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Ntribe Monolith (256MB) review: Ntribe Monolith (256MB)

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The Good Line-in, voice, and FM recording; solid playback quality; upgradable firmware; pretty OLED screen.

The Bad Internal battery recharges only when connected to a PC; bulky for a flash player; tiny menu-text display; cluttered button layout.

The Bottom Line A sleek but frustrating design obscures some good features and performance.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

6.7 Overall
  • Design 5
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

Review Sections

Intro

Ntribe decided to mine the film 2001: A Space Odyssey for inspiration in naming this flash-based MP3 player. Let's face it, hal doesn't adequately convey the image of strength, so the company chose monolith instead. What lies beneath this minimalist brushed-aluminum rectangle, however, won't inspire a sense of awe in potential customers. Even though it boasts a bunch of coveted features and excellent sound quality, the Monolith's relative bulk and confusing controls make it ideal for only a few. At first glance, with its built-in battery and solid-state, rectangular design, the $160 Ntribe Monolith seems to be a mini hard drive player. To find out that it's only a 256MB flash player (also available in 512MB and 1GB capacities) is a major disappointment. Neither as petite (1.6 by 3.1 by 0.6 inches and 2.2 ounces) nor as stylish as the current generation of high-end flash-based players, the Monolith is just what its name suggests: a chunk of material. The eye-pleasing OLED screen, which functions as a mirror when the player is off, lends the one bit of pizzazz to the design, with ID3 tag information scrolling across the display in blue text, while file format, track number, and battery indicators display in yellow at the top of the screen. Though the text is attractive on the main playback screen, some menu options are so small and fuzzy that they're unreadable.


The Monolith in its carrying case.

On the right spine of the unit, you'll find a volume scrollwheel; pressing and holding this button during playback accesses your music folders. The play/pause/stop button, which sits between the fast-forward/rewind jog controls, is extremely small and difficult to press. Although some of the buttons serve more than one purpose, they are poorly labeled. You have to press and hold the Menu button to access menu options, and a quick press shuttles between MP3 and FM modes, but you'd have no idea unless you read the manual. Similarly confusing, to adjust the tempo of a song, you have to press and hold the Tempo button; a quick press marks A and B loop sections.

All of these buttons are crammed together so closely that it's easy to accidentally push one of them when retrieving the Monolith from a pocket or a briefcase; you'll want to activate the Hold switch often when using this device on the go. Overall, the construction doesn't feel quite as solid as the device's imposing name suggests. The buttons in particular feel a bit flimsy. The small, rubber protector plug for the line-in jack comes off completely, just begging to be lost the first time you remove it.

The biggest design flaw is with the built-in lithium-ion battery, which must be connected to your computer's USB port to charge. Because MP3 players by nature are designed to be used while on the go, the lack of a power cord is a huge minus.

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