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Odyssey is no iPod, but it's cheaper

By Shoshana Berger
Business 2.0

The Odyssey is covered in smudge-loving chrome and has a manual scroll wheel.
The Odyssey is covered in smudge-loving chrome and has a manual scroll wheel.

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(Business 2.0) -- I have iPod envy. But every time I feel the pang and revisit the Apple (AAPL) Web site, I'm hit with the same sticker shock. Though iPod prices are finally starting to tumble, it's still hard -- even for a card-carrying early adopter -- to rationalize paying so much for an MP3 player. Sure, an iPod could store every version of every song the Rolling Stones ever recorded (the 20-gigabyte model holds as many as 4,000 tracks), and yes, the device has that satisfying, new-bar-of-soap look, but is it really worth $500?

That question takes on renewed urgency with each additional iPod clone that hits the market. Toshiba brought out its Mobilephile late last year, and two weeks ago, e.Digital released its 20GB Odyssey 1000. Like the Mobilephile, the Odyssey has an ersatz iPod form factor. But instead of the chrome back, milky front, and touch-sensitive menu wheel, the Odyssey is covered in smudge-loving chrome and has a manual scroll wheel. The two higher-end iPod models (10GB and 20GB) can talk to either PC or Mac through a FireWire adapter, while the Odyssey is a Windows-only player and transfers MP3s via a USB 2.0 connector (boasting download speeds of up to 8 megabytes per second -- a rate that nearly matches that of the iPod's FireWire). I'm not on the USB 2.0 bus yet, but even without it, the transfer rate is plenty fast.

Once I've downloaded the e.Digital software and uploaded a bunch of MP3s to the player, I try it out with the bundled collapsible headphones and my own higher-end pair. The sound on both is extraordinarily rich and distortion-free (the experience is as good as or better than listening to a CD through headphones on my computer), and the volume reaches eardrum-popping levels (I fear for our children). The literature says the player has "SRS Labs' WOW audio enhancement technology for a 3-D listening experience and rich bass." Whatever that means, it's working.

Other perks: The Odyssey features a "Back" button (the operation of which is more intuitive than turning the iPod's menu wheel counterclockwise), voice memo recording, and a voice navigation technology that recognizes the spoken name of an artist or track. (I didn't find this feature to be very useful, however -- or accurate: I ask it for Rafael Toral, it gives me John Fahey.) Though it lacks the iPod's calendar and contact list functions, the Odyssey does have an FM radio.

How charmingly retro!

e.Digital Odyssey 1000 personal digital jukebox: $349; available at www.edig.com.


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