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Appeared on: Tuesday, September 14, 2004
NEON 4in1 128MB MP3 Player

1. Introduction

NEON 4in1 128MB MP3 Player - Page 1

- Introduction

During the past year, the gadget market has been swarmed with small-size memory devices that can be used for a multitude of purposes: playback/record audio, store/exchange data, listen to radio. Memory sizes initially were small, but as memory technology progresses we can see today such devices produced with capacities reaching up to the order of a gigabyte. Many devices exist in the market today that combine many of the features mentioned above. One of these devices is the NEON 4 in 1 MP3 Player from Neon-Drives that arrived in our labs for review.

With dimensions of 80 x 30 x 24 mm, a weight of around 50 grams, and given it's oval shape, the Neon MP3 Player is a small device that can easily pop in your pocket, hang on your keychain, or by using the included necklace earphones, hang around your neck. The player provides more than 4 hours of music listening, and can reproduce files encoded in the MP3 format.

The two-line multi-line graphic display with background lighting provides ID3-tag information. New music files can easily be copied to the player without using any special software. The player is recognized automatically as a removable device by recent versions of Windows OS (2000/XP), and you can use it immediately from the moment you plug it in. The Neon 4 in 1 MP3 Player can also be used as a recording device, allowing more than 4 hours of voice recording.

We''ll begin with a detailed features and specifications list:

- Features & Specifications

Part No. NEON230F-128
Type USB 1.1
Package Retail
File support MPEG 1/2/2.5 layer 3 with ID3 tag display (English/Simple Chinese)
Drivers No driver installation required (except for Windows 98)
Radio Internal FM radio (76MHz ~ 108MHz)
Capacity 128MB for Audio Tracks or Data Files (256 MB model also available)
Display 96x32 Graphic LCD with blue EL backlight
EQ Settings Equalizer mode: 6 presets (bass/rock/jazz/classic/pop/flat)
DVR functions Digital voice recording in WAV format
Security Lock up function, protecting data
Playback Modes A-B repeat function and constant repeat
Battery life more than 12 hours with one AAA alkaline battery (continuously)
Colours available Red and Blue
Dimensions 80x30x24mm
Package includes - Neon 128MB Player
- USB extension cable
- Necklace earphones
- CD driver disk (Win98 Only)
- User manual (English Only)
- 1 AAA Battery

2. Retail Package
NEON 4in1 128MB MP3 Player - Page 2

- Package

This is what you will receive, should you decide to buy the Neon 4 in 1 MP3 Player. As you can see, the sample we received came in dark red (personally we would have preferred a blue one :-) ).

Let's open the package and see what's inside:

The packaging contains:

- Neon 128MB Player
- USB extension cable
- Necklace earphones
- CD driver disk (for Win98 Only)
- User manual (in English)
- 1 AAA Battery

Opening the box and taking out the Neon 4 in 1 MP3 Player, the first thing someone will notice is its size. It is very compact, and as can be seen from the picture above, it is slightly longer in size than a credit card! Something that will easily fit in a pocket. Despite its size, it looks very sturdy and solid. It uses one AAA size battery, and its total weight is very light at around 50 grams.

Also included is a pair of in-ear necklace headphones. Their quality is quite good, but there is a drawback that has to do with their design. As you will see in the picture, you have to wear the earphones as a necklace around your neck. The cable is not long enough, meaning that in order to use the earphones, the player must be hanging on your chest while listening. While its weight is negligible, some people could find it irritating, or they might have reasons to want to have the player hidden in a less exposed and probably safer place (like a pocket for example). You can easily solve this "problem" though, by just using another pair of earphones.

Also in the package can be found one AAA size battery, the USB extension cable and the driver CD. As we said in the beginning, no drivers are needed to access the player's memory, as it is recognized as a removable disk by Windows 2000/XP and any other operating system that supports this functionality. For older versions of Windows, like Windows 98, the driver CD is needed in order to be able to access the player's memory. The device is assigned a driver letter (just like a memory stick) with a capacity of 128 MB (or 256 depending on your model), that you can use to transfer music, store files, easily and transparently by using the Windows explorer interface.

3. Tests - Page 1

NEON 4in1 128MB MP3 Player - Page 3

The Neon 4 in 1 MP3 Player stores the audio/data files in flash memory. The sample that arrived in our labs had a capacity of 128MB, but there is also a 256MB model available. While 128MB might appear small to many of you, you can easily store about 2-3 hours of music (128Kbps MP3 format). This depends mostly on the bitrate of the stored music. The greater the bitrate (and hence quality) of the mp3 files you store, the less playback time will be available. But if you feel you have a greater need for storage space, you can go for the larger capacity model. Apart from the difference in storage space, all models in the series are identical. Bear in mind though, that this device can only playback music files encoded with the MP3 format.

The main advantage of players that use flash memory instead of a CDROM reader is completely flawless playback without skips. Since the player does not have any moving mechanical parts (like the optical pickup that a CDROM reader has), there is no need for skip protection mechanisms. Playback is smooth, and skipping between tracks is almost instantaneous. So you can use the player without annoying skips while jogging, or doing any activity that requires rapid movement.

There is another advantage as well, that stems from the lack of mechanical parts. Power consumption is much less than a CDROM reader based player. This is the case with the Neon 4 in 1 MP3 Player as well. It operates on a single AAA size battery, which will give you many hours of playback time. In our tests , we managed to get a little more than 13 hours of playback. Listening to FM radio consumes even less power so you will get even more playback time than previously mentioned.

The Neon 4 in 1 MP3 Player is controlled through two rows of small buttons/switches, located lengthwise on either side of the device. All the Neon 4 in 1 MP3 Player's functions are controlled from here. The 30 page user manual that is included, will help you configure and use the Neon 4 in 1 MP3 Player without much hassle.

Bottom Side

Top Side

On the top side we can see (from left to right) the power on/off switch, the lock/unclock switch, the stop button, and the builtin microphone (holes under the "MIC" label). The lock unclock switch has two uses, depending whether you are listening to music or using it as a removable disc in your PC. In the former case, it locks the device's controls so that no button can be accidentally pressed. In the latter case, it serves as a write protect switch that prevents any modification to the data that exists on the device, operating in the same manner as the switch that exists on floppy discs.

On the bottom side, we can see (from left to right) the menu button, the skip forward button, the play/pause button, and the skip backwards button. Despite what the arrows show, the device does not offer a fast-forward function. This means that you have no way of skipping to the middle of a song for example. The skip forward/backwards buttons also serve as volume up/down buttons when pressed for more than 1 second.

On the the left and right extremes of this oval shaped device, you will find the earphone jack and the USB connector, respectively. To expose the USB connector, you need to remove the cap. Because of the cap's small size, it can get easily lost/misplaced, so be extra careful.

On the front side, there is the LCD screen, which is backlit with a neutral blue light. The device's LCD screen is quite readable under low light conditions. Below you can see snapshots from the Flash Recorder's menu functions:

4. Tests - Page 2

NEON 4in1 128MB MP3 Player - Page 4

We tested the Neon 4 in 1 MP3 Player's playback capabilities with different types of MP3 files. We tried playing files with different bitrates, constant and variable bitrate encoded files. The device managed to playback everything we threw at it with no problems, with the exception of files encoded at 320 Kbps. At that bitrate, the files would playback with a stutter, like someone is pushing the pause/resume button continuously. Another case where minor stuttering would appear was while accessing the configuration menu of the device during music playback.

The Neon 4 in 1 MP3 Player can read ID3 tags as well, and it can display various information about the songs played, like the song's title/duration/current position. All this information is displayed on the device's screen, scrolling from left to right so that all of the details can be displayed. The device is capable of displaying correctly English and Simple Chinese character sets.

As far as music quality is concerned, The Neon 4 in 1 MP3 Player performed very well, but not without glitches. When listening to well-encoded MP3s, the produced sound was good, but at low volume levels or where there were moments of silence during the songs, a very slight hiss could be heard. This effect tended to disappear if we increased the volume from the device.

The Neon 4 in 1 MP3 Player can be used as an FM radio as well. By selecting the FM radio mode using the player's controls, we can tune in to our favorite radio station by manually selecting the frequency or by selecting one of the 10 presets. There is a search mode as well in which you can control the 16 presets individually by storing in each one the station you want. The quality of the reception was good with the earphones acting as an antenna. What we would have liked to see as an option is the ability to disable FM Stereo mode, in order to improve reception when needed.

Looking at the recording capabilities of the Flash Recorder, the device can be used as a voice recorder using the built-in microphone. The device records using the ADPCM codec which produces the well known WAV files. The details of the recording are as follows: Codec PCM, Sampling Frequency 8KHz, Channels Mono, Bits per sample 8bits. These settings are not adjustable, so the maximum time you could record with the Neon 4in1 MP3 Player is around 4.5 hours. Each recording is stored as a file with a .WAV extension in the player, and you can copy it to your computer and listen to it directly.

The device supports the USB 1.1 standard, and although it offers limited speed compared to the USB 2.0 standard, the speeds are acceptable considering the size of the memory. To copy 128MB of data from your PC to the Neon 4 in 1 MP3 Player, you will need approximately 4 minutes.

5. Conclusion
NEON 4in1 128MB MP3 Player - Page 5


The Neon 4 in 1 MP3 Player is a handy little device that packs a lot of features in a very small module. It has excellent battery life, featuring 12-13 hours of playback time with only a single AAA battery. You can listen to radio, record audio using the built-in microphone. Sound quality is not perfect, but we think that most users will find it more than adequate for their needs. You could probably squeeze more music in the player if it supported the WMA format, but it is not something that is of such paramount importance.

Another lacking feature that some might miss is the absence of FF/RW capability in the player. It would be good to have all these features and some more that we would find somewhat cool and be happy to have, but wait until you've heard the player's price. It's retail price at the time of writing is at around ?70, making it excellent value for the money.

We would like to thank

Buy Memory Kits for very low prices!!!

for sending us this unit for evaluation

- The Good

- The Bad

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