Odyssey Player Takes on iPod

The e.Digital Odyssey 1000 may be the only MP3 player that comes close to the hugely popular Apple iPod.

When youre the fastest gun in town, everyones gunning for you, which is why the Apple iPod may be looking over its shoulder at the e.Digital Odyssey1000 ($349 list). Until very recently, the Odyssey was in position to take on the 20GB Apple iPod. But that was before Apples late-April announcement that new 10GB, 15GB, and 30GB models would replace existing models. Whether this will affect the 20GB Odyssey remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the Odyssey is sure to enlist fans with its eyebrow-raising features such as voice navigation and an FM tuner, and with its price—$50 less than the new 15GB iPod and $150 less than the 30GB model, reviewed here earlier.

The Odyssey is more similar to the iPod than different. It can play MP3 and WMA files, has 8 minutes of skip protection, and can function as an external hard drive. Its long-lasting rechargeable battery gives 11 to 12 hours of use.

The 4.4- by 2.9- by 1.0-inch (HWD) Odyssey is a bit bigger than the 4.0- by 2.4- by 0.7-inch 30GB iPod, and heavier at 8.2 ounces versus 6.2. The players collapsible headphones dont produce sound as clear as the iPods ear buds, and it has only six equalizer settings compared with the iPods 22.

The Odyssey apes the iPod even down to its button layout, which is also circular. The iPods design results from the units thumb-controlled scroll wheel. The Odyssey has no apparent justification for this design choice, which serves only to make the five buttons around the circle small and awkward to push.

The 12-preset FM tuner works well. The voice navigation, however, is abysmal. In theory, the Odyssey will open a folder or song automatically when you speak the name, but we never once got the feature to work correctly. We had better luck, however, with the basic voice navigation commands (Previous, Next, and Open).

The voice recorder for making notes performed as it should. Our only complaint is that the notes are time-stamped, and our unit had the date set wrong. The player is supposed to get the date automatically when synched with a PC, but ours didnt.

The Odyssey comes with MusicMatch software for ripping CDs and with Music Explorer, e.Digitals Windows Explorer–like software, for transferring files. Using the included USB 2.0 cable, we downloaded 614MB of MP3s in 1 minute 38 seconds over a USB 2.0 connection and in 13 minutes using USB 1.1. Transferring is easy, but not automated as with the iPod. On the plus side, the Odyssey—unlike the iPod—has no copyright protection, so you can easily share songs among PCs.

Although the Odyssey is a bargain, the iPods position as the top MP3 player is safe, for now. Despite its interesting features, the Odyssey lags in performance.