REVIEW: MobiBlu Cube2 - World's Smallest MP3 Player
We've written about miniaturization before. Back in the day it was a real show of your tech prowess to make a smaller radio/camera/television than the last. Today everything is miniaturized, and it's easy to get kind of blasé about small devices like music players, so it must take something extra special to get music fans to sit up and take notice.
The MobiBlu Cube2 is a full-featured MP3 player housed in a 70's geometric/mod inspired cube, clocking in at less than one cubic inch. There are other players with about the same displacement, but putting it all in a perfect cube is an unexpected touch of elegance. More importantly the MobiBlu sounds good, is easy to use, the controls are a good size, and the screen is terrific (yes iPod Shuffle people, an MP3 player at this size and price point can have a screen).
Even though it's diminutive, the MobiBlu manages to be packed with features. It plays MP3, WMV, and the much vaunted OGG (yay!). It's got podcast subscription software right in the unit, a built in mic, radio - pretty much everything you'd expect from a full featured MP3 player. Unbelievably the color screen can even play video. Yes Mr. Farnsworth, you're looking at a 1 inch cube with a video screen. Folks bandy about the term "iPod killer" all the time, but the MobiBlu is the first MP3 player I've used that I think has a chance to topple Apple's baby.
The MobiBlu delivers the kind of tech specs that you would demand from a better music player: full frequency playback, real multi-band EQ (not just presets for "country", "jazz", etc.), playlists, 3D surround-sound effects, fades between songs, Jpeg viewing and more.
The Cube2 connects via USB, showing up on your computer as a storage device that you can simply drag MP3 files onto without special software. The player is also certified "Plays for Sure", and has DRM compatibility for copy-protected music.
Cube2 comes in several memory configurations up to 2 gigs. As always, more is better, especially if you're a fan of downloading podcasts. The Cube2 comes preinstalled with software called Podcast Ready. After simple configuration on your PC, your podcast subscriptions are stored in the Cube2 itself. Plugging the MobiBlu into a USB port on any computer will let you run the software and download your podcasts directly to the MobiBlu.
There are also several features that I didn't expect like timer recording of FM radio (the Cube2 can even turn itself on to make the recording, like a VCR), inbuilt microphone recording, 10 hour battery (after a three hour charge), but the most unexpected feature is that this diminutive player can show video.
The screen is 64 x 48 pixels - great for navigating music playlists and operating the Cube2, but as far as movies you probably shouldn't throw out your home entertainment center yet. It would be tough watching a feature film on the thumbnail sized screen, but it's cool for music videos, or fairly static videoblogs (like Rocketboom).
You will have to convert videos to MSV format using the included
software; a bit time consuming, but the benefit is a video file that takes up
very little space on the Cube2. Video playback on a screen this size is more of a whiz-bang feature than a practical application, but heck - why not?
If there's a hitch for me, it's the somewhat unusual USB cable. The USB connection is made through the headphone port, and the unit includes the requisite cord that's USB on one end, and a special 1/8" plug on the other. Because it's non-standard, that means that you have to remember to bring the cable with you if you intend to copy files, update your podcasts, etc. Having everything communicate through a single jack is an elegant design, but I still find myself wishing that MobiBlu had found a way to conceal a standard mini-USB connection.
The MobiBlu's body is made of metal, and so can take some abuse, but it's probably not an MP3 player for working out or jamming into a tight pocket. The company does offer an armband strap for those times you don't want to hang the player around your neck - but let's face it, the Cube2 is meant to be seen (You should check out the blinged out Svarovski Crystal version offered at mobiblu.com).
All in all, The Cube2 is an impressive package (the saying about "good things" and "small packages" is really appropriate here). MobiBlu has taken the utilitarian look of most MP3 players, cubed it into a sleek and unusual shape with a high sense of style and lots of functionality. The 2 gig player is available in several colors and retails for $119 including high quality headphones, making it surprisingly affordable for a device that's so hip.
For all of those folks who think that only Apple can make a music player that's both full-featured and stylish, I recommend that they leave some room around their necks for the MobiBlu. It's one of the few players I've seen that has the potential to be an "iPod killer".