Neuros II 20GB HDD music player

The world's first easily upgradeable MP3 device?

Radio

A removable battery pack/hard drive isn't the Neuros' only innovation. Digital Innovations is also pitching the product as a wireless device. It's not Wi-Fi or Bluetooth - instead, it incorporates an iTrip-style FM transceiver, which not only provides an FM radio but will broadcast songs so they can be picked up by other radios in the immediate area.

Neuros Player and Backpack

Neuros will scan the FM band for a (relatively) empty slot and transmit songs on that frequency when the earphones aren't connected. Just tune your car stereo, say, to said frequency and you'll hear what's coming out of the Neuros, in mono or stereo, depending on the device's settings. FM isn't CD quality - it isn't even MP3 quality, but it's good enough when you're heading on down the freeway.

Thanks to differences in the way the FM band is regulated in the US and Europe, I was unable to get this feature, dubbed 'MyFi', to work, and the built-in radio tuner proved too noisy to listen to for protracted periods, and picked up feedback whenever any of the device's buttons were pressed.

Griffin Technologies' iTrip, an FM transmitter for the iPod, provides software support for European frequencies, but alas the Neuros doesn't, so this aspect of its feature set is of limited value to non-US buyers.

This lack of transatlantic compatibility affects another key Neuros feature, HiSi (for 'Hear it. Save it') which is an online service that examines snippets of audio and tells you what the song is - or if you know what the track is, saves you having to enter all the ID3 tags.

Neuros will record FM programming to MP3 format. Essentially, pushing the device's HiSi button marks the recording for future identification. When the player is next synchronised, NSM sends HiSi requests out over the Internet and comes back with what it believes the correct track details are, cautiously colouring the results in red, yellow or green depending on whether it can't recognise the track, isn't sure, or definitely reckons it has the song pinned down.

I tried the facility out with three MP3 files stripped of all their ID3 tags. HiSi scored two out of three, spotting the Genesis and Ozzy Osbourne songs but failing to identify the Blur track. That's probably a result of Neuros' focus on the US market, which will inevitably colour what songs are in its database. Not that Blur have failed to crack the US market, but there you go.

Verdict

Had the Neuros shipped in the early years of the decade, it would have been an impressive product. That's not to say it's bad now, simply that it suffers in comparison with the iPod and players from iRiver and Creative. The removable hard drive unit is a novelty but the bulky product design that has arisen from it takes is a real limitation. Neuros is certainly portable, but in the way that a desktop-replacement notebook is - yes, you can carry them around, but there are thinner and lighter machines out there.

I did like the MyFi radio transmission feature, and even HiSi has a value if you listen to a lot of music radio. But are they enough to balance the player's bulk? For me, that's too much of a compromise - I want my player to be as small and light as possible.

If you specifically need or like one the innovations the Neuros offers, then it is worth a closer look. If not, it's hard to recommend it over smaller, funkier players.

Neuros HD 20GB audio player
 
Rating 70%
 
Pros — Built in 'MyFi' FM radio transmitter
— Upgradeable hard drive
— 'HiSi' song snippet recognition
 
Cons — Bulky
— No out-of-the-box Linux/Mac support
— No international FM radio support
 
Price $250 (20GB) to $450 (80GB). Extra 20GB Backpacks cost $120. A 64MB Player costs $60. Battery-only Backpacks cost $30.
 
More info The Neuros site

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