January 2005 Issue  Volume 6  Number 1

Product Evaluation

On the Move with MuVo

Do you like to have a book or magazine to listen to while you ride the train to work, fold laundry, or work out on a treadmill? Do you sometimes have trouble choosing between carrying a sound recording of the latest romance novel and the music by your favorite band? Technology has certainly made many things possible that were once impossible for people who are blind, but a definite drawback has been the amount of poundage carried on even a brief commute. Thus, for its size and simplicity alone, the MuVo portable audio player from Creative Technology commands attention.

The MuVo is similar in shape and size to a pack of chewing gum or a disposable lighter. In other words, it could sit in a shirt pocket with plenty of room to spare! The MuVo weighs just slightly more than 1 ounce, so it can be worn around the neck and barely be noticed.

Photo of MuVo being held between the thumb and forefinger of a hand.

Caption: The MuVo's tiny size is a primary advantage.

The MuVo I tested has 128 MB of space for you to store your files--whether they are MP3, WMA, or the proprietary format produced by Audible.com (a commercial online supplier of audio books and programs). For example, the unit I experimented with arrived with a track of brief instructions, a promotional sampling of products (books, magazines, and radio broadcasts) available from Audible.com, and the complete recording of Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code. From my personal computer, I then added about a half dozen songs (some WMA and some MP3 files) and, just to see how it would sound, converted a book from Web-Braille to an MP3 file using a Kurzweil 1000 and loaded some of the chapters in the MuVo.

All that transferring, incidentally, took about 15 minutes, and a portion of that time was spent browsing Web-Braille, choosing a book, downloading it, creating the MP3 files, and wandering around my music folder to pick fun files to copy to MuVo.

The sound quality ranged from good to excellent, with plenty of volume. I listened to the MuVo only through its stereo earbuds, but it can be connected to a set of speakers as well.

Driving MuVo

The MuVo has six small, but readily discernible, buttons that are arranged in two rows of three along one long edge of the device. The top row has a Play/Pause button, a button for moving forward, and a button for moving back. The bottom row has a Volume Up button, a Volume Down button, and a Repeat button (which is actually used for several functions.) To begin listening, you press the Play/Pause button for about five seconds. To pause, press the same button briefly, and to stop play altogether, hold the same button again for five seconds. (If neglected for a few minutes, MuVo powers itself off.)

To cycle through the tracks, press the Repeat button once and then use the Forward or Back buttons to move from file to file. When you have found the file you want, press Repeat again. If you stop in the middle of a file, MuVo will pick up where you left off when you turn it on again. The only other tactile occurrences on the unit are the jack for earbuds or speakers and a notch through which a neck cord can be threaded.

Transferring Files

As small as it is, the MuVo has two distinct halves. Just pull it apart, and you hold the AAA battery pack in one hand and the "guts" of the player in the other, where the USB (universal serial bus) port is located on the inside edge. To transfer files, simply plug the latter half of the unit into your PC's USB port. Windows Explorer then shows the MuVo as a generic drive (probably E or F, depending on how your PC is set up), and files are easily manipulated as with any other drive. Simply select the files you want to put in the MuVo, copy them, and paste them to the drive where MuVo is connected. Snap MuVo's halves back together, and you're ready to go.

Photo of MuVo separated into two halves.

Caption: MuVo pulls apart into two halves to remove the battery pack and upload files.

MuVo can be purchased at some discount and online stores--Wal-Mart <http://www.walmart.com>, Target <http://www.target.com>, or Amazon.com <http://www.amazon.com>--for less than $100. Audible.com is currently offering it free with a 12-month commitment to the Basic AudibleListener plan. If you are not familiar with Audible.com, it is an online commercial service offering more than 23,000 books, several magazines, and popular radio broadcasts for sale. These are commercially recorded human-voice productions, the same ones you would find on the audiocassettes or CDs that you can purchase at a local bookstore. The basic plan costs $9.95 per month and entitles you to one book and one magazine or program each month. If you get the MuVo from Audible.com, Audible's proprietary software for transferring files to the MuVo will be included with the MuVo, plus its accompanying earbuds, extra battery pack, and cassette adapter.

The Bottom Line

A more complex version of MuVo is also available with more memory and for more money. The 256 MB model has an LCD (liquid crystal display) and a dictation option, but it was not evaluated for ease of use by people who are visually impaired. There is no display on the 128 MB MuVo. Its only visual indicator is a light that flashes red or green and is not essential for the smooth operation of the device. For its price, simplicity, and delivery of sound, the MuVo 128 is an excellent product to put in your pocket.

Product Information

Product: MuVo

Manufacturer: Creative Technology; U.S. headquarters: Creative Labs, 1901 McCarthy Boulevard, Milpitas, CA 95035; phone: 408-428-6600 or 800-998-1000; web site: <us.creative.com>.

Price: Available from discount and online stores for less than $100. Audible.com <www.audible.com> is currently offering it free with a 12-month commitment to the Basic AudibleListener plan.

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