Category Archives: Consumer electronics

Sony CDX-GT414U car MP3 CD Player with USB slot

Sony CDX-GT414U

Remember my mental note to check out products myself instead of relying on other’s recommandations? This time I got lured into a retailer’s shop cause they advertized a bargain on one of those car mp3 CD players featuring an USB slot which would finally save me from having to burn my own mixes to CD-RW. Since they assured me it could play more than a puny 500 tracks from USB and I had ample time to test and compare it to others mounted alongside the wall in the shop, what could go wrong? Unfortunately I didn’t realize the flaw until I drove home that night:

The USB slot faces the stick’s LED towards the driver!

Thus you always have this distracting blinking light in the right corner of your eye while driving at night. The clip I made of this effect doesn’t quite convey the annoyance it causes:

Yeah, I know, Sony :(

The company that always thinks to know better thus flooding the market with proprietary technology like ATRAC, Mini Disc, Memory Stick, UMD and so on despite consumers ignoring these schemes. Was I too stupid despite being warned by Sony’s track record? Afraid so…

A friend of mine who was riding shotgun in my car made a good point: why does the LED have to blink in the first place? But since this apparently is agreed upon by manufacturers I tried to verify my suspicions which turned out to be correct: all USB-sticks I’ve seen so far (which is a lot) do have the LED on the same side in reference to the connector and only Sony has the slot facing inwards, all other players I’ve checked (by Kenwood, Alpine, JVC, Blaupunkt, Clarion) have their slot installed the other way round so the stick’s LED blinks facing outward. This can’t be due to left-hand traffic in Japan either cause this would require the main controls (volume, skip, source) to be placed on the driver side too.

Sony knows best… not!

P.S. Aren’t you just thrilled by the caution alarm the front panel makes to keep you from forgetting it in the car?

Brother MFC-215C All-in-One Printer

Brother MFC-215C

The small company I mentioned in one of my previous articles had recently been incoporated into a bigger one and their office been demoted to a mere depot which resulted in several cutbacks including a phone lines switch from ISDN (2 lines, 3 phone numbers) to analogue (1 line, 1 number), 2 phones to 1 and no fax. Since reality however refused to abide by company policy they still needed to receive faxes on a daily basis so I replaced their busted printer/fax anyway. Unfortunately it also came with an unexpected flaw:

Fax receive ring delay limited to 4 times!

Again the ladies were less than thrilled having to sprint from the other room to reach the phone in time to prevent the fax from taking the call. Since fax and phone had to be connected to a an All-In-One router/telephone system rather than an external phone jack there was no way to switch the fax to one of it’s other modes.

Still, why not allow a higher ring delay in the first place? I was irritated enough to call the expensive Brother support which instructed me by fax (go figure) on a lengthy procedure to unlock the device’s hidden maintenance mode to increase the ring delay to 10 times max. I didn’t get any satisfactory answer though as to why these options weren’t available by default.

So much for Brother Solutions!

Iomega Screenplay 500GB

iomega Screenplay 500GB

Though I intended to continue with a fax machine I’m bringing forward this one. Cause after 25 days I’ve given up on waiting for a reply by the Iomega online store support to confim the Screenplay having

no ISO support!

I know, I know, who in their right mind would buy from Iomega given the way they handled the click-of-death debacle? Still, I saw this in an ad and the guy from the retail chain was kinda cool. When asked about ISO support he admitted to not knowing about it and offered me to refund my money within 10 days after purchase no questions asked.

So after copying over all the TV shows I’d recorded with my DVB-S card I hooked it up to my TV and was satisfied with the prospect of not having to burn those to DVD+RW anymore just to watch them on my own schedule. For my DVD backups I always rip to ISO so I can batch burn with ImgBurn instead of Nero bloatware. So I ripped some of those discs too, after all Iomega went for NTFS instead of FAT32 and so it would certainly play ISOs albeit not specifically mentioned in the product description. But of course it doesn’t and it won’t even after a firmware upgrade as was confirmed on the Iomega support forums. So I’m wondering, why not try to compete on features with other products like the Trekstor moviestation maxi which does support ISO (but comes with it’s own flaw: no Dolby Digital 5.1 output, LOL!).

I just don’t get it why almost every other device out there (MP3 Player, USB stick, multimedia harddrives, you name it) is using FAT(32). Sure having a fast, stable and patent-unencumbered Open Source filesystem that’s not tied to Micros~1 in any way would outweigh the hassle of having to install a driver prior to first use?

Siemens Euroset 5035 analog phone

Siemens Euroset 5035

As an IT freelancer I spend my spare time between projects on small jobs for SOHOs in my area. This does not only require configuring their Internet access, LAN and servers but occasionally involves buying and setting up stuff. So when I was asked to install an inexpensive analog corded phone (and a fax machine, more on this in my next article) on short notice, I just stopped by at the next retail chain’s store and bought according to specs skipping previous research and product comparisons. I wish I hadn’t, as it turns out the Euroset has an unexpected flaw:

one has got to press OK to confirm the number dialled!

Being used to phones I simply hooked it up, dialled a number, lifted the handset to my ear and waited for the call to get through but nothing happened. I tried it a few times checking chords, power and number in the process but to no avail. Of course I didn’t expect anything to be wrong with my method of dialling, after all that’s the way I’ve been doing it with all the phones around me over the years, that’s how it is supposed to work, right? Wrong!

I hadn’t taken into account the ingenuity of the Siemens engineers when it comes to breaking usability and coming up with new and exciting ways to improve best practice. As explained in the manual one has got to dial the number, press OK and only then lift the handset (and – for whatever reason – wait two secs) before the call is made! Of course they didn’t pay attention to consistency. When you want to use the speakerphone instead, you simply dial and press the loudspeaker button skipping the OK button entirely. Now where is the sense in that (assuming of course this is a criteria in the development process)?

Dialling with the handset on the hook you can easily add pauses, R-key functions or correct ciphers and then lift the headset thereby confirming your choice of making the call. Why the heck is it required to give an extra confimation with the OK button (OK)? Needless to say the ladies at the reception were less than thrilled having to adapt to the weird way of Siemens engineer thinking to get on with their calls.

Siemens Euroset 5035: OK by me… NOT!

Panasonic CQ-RDP153N Car MP3 CD Player

Panasonic CQ-RDP153N Car MP3 CD Player

I’d mail-ordered this one a couple of years ago on a friend’s recommendation who was very enthusiastic about it. I’d long since waited for a decent car cd player to support MP3 and so I ordered it after only a quick browse of the product page verifying it wasn’t one of those with a tacky old VFD nor a fancy and bloated animated display. Since my car just had been broken into and my good old Kenwood CD player (no MP3 support) stolen I was anxious to get a replacement soon. And since a pause and a mute button on the same device seemed almost too good to be true I even resigned myself to paying the Micro$oft tax for support of their crappy WMA format.

Unfortunately this was a bit premature cause the device came with a serious flaw:

the display’s scroll speed is sloooooow.

No biggy? Well, if you consider what distance you travel in a few seconds at certain speeds I’d say the amount of time reading a display is better spent on keeping your eyes on the road. But see for yourself, and don’t be discouraged by the time it takes the player to read an unfinalised multi-session disc:

That’s 20 seconds to read the disc and 42 seconds into the song to scroll through the full title! That’s slow. Or lame actually considering further minor flaws.

For example, I never would have expected a nice thing like a dot matrix display to be far too bright. I could go Corey Hart on it and wear my sunglasses at night cause as you might have guessed there’s no dim button (remember those? They’ve been on tape decks for ages). I’ve actually heard from people using foil (like from those tinted glass for cars) to tone down the brightness of their displays.

And what’s the point of supporting ID3v2-tags when the title field is limited to 30 chars? Speaking of which, I’ve not yet figured out what kinda charset is supported. I mean, ampersand, slash and colon are but other special chars (and german umlauts of course) are not. As you can see in the clip above, when there’s a special char that’s not supported it’s replaced by an asterisk that even swallows the following regular char! Here’s what the playlist looks like:

  • Queens Of The Stone Age – The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret becomes The Lost Art of Keeping a Secr
  • Tool – Forty Six & 2 – Ænima becomes Tool – Forty Six & 2 – *nima
  • Ill Niño – I Am Loco becomes Ill Ni* – I Am Loco

And finally, what about MP3 CDs? As you know, they can hold about 8 hours of music on a decent bitrate (LAME -aps) but when you switch to audiobooks that usually are smaller and you wanna listen to track no. 153, how many times do you have to press ‘skip’? Any guesses? It’s as if those 10+ buttons CD players already had in the 80’s never existed.

Thus I made a mental note for future purchases: to check out products myself instead of relying on others who might be slow readers or something. And I did, sort of. More on this next time…

Philips MCM393 Micro Hi-Fi System with USB Direct Playback

Philips MCM393 Micro Hi-Fi System with USB Direct playback
I’ve recently bought the Philips MCM393 Micro Hi-Fi System with USB Direct playback. My father is not so well so I planned on ripping all his CDs as mp3 to an external USB HDD so he’d have access to all his songs using the remote eliminating the need of getting up from his chair and switching CDs. Or so I thought.

As it turns out the device is limited by a serious flaw:

500 songs max!

Any song above this limit isn’t listed and therefore not playable. There was NO mention of this

  • in the retail chain’s flyer that initially caught my attention
  • on the product website at philips.de
  • at the retail store where I bought it
  • on the product’s wrapping

It is however mentioned on page 19 of the manual albeit not too specific:

  • Number of albums/folders: maximum 99
  • Number of tracks/titles: maximum 500

When I first read this after setting up the system (I usually don’t read any manuals prior to purchase) I thought it meant 99 folders with 500 songs each but sadly I was mistaken. While I wasn’t exactly planning on hooking up a 500 GB drive with tens of thousands of songs to it, I wasn’t expecting my cheap 2 GB USB stick filled with Audiobooks on 64 kbit/s to exceed any limit whatsoever. Certainly not after all the fuss Philips made on having a device with USB Direct playback like the prominently placed USB slot which also glows when selected as source.

Since I’m so used to companies selling hardware that never even left the beta stage of development I hoped it might be fixed by applying a firmware update. So I contacted Philips support which due to their staggering incompetence resulted in a to and fro of mails I’m reproducing here in summary:

Me:
I’ve just realized there’s a limit on songs playable by this system which is easily exceeded by my cheap 2 GB USB stick filled with Audiobooks on 64 kbit/s. Is there a firmware update to bypass this limit?

Philips:
You asked about a firmware update, there’s non available right now. Please explain what seems to be the problem (this mail has a full quote of what I’ve written above so what they are asking of me is already in there!).

Me:
Like I said in my first mail, I can only play 500 songs which wasn’t mentioned anywhere on the product’s website or wrapping. What am I supposed to do with a device that’s seriously limited?

Philips:
This microsystem is designed for home users/end users and therefore not equipped to process large amounts of data from HDDs.

Me:
So why isn’t this mentioned anywhere and why such a fuss over an USB slot?

Philips:
You can use an USB stick with your system (followed by a large quote on external sources from the manual, which wrongly mentions a limit of 1000 songs).

Me:
If you insist on quoting from a manual that I do own myself please use the correct one. This system plays _500_ songs max which is easily exceeded by cheap USB sticks.

Philips:
The system has an USB slot which allows USB sticks with 500 songs max which is within model specs as mentioned in the manual. If you’re not satisfied with your product please contact your retailer for a replacement or return.

Me:
I did. The retailer doesn’t care either so I’m stuck with it. Of course I won’t buy there nor from Philips in the future.

Philips:
We’re sorry about your decision but still advise you to inform yourself next time prior to purchase.

So there you have it, the flaw isn’t a flaw but a feature! Though I was clear on it from the moment they said there’d be no firmware updates I still engaged in this discussion just to see how Philips would try to weasel their way out of it. And this is the kicker: they don’t! It’s my fault I didn’t anticipate this kind of limitation and I should have informed myself better in advance! Way to go!

The question remains to be answered though: why knowingly produce such a limited device? Of course you can’t foresee all possible devices out there that come with an USB connector but by the time of their product’s inital release 8 or 16 GB USB sticks were affordable not to mention cheap and capatious HDDs. And seriously, how much cents did Philips save by using a chip with such a puny amount of RAM?

Philips MCM 393 – The new classic… NOT!