We've seen a few Wi-Fi-enabled music players
before--remember SoniqCast and Tao?--but never one that
works with a music subscription service. (However, Zing,
another Wi-Fi portable, is in the works.)
A $14.99 monthly fee lets you grab all the music you
want--or, at least, all that will fit on the 8GB
MusicGremlin device--from the MusicGremlin Direct online
store. Clever community features let you browse other
Gremlin owners' downloads and swap songs with friends.
There are some healthy restrictions in place, though, such
as weak battery life, small storage capacity, and the fact
that you can trade songs only with friends who have
We like the product and applaud the innovation, but we doubt
that this first-generation offering provides enough value to
attract a large number of users.
About the same size as the first-generation Apple Computer
iPod, the MusicGremlin measures 4.1 by 2.4 by 0.8 inches and
offers a 2-inch, 220-by-176-pixel color screen. The front
and back are glossy black, while the contoured sides and the
selection pad have a matte finish and a rubbery feel. It's
deceptively lightweight, and the unit feels remarkably like
a thick piece of foam.
Hardly a sleek and sexy player, its looks are just a bit
goofy. But we grew to like them, particularly because of the
simple array of buttons.
The rubbery center selection pad lets you move between menus
and choose songs and options, while the on/off/hold switch
is on the left side. The volume, play/pause, and
forward/reverse controls are on the right. We desperately
wanted to relocate them to the front, so that we could use
the player with just a thumb. Still, we appreciated the
dedicated volume and player controls. The headphone jack is
on the top, while the bottom has line-in, mini-USB, reset
and power ports.
The player uses a side-scrolling interface, like the iPod's,
where you move through menus to the right. Some options,
such as those for downloading or sending a song, appear in
small pop-up windows that can, at first, be confusing to
select. Icons along the bottom let you know the battery
level, how many songs are in your download queue, and if
you're connected to a Wi-Fi or ad-hoc network.
While the menus are simple and utilitarian, the playback
screen has a little more character, with album art, and red
and blue highlights.
A small light on the upper left of the player also shows
your connection status, glowing green for Wi-Fi and blue for
ad-hoc. Both the display and Wi-Fi connection lights are
easy to see during the day. When the green connection light
is on, you get a certain satisfaction knowing that others
can "see" you and that you're downloading songs.
The MusicGremlin has a small internal speaker that plays
music faintly when headphones aren't connected. We're told
that a sleep timer will be added in the next few months, so
that you can fall asleep to your MusicGremlin.
The MusicGremlin comes with a pair of matching black stereo
headphones (with a tangle-prone rubbery texture) but no belt
clip or case. It's too bad, because the glossy finish is a
The MusicGremlin comes in one storage size: 8GB, which holds
about 2,000 MP3, WMA, or WMA DRM tracks.
It's PlaysForSure-certified, so you can transfer
subscription or purchased tracks from most other online
stores--just not wirelessly. You can use the player without
a subscription to the company's MusicGremlin Direct service
($14.99 per month, on the pricey side of portable
subscriptions), but in that case, you might as well take the
same $299 and buy a 30GB video iPod, because you'd be
missing out on what makes the Gremlin unique.
With a subscription and an 802.11 wireless connection, you
can go shopping right from your player and download all the
new tunes you want. Downloads are 128Kbps WMA DRM tracks.
With or without a subscription, you can purchase tracks at
99 cents each. Purchased tracks can then be transferred to
your Windows XP PC, saved and used on other devices.
The 2-million-track music library directory is actually
saved and invisibly updated to the Gremlin, so you don't
waste time or Wi-Fi battery life downloading track
information whenever you browse the catalog.
We found the catalog consistent with that of other online
stores. It's strong in rock and pop, and it's likely to have
every popular artist you want, if not every song. Since you
have the database right on the device, you'll notice tons of
artists and albums you've never heard of. You browse by
spelling out the artist or song you're looking for, then
clicking the select button to jump into the directory when
you're close to the right place. It seems cumbersome at
first, but after a few tries, you'll be scrolling quickly.
Enter Download Manager (one of nine items on the main menu),
and you can monitor the status of your downloads. You can
even move a song to the front of the queue, a good feature
if the song you want to listen to now is at the back end of