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Wolverine ESP review: Wolverine ESP

Wolverine ESP

James Kim
Account in memoriam for the editor.
James Kim
5 min read
Irvine, California-based Wolverine Data (creators of the memorable MVP) will soon be launching a portable video player (PVP) with up to 120GB. The Wolverine ESP joins a rapidly growing list of portable devices that can play back video and audio and display digital images, though this PVP is much more photo friendly than most. The ESP, which comes only in megasizes of 80GB ($399), 100GB ($449), or 120GB ($499), may not be an Archos 604, but it's a solid device with its own charms. I got to play with the product before its official October 3 launch. Note: Prices on Web site are higher than retail.

At 5.3 by 2.8 by 0.9 inches and 10.2 ounces, the Wolverine ESP is not supersleek and is far from sexy. It has much more of a utilitarian vibe than most media players due to its unassuming gray plastic exterior, 4:3 screen, and mundane user interface. Still, the unit's definitely pocketable and extremely durable, and importantly, it's intuitive. Plus it holds up to 120GB of data.


Wolverine ESP

The Good

The practical Wolverine ESP is available in up to 120GB; plays back music, video, and photo files and includes built-in memory card slots; includes an FM tuner and audio- and video-recording capabilities; plays a wide variety of unprotected formats; supports RAW photo images; removable battery; UMS and MTP modes; good GB-per-dollar value.

The Bad

The Wolverine ESP is not DRM compatible; it has a somewhat mundane interface; not a wide-screen display; a tad bulky; must purchase cradle to record line-in audio or video.

The Bottom Line

The Wolverine ESP may not be a fancy portable video player/recorder, but it gets the job done, particularly for digital photo enthusiasts.

The Wolverine ESP (80GB) next to the Creative Zen Vision (30GB). The Creative's a better performer and sexier, but the ESP has some of its own charms.

To the right of the 3.6-inch 4:3 TFT display (320x240 pixels) is a nice five-way joystick. Above the joystick is a mediocre mono speaker, and under the joystick fall the tactile Menu, Escape, and Volume buttons. These controllers coupled with the simple GUI make the ESP one of the more straightforward devices I've used in a while. The only other buttons to pay attention to are the power and hold slider located on the right spine. The left side of the ESP is rounded and padded with a softer plastic (though still a little slippery); the ESP is designed for righties.

Photo-friendly PVP
You will notice two flip-open panels on top of the device: one is a CompactFlash Type I/II slot, the other an SD/MMC/MS slot. Stick a memory card in, and the ESP will ask to back up photos or the entire card. Transfer times are decent-- I backed up my CompactFlash card with 76 JPEGs and AVIs (about 55MB) in well under a minute. These files are placed into a new folder in the main menu's Backup option, and they are easy to access and view (either in list mode or thumbnail mode, with two rows of four thumbnails). Incidentally, the ESP's USB 2.0 transfer rates are speedy (55MB in about 10 seconds).

The ESP is also a seven-in-one media card reader.

The Wolverine ESP is a shutterbugs' PVP.

Of course, there are some MP3 players (such as the Toshiba Gigabeat S and the Cowon X5) that can move photos over directly from a digital camera, while others such as the Creative Zen Vision:W have a CompactFlash slot. Furthermore, there are PVPs including the Archos 04 series that make excellent photo viewers. But none of the mentioned can play back RAW files like the ESP. The ESP also displays full EXIF data, and photos look bright and sharp onscreen (though we've seen better resolution). You can easily zoom in and rotate.

The ESP is packin'
The ESP can also handle many other media types, including MP3,unprotected WMA and AAC, and WAV audio files, Motion JPEG, MPEG-1, MPEG-4 (up to 720x480 at 25fps, 640x480 at 30fps), WMV9, and XviD video. As long as they're not DRM-protected, most of your files will play back without a hitch, and playback quality on the bright display is very good. Other files will most likely be converted in Windows Media Player. Conveniently, the ESP can be switched from MTP (PictBridge/Media Player) to UMS hard disk mode.

While the ESP GUI lacks the sizzle of those of the Archos 604 or Cowon A2, it's not a total bore. The main menu features low-color bit icons for Pictures, Music, Video, Backup, Audio Recorder, Video Recorder, Radio, and Game. Additionally, player settings, the Browse Hard Drive feature, and any inserted media cards will show up on page two of the options. All browsing is done folder-tree style, and all items (including the main menu) can be viewed in either icon or list mode. Conveniently, you can copy and paste any file into any folder. The background can be customized with any photo. The music playback screen doesn't show album art, but it does display pertinent file info and a sweet spectrum analyzer. You also get one on-the-go playlist, the unit is compatible with standard M3U playlists, and you get seven good equalizer presets and a custom setting that includes 3D enhancement. The ESP can feel very much like an MP3 player, and yes, it sounds pretty good.

The decent FM radio is recordable (AAC) and features a neat retro interface. You also get 18 presets in two groups, and stations are autoscannable. The ESP is a voice recorder out of the box (performance is good at the highest AAC recording setting), but to get line-in audio and video recording, you'll need to spring for the $69 dock. The good news is that the audio-recording interface features a real-time graphical sound-wave monitor (cool!). Video recording (MPEG-4, 352x240 at 30fps) can be scheduled (up to eight events), and content can even be recorded onto media cards. There is no TiVo-like programming or even channel selection, though. Recorded video looks good, and the accompanying AAC audio is solid.

Battery life is rated for 3 to 3.5 hours of video playback and 8 to 10 hours of audio. CNET Labs was able to muster about 13 hours of MP3 playback, definitely better than the mediocre rating. I'll update this review with results of video playback draining. Good news here is that the lithium-ion rechargeable battery is removable and is actually a pretty affordable standard model ($30; Sanyo UR-18650F). The ESP ships with an OK case, earbuds, audio and video cables, a USB cable, a small wall-wart power adapter, a CD, and a user's guide. As mentioned, the recommended docking cradle is $69. Additional accessories such as a remote control are available here.

The Wolverine ESP with its bundled accessories. The docking cradle, required for audio and video line-in recording, is an optional accessory.

Overall, I'm pretty impressed with the unit's file compatibility, features, and playback performance, though I'd personally still opt for the fancier Archos 404 or 604, or if I really wanted the extra storage, the $599 160GB Archos 504. But still, if you're a digital shutterbug and don't mind the non-wide-screen display and the lack of DRM support, the ESP is a very good choice, especially at $399 for the 80GB version (the 80GB Archos 504 is $499, the same price as the 120GB ESP).


Wolverine ESP

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7