MobiBlu Cube2 Music/Video Player

Audio Gadget ReviewsDevin Balentina

In the now crowded MP3-player world a lot of players are starting to look alike, that’s why it’s crucial to distinguish yourself from the others if you want to catch the consumer’s eye and go against that company with those white or black players with the name of a fruit. (You know who I’m talking about). You can do this by bundling a music service, maybe add a large screen or large amounts of storage or in the case of the MobiBlu Cube2 you offer all the features you can possibly add in the tiniest package you can create and give it the shape of a small cube.

MobiBlu has once again created a distinctive looking player, but is it only about the looks? Have they managed to create a worthy upgrade to the original DAH-1500i? Read on to find out more.

Introduction

The MobiBlu Cube2 is the direct successor to the DAH-1500i, a tiny and attractive mp3- player in the form of a cube. It is this tiny package and the cube shape that made them so popular. It is also this shape that somehow became a trademark for them, with the cubic shape becoming instantly recognizable as a MobiBlu player. The DAH-1500i was a very impressive player, stuffing a lot in a compact package lacking only a color screen: it came with a blue OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) screen. When MobiBlu created the follow-up to the DAH-1500i, they named it appropriately the Cube2. This is a better name, as DAH-1500i didn’t tell you much about the player, while this name immediately tells you what it is: ‘the cube player’ and its place in the line-up ‘the second version.’ The new Cube2 has been upgraded with a 65k Color OLED screen enabling you to view digital images and watch video clips, on a albeit tiny screen. They have also included earbuds designed by SRS Labs and the newest WOW HD (High Definition) sound enhancement technology from SRS Labs.

The Cube2 is available two storage capacities: 1GB ($99.99) and 2GB ($119.99) and four colors: blue, silver, black, and pink.

Cube2 Features

* ‘The World’s Smallest Digital Multimedia Player’
* Supports MP3, WMA, and ‘Protected’ WMA (DRM)
* PlaysForSure Certified – Compatible with music download and subscription-based sites.
* Podcast Ready -enabled
* View Digital Images and Watch Video Clips
* Available in 1GB and 2GB
* Full 65K Color OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) Display
* Rechargeable Lithium Polymer Battery – 10 Hour Playtime
* FM Tuner, FM Recording, and Voice Recording
* SRS WOW HD (High Definition) and TruBass Sound Enhancement
* High Quality SRS Designed Earbuds
* Single Connector for Headphone, File Downloads, and Charging.

Cube2 Specification

* Audio Formats Supported:MP3 (MPEG 1/2-Layer 2/3, 16-320Kbps),WMA (Microsoft Windows Audio, 32-192Kbps), WMA DRM (Digital Rights Management), and OGG (Q1 – Q10)
* Video Formats Supported: MSV (Video Clip file format converted by provided software from WMV, MPG, and ASF Video Formats)
* Image Formats Supported: JPG and MSJ (MSJ format converted by provided software from JPG, GIF, BMP, PNG, MNG, and ICO formats)
* Built-in Memory: 1GB, 2GB
* Display:65k Color OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode)
* Encoding: Record from FM Radio (FM Recording) and Internal Microphone (Voice Recording) into MP3 format.
* FM Frequency: 50MHz – 108.00MHz / 76.0MHz ~ 108.0MHz
* Audio Output Frequency: 20Hz – 20KHz
* Audio Signal to Noise Ratio:90dB
* Headphone Output Power:16/ 15mW
* PC Interface: USB 2.0
* Download Speed: 25 Mbps
* Power Supply: Li-Polymer (Built-in)
* Battery Life: Max 10 hours (Audio). Max 5 hours (Video)
* Product Dimensions: 1.0′ x 1.0′ x 1.0′ (25.4mm x 25.4mm x 25.4mm)
* Product Weight: 0.63 Ounces (18 Grams)
* Play Modes: Normal, Repeat, Repeat All, Random Once, Random All, Folder Play, Repeat A-B
* Equalizer:Normal, Rock, Jazz, Classic, Pop, Live, Dance, SRS (Each EQ mode is user adjustable)
* Other Features: Playlist, Resume Play, Audio Fade-in, Clock (Time) Display, Multi-language Support, Alarm, Reserved FM recording, LCD Pivot (180 degrees), Pre-Loaded PodcastReady and Firmware upgradeable software.
* Accessories:User Manual, Program CD with Video and Image Conversion Software, Necklace Style SRS Earphones, USB/Charging Cable
* PC System Requirements: MS Windows 98SE, ME, 2000, or XP / MAC OS 9.x ~ 10.x, or OS X. Pentium (or Compatible) 200MHz or Higher, 32MB (64MB for Windows ME or 2000) Main Memory or Higher, 128MB free hard drive space or Higher, CD-ROM Drive and USB Port(USB 1.1 or 2.0), Internet Connection for content downloading

Design

When you look at the Cube2 for the first time, the first thing you notice is how small it really is. It also reminded me of a dice, although a slightly oversized one. We got the black 1 GB version: it sports a black glossy finish with grey rubbery buttons and a shiny grey back. On the front it has a thumb nail-sized screen behind a shiny almost mirror-like cover with a small holographic MobiBlu logo. The idea is that when the screen is turned off, it will disappear completely creating some kind of a mirror effect, making the screen and the ‘mirror’ look like one piece, but the effect isn’t perfect as you can pinpoint the screen area from the mirror area if you look close enough, but it does make for a very stylish design element.

On the left you can find the Menu/Navigation button and the Hold button that can be used in some cases for A-B looping and Record. On the left you can find 5 buttons: The Play/Pause button (that also functions as the power button and enter), Rewind, Forward and volume up/down. As expected the lower part is completely clear, while the top part houses the neck strap hook and the earphone jack and proprietary USB port combo. The earphone jack is your normal steroo audio plug, allowing you to use the included set or the headphone of your choice. I usually don’t like proprietary ports, and in this case the USB port. When using universal cable/ports you could easily go out to your local store and get a replacement, but with proprietary technologies you have to rely on the manufacturer for supplies. In the case of the Cube2 I can overlook the use of a proprietary cable as there isn’t much space to work with in the first place and I have to admit using a single port for audio, USB connectivity and charging is a very ingenious and space-saving work around for the small cube.

While using the Cube2 I also found out that it’s something of a head-turner in its own way: people kept asking what it was, commenting on how cool it looked and where they could get one. This is probably due to its tiny dimension, design and the way it’s worn, other than being a mp3/video-player it’s kind of a fashion statement. For some it isn’t clear what it really is. It does remind me of some weird high tech necklace, in fact the earbuds/neckstrap are worn like a necklace with the Cube2 being attached at button like a pendant. It attaches trough the audio jack from the ear buds, this is enough to securely hold the Cube2 attached, but just to be sure there’s the attached hook. This hook also comes in handy when you want use the Cube2 with other headphones: you just plug the audio jack in the player and attach the hook to secure it, very nice!

I think the overall design is good, but MobiBlu should consider attaching the Cube2 to ear buds from the sides and move the screen to the top, or better yet, add a second screen to the top part. I found that while wearing the strap, you have to turn the screen towards you to see what you are doing. It would be handy to have a second screen on the top part, this way you can look down without having to turn the cube. Overall design is a strong part of this player.

Package

The Cube2 comes in a small package with a lot stuffed inside. The package is finished in a black and red theme and consists of two parts. The top part is clear giving you a look at the tiny Cube2; behind the Cube2 you’ll find a box with the user manual and CD. The lower part houses a box giving information about the player and inside you will find the neckstrap/earphones, USB cable and mini USB connector.

Much of the space available is taken by the USB cable, it has even more mass than the Cube2 itself! This clearly is destined for usage at home. When away, the mini USB connector is more appropriate and plugs directly to the Cube2 and would fit nicely in your pocket. The Cube2 package is good enough, but it I would have like to see the inclusion of an AC charger, which can now only be purchased separately as an option. Charging via USB is not always convenient.

Installation, Programs and Package

As with most flash based MP3-players installation is a breeze, it just a matter of plugging it into a free USB port and waiting for it to be recognized. Once recognized it shows as a Removable Disk named ‘PodcastReady’ and XP will promptly ask what you want to do next. There are the standard options of listening to the songs, viewing pictures or movies using your favorite media players or using the Cube2 as a flash drive, naturally you can also sync/transfer your music collection to the Cube2. I tried transferring music using Windows Media Player 11 and Creative MediaSource 2.0 and it worked just fine. It’s also a PlayForSure certified player allowing it to work well with PlayForSure content providesr. One of the unique options is set at the top and will launch a program called ‘MyPodder’ by PodCastReady. The great thing is that the program doesn’t need any installation and will run directly from the Cube2! It comes with a few standard podcast channels, but you can subscribe to Podcastready, enabling you to add more channels and customize the experience. Once you download the podcasts they are automatically put in the podcast folder on the Cube2. For Podcast fans this very convenient as you can plug the cube into any PC with an internet connection (without installing any programs) and get the latest podcasts.

To watch video and view pictures you can’t just go dropping pictures/video files like you do with audio. For that you’ll need the included MJPEG Converter and the MJPEG player to view the final results. Overall these programs take very little disc space and use very little system resources while running. Overall the interface is clean and easy to understand. Before converting video files you choose the width and height of the video, frames per second, video and audio quality. The max supported video resolution is 160×128.Movies will be converted into the .msv format. I converted a video clip into MPEG,WMV AND AVI formats and used the MJPEG Converter to convert it into something the Cube2 could see. The resulting file is about 50% smaller, both the MPEG AND WMV converted just fine, but converting AVI resulted in an error. Seems that AVI conversion is just not supported, hope they add this soon.
Picture conversion is the same story, choose a picture and choose the height and width, with 160×128 being the highest available resolution. The final converted file is in the .msj format. I noticed that it does read standard .jpeg files, so I don’t see the reason to convert files into the .msj format. The only thing they needed to add was picture resizer so that pictures fit the screen properly, thus making the .msj converter unnecessary.

Features and User Interface

The Cube2 has a surprising amount of features inside such a tiny package.

The Cube2’s main features are: Video Player/Image viewer on the 65.000 OLED screen, SRS WOW, Fade-in, FM programmed recording, Clock, Alarm, Sleep, Scroll Speed tempo adjustment and tempo speed adjustment.

When you first start the Cube2 by holding the play button you are greeted by MobiBlu’s logo, looks nice and all but I like these types of players to start up quickly and power off the same way. In this area the Cube2 is faster than most but still not fast enough, this is something MobiBlu should work on. It’s definitely not slow, but ideally I would like it to be available for play in 3 seconds or less. All the features of the player are divided in the 7 menus named: Music, Charge and Play, Settings, Photo, Video, Voice Recorder and FM Radio. You go into the menus using the play button (enter) and use forward/backwards to go left and right and volume up and down to move up and down or raise and lower values.

The Menu button plays an important role as a short press will bring more option (where applicable) while a long press brings you back to the 7 menus. The interface is fairly easy, I doubt you need to read the manual to find your way around the player, but not everybody might know about doing a long or short press.

Interface: Music mode

This is probably where most people will spend their time: in the Music Menu.

It has a main screen where all the important info and status regarding the song being played is displayed. Battery status and time are also displayed. Do a short press of the menu button to go into the file browser. Pressing the forward button brings you into a menu where you arrange the songs by artist, song, album, genre, composer or view playlists or play all.


Interface: FM mode

The FM mode looks a lot like the Music, you basically use the back and forward buttons to seek forward or backwards. Doing a short press on the Menu brings up different options including: setting the FM radio to different region, auto preset, scan presets and best of all radio recording.

Interface: Recording mode
You start/stop recording bye pressing the hold button. And to play you use the play/pause button, again very simple.

Interface: Music/Video
Video and pictures can be viewed in the same manner, use volume up/down to browse and play to select and start showing.


Interface: Settings
The Cube2 has a fair amount of settings you can adjust and can be found in the, you guessed it, Settings Menu. It is divided in settings for: sound, display, time set, play, USB interface and ‘etc.’
In the sound settings you can adjust the fade-in, beep sound, EQ and SRS settings. Of course you have many options here. I tried these sound manipulation options and they work well for those that like this sort of thing, but as an audio purist I prefer to listen to the audio ‘as is.’

The display setting has everything related to the display including contrast, brightness, and settings regarding the ID3 tag. Other things worth mentioning are the adjustment of the recording quality and selection of the play speed.

Daily Usage

Before using the Cube2 I made sure that it had the latest firmware. At the time of writing this was version.1014. One of the most important aspects of an mp3-player is the sound quality and here the Cube2 doesn’t disappoint, the player is capable of impressive sound. The included SRS labs designed earbuds are better than I thought they would be and are handy because the Cube2 is carried like a necklace. But for serious listening an upgrade of the earbuds is necessary. The down side is that you will loose the convenient carrying option. For my listening test I used Etymotic’s high-end ER-4P in-ear sound isolating earphones. Here is where the Cube2 really shows what it’s capable of and has enough volume to please most listeners, any higher I think you will start getting in un-safe territory. Because of the included hook I could easily attach the cube to the Etymotic earphones.

The Interface of the Cube2 is easy enough that reading the manual isn’t a must, but reading the manual is always recommended as you just might miss something and the long and short press is something that isn’t that obvious to figure out by yourself. But once you get the idea of navigating the menu it’s fairly easy. The screen is facing forward when you wear the necklace/earbuds so you will constantly be turning it towards you, so as I said earlier a second screen would be welcome.

The Cube2’s battery life is rated at max 10 hours (Audio) and max 5 hours (Video), I found that with a mix of watching short clips, view pictures and 90% of the time listening to music I managed to get a battery life of about 7 hours which isn’t bad at all, especially for a tiny player.

I already talked about the sound quality, what about FM reception quality and quality of the recordings? Overall the FM reception can be considered ‘OK’, but isn’t the best. In some areas where a good radio would pick up the signal, the Cube2 couldn’t or it had a lot of static in the received signal. Luckily this wasn’t the case in most situations, but FM reception is not the Cube2’s strongest point. Both recording of FM radio and voice is above average and impressive considering the small size. Obviously with this type of recordings static and hiss will be present, but the overall quality is good and this shouldn’t be a problem.

What would a review of this type of music/video players be without the good ol’ drop test? At the last minute I decided to add this into the mix. I tried dropping the Cube2 from a height of 1.50 and 2 meters. Luckily after both tests the Cube2 serviced, so I think it is capable surviving most drops. Just don’t expect it to keep it that nice glossy finish, as these drops definitely will get you some scratches.

Conclusion

The MobiBlu Cube2 is the direct successor to the DAH-1500i, and MobiBlu has made in my opinion a worthy successor to the adorable little player by giving it 65k Color OLED screen enabling you to view digital images and watch video clips, on a albeit tiny screen. They have also included earbuds designed by SRS Labs and the newest WOW HD (High Definition) sound enhancement technology from SRS Labs. With prices of $99.99 for the 1GB model and $119.99 2GB can be considered a great value, especially with all the features. As I found the Cube2 is also a fashion statement being a well designed and stylish player and it did attract its fair share of attention. Overall the interface is simple and easy enough to understand but obviously needs some tweaks, including moving the screen to another direction or a adding a second one on top, this will eliminate the need to constantly turn the screen towards to see what you are doing while wearing the necklace. Most importantly the sound quality of the Cube2 is impressive, especially considering its size. Most included earbuds sound horrible, but the included SRS designed earbuds are pretty decent and make for a convenient and stylish carrying option. Users who demand more in audio quality will need to shell out more and get higher-end in-ear models like our reference Etymotic ER4P.Battery life was also decent, averaging around 7 hours of mostly music and some short clips and pictures. Both recording of FM radio and voice was good, but FM reception is not the Cube’s most strong quality.

MobiBlu has once again created a very good and cute player and during my usage I have gotten attached to it. It gets a good score of 8.7 out of 10.

Pros
-Stylish, something of a head-turner
-Ultra Compact
-About the smallest form-factor with built-in video and picture viewing
-Easy to use
-Buil-in Podcast app
-Great sound
-Convenient Carrying with the neckstrap
-Survived the good ol’ drop test

Cons
-AC charger is only an option, charging via USB is not always convenient
– Some interface tweaks for better usability
-usage of a non-standard video format
-No AVI conversion
-Start-up needs to be faster
-FM reception not its strong point

Written by Devin

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