Monday, December 1, 2008

Gadget Review: Nextar MA566-106 at Staples

We have a special treat for you today, a gadget review! We just couldn't resist trying out the 1gb USB-stick mp3 player that is featured in this week's circular ad by Staples. This is the Nextar MA566-106 and sells for $10 after a $10 Easy Rebate (see the bottom of the post for more on the rebate - it's good news). Here is a quick review!


Key features
  • 1gb storage
  • USB-stick plugs directly into regular-size USB ports or cables
  • plays mp3 and WMA
  • plays FM radio
  • records FM radio (ideal for NPR users since there are no commercials to skip)
  • records voice memos
  • takes one AAA battery



What's inside the box?
  • The mp3 player
  • One pair of earphones
  • One USB cable
  • a mini-CD with the setup driver for older operating systems
  • a multi-lingual user manual
  • registration card
  • battery is NOT included
  • one year warranty (!)



Opening the box (Unboxing?)
The mp3 player is housed in a lightweight shrink-wrap. This is definitely not frustration-free packaging, but a basic pair of scissors can open the box :-)


Connecting to the computer
I tried this on a Windows Vista computer, and there was no need to use the mini-CD. I simply plugged in the player directly to a front USB port (desktop computer) and Vista auto-discovered it and installed the necessarily drivers. From there on, I opened Windows Explorer and pasted about half a gigabyte of mp3 folders to the Nextar. From there, I used the "safely remove hardware" link in the System Tray to "remove" it virtually, and then I unplugged it.


Using the mp3 player
I highly recommend using rechargeable batteries for all gadgets, and that's what I am using on this mp3 player. A rechargeable NiMH AAA battery!

If you have used any of the other budget usb-stick mp3 players, the general user interface will be relatively familiar to you. It's not exactly the smoothest interface, but once you get the hang of it (a few minutes), then you are smooth sailing. There are not that many options anyway!

Size-wise, it is thicker than a typical USB-stick, it's about 2cm tall and 8cm wide at its tallest and widest points. This may be a good thing if you throw it in your pocket, it will fall to the bottom of the pocket and not drop out accidentally.

The tiny but jam-packed screen is dark blue, and let's not forget, you get what you pay for. The default setting turns off the neon-blue backlight every 5 seconds, so you may want to increase that in the settings, at least initially while you are getting used to the player and the interface.

I'm by no means a music expert, so I can't really comment on the audio quality. After all, we are talking about a $10 USB-stick mp3 player here, not the latest and greatest iPod or Bose system :)

Another handy thing is that it has a "Hold" button, aka a "Lock" button, that way if you accidentally press any buttons, it won't affect playback or recording.

Voice recording is implemented nicely, even during music playback you can start recording a voice memo if you press and hold the AB/REC button for a couple of seconds. This is nice if you have one of those "light bulb moments" and want to record it before it flies away again ;-)

The user manual is very usable as it covers all the features of the player. It is your typical not-perfectly-translated user manual (eg "previous" instead of "previews"), but then again, when you get similar manuals for $200 gadgets, why complain for a $10 gadget? :-) I did cross-reference the manual 3-4 times, and each time I found the answer relatively easily and quickly.


Potential uses
  • listen to music
  • listen to FM radio
  • record FM radio programs
  • voice recorder
  • up to 1gb USB backup for your computer



Don't fear the rebate!
The price of this is $20 but Staples is offering a $10 rebate. The good news is that this is not a mail-in rebate, but an online rebate, which Staples calls "Easy Rebate". You don't mail anything, you don't cut the UPC code, you don't photocopy receipts.

To submit the rebate, you go to the rebate website, and enter information from your cash register receipt. After you finish that and submit the request, you wait for a few weeks, and the check arrives at your door. You can always track the progress of the rebate online.

I've been using the Staples Easy Rebates for many years, and they have been consistently consistent.


Not one, but TEN!
If you read the rebate form, it says that this offer is good for up to ten units per household. This means you can buy up to ten of them and each will qualify for a $10 rebate. So if you max out, you buy 10 mp3 players, you pay $200 at the cash register, you submit your Easy Rebate online, and you receive $100 of checks after a few weeks.


Reference
This is Nextar model MA566-106, listed at the Staples website with product code 716099 (MA566-1BL) for the black unit and product code 716101 (MA566-1P) for the pink-red unit.

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