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Reviewed By: Raindog [2.13.01]
Manufactured by: A-Max HK
Suggested Price: $199

Gone for a Run

I've gone running with CD players that sported 50-second anti-shock protection before, and had no problems at all. The only real problem being that when I run I go for at least an hour, often much longer so a CD usually ends up repeating tracks. Here I thought the 309 would be perfect, plenty of music to listen to, and anti-shock to ward off skipping. Thinking I had found the perfect running companion I headed out for a run, the 309 in hand, and put my theory to the test.

Well, the 309 did just fine... for 50 seconds, then it abruptly stopped. So I stopped, waited for the unit to start playing music again, and started running... then it stopped again. I'm not talking about skips here, I was simply burning right through the 50 seconds of memory and then the music would stop. Where other anti-shock CD players had succeeded, the 309 was failing miserably and no amount of changing its position, holding it differently, or trying to cushion it would make it work for more than a minute while running. Dejected I did my run with the unit silent in my hands, so much for my perfect running companion. While the capacity of CD-R/RW media makes the 309 an attractive jukebox, the horrendous anti-shock performance means that while this may hold up to the occasional jitter or jolt, doing anything like running with it is pointless.

Video Features

So most MP3 players out there play MP3s, and the CD-based players will play MP3s burned onto CD-R/RW media and also play audio CDs... so why does the 309 have a video cable and jack? Well, as it turns out the 309 is much more than just an audio player, it also does VCD playback. Of course portability kind of falls apart here because you need a TV to actually take advantage of the 309's video capabilities, but it's certainly a feature lacking in all other MP3 players. 

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There are two video functions that the Napa has, one for VCD playback and one that can be used to view play lists when using the unit to play MP3s. The MP3 on screen display was actually really useful as it allows you to easily navigate CDs filled to the brim with MP3s. Vices on the other hand, are used in video mode, and will play out through the video cable on a TV. The playback was adequate for the VCD that I used to test the 309, but nothing to write home about. VCDs are typically low quality, especially when compared with DVDs which are becoming increasingly popular.

While the video features of the 309 really do separate it from the rest of the field, they're not exactly what I'd call portable features. Since the video functionality requires a TV, I found that it wasn't incredibly useful. As a feature it's certainly nice to have, but was something that I used only to test the unit's capabilities and not a part of it that I used from day to day.

The Battery

The first thing that I noticed about the 309 was that it had an internal Lithium Ion battery. The battery gets charged whenever you plug the unit in with the supplied cable... cool, or so I thought. While I'm a big fan of internal batteries for things like MP3 players and PDAs (often the cost of buying batteries for the heavy user will be higher than the higher cost of units with internal rechargeable batteries in the long run), I'm used to these units having at least 10 hours of batter life at full usage. Unfortunately, the 309's battery had all of 2 hours of juice on a full charge. That's it, two hours.

Ok, so normally you'd just pull out a dead batter and put a new one in.... but wait, the Napa uses its own rechargeable battery, you can't just pop in a couple of AAs and be up and running again. While you can run the 309 off a DC connection, and use the same connection to charge the battery, you really only get 2 hours of portable battery life at a time before you have to stop to recharge. 2 hours is nothing, only enough for a short flight, barely enough for a VCD to play though, and not nearly enough to take advantage of all the MP3s that you could have burned onto a CD. 

How did you like the battery performance?

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