sold mainly on its design novelty, the sound quality of the Eco Media Player is surprisingly good. The softly strummed guitar found on Cat Stevens' "Trouble" held its sparkle, and the synthetic bass bloops of Orbital's "Sad But New" filled our ears without sounding overpowering or stripped of their oomph.
The Eco Media Player's recording quality was less dazzling, but acceptable. Line-input recordings made at the default 128Kbps MP3 setting were free of glitches but lost some of the fidelity found in the source material. Voice recordings were crisp, with plenty of sibilance-emphasizing high-end that made for noisy yet usable results. We also noticed that the level indication meters for both voice and line recordings are not accurate and may lead you to accidentally create low-volume recordings. We recommend monitoring your recordings using headphones to insure a useful recording level.
Video quality on the Eco Media Player is nothing to brag about, but if you're squirreled away in a cabin with nothing to do, watching episodes of The Simpsons on the dim 1.8-inch screen probably seems like a luxury. Small touches such as the hand-crank kickstand and built-in speaker make watching videos a viable proposition on the Eco Media Player. We should note that the screen on our Eco Media Player was just a hair crooked--not enough to drive us crazy, but enough that we would probably exchange it.
The Eco Media Player's battery can be charged either by winding it up or connecting it to your computer over USB. With a full charge, our CNET labs found the Eco Media Player is realistically capable of 32 hours of audio playback, and an outstanding 17 hours of video. Fortunately, even pipsqueaks can charge the Eco Media Player using only the hand crank. Just one minute of cranking at a speed of two revolutions per second, should produce 40 minutes of audio playback.
It makes us happy to know a product such as the Eco Media Player exists, but at $350, its appeal is strictly for extreme outdoorsmen, travelers to third-world nations, MacGyver, or survivalists looking to stock up for the apocalypse. If you're just a casual camper, we recommend taking a deep breath and investing in a $20 USB car charger or an MP3 player with replaceable batteries.