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Reviews

Fio Digital MP3 Player Sunglasses

By Stephen Skarlatos August 30, 2005, 12:00 am

INTRODUCTION

Having lived and worked in the Washington, DC area for the last quarter century, you inevitably read about the feats of intercepted intelligence operatives trying, and sometimes succeeding, in stealing secrets from the U.S. government. The stories range from simple drop offs of classified documents in brown paper bags at local parks to electronic eavesdropping of the Secretary of State's private conference room by a foreign agent sitting across the street on a park bench, trench coat, brim hat and briefcase full of electronics. An alert security officer, who noticed the man and his briefcase return regularly to sit on the park bench, helped the FBI arrest him. Had he been wearing the FIO Digital MP3 Player sunglasses the spy might have been less conspicuous, since all the required recording electronics would have been in his shades. Sounds like the makings of a good spy thriller! All spying stories aside, this MP3 Player packs a good deal of functionality and the voice recording feature is quite useful when you need to make a note to yourself — (you could also record conversations with others, although you would want to consider privacy issues and local laws first). Read on for the full evaluation!

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WHAT'S HOT

The sunglasses come with a USB adapter cable, earplug covers, protective case, software CD, and manual.

The sunglasses have the following features:

  • Polarized and UV coated lenses

  • Interchangeable shatter proof lenses

  • Memory nylon frame that adjusts to your head size

The sunglasses with the ear buds in their storage position

The interchangeable lenses are a nice touch for sports such as cycling, skiing and snowboarding where light conditions can affect your vision. The sunglasses are sold with brown lenses. I was told by GAT that they are looking at lens options including a flip up mechanism in future versions. The memory frame fit my big head comfortably.

The MP3 player / voice recorder has the following features:

  • The Up to 8.5 hours of play time

  • Digital voice recorder

  • Integrated microphone

  • Integrated USB drive

  • Shock-proof, anti-static

  • PC and Mac compatible

  • Compatible formats: MP3, WMA, ADCPM

  • Audio output power: 5mw + 5mw

  • Frequency response: 20hz — 20khz

  • Available flash size: 128MB, 256MB, 512MB, 1GIG

  • Standard USB 2.0 port and high speed cable included

  • Battery consumption & saving function

View of right stalk with MP3 player controls

The player currently handles .WAV, MP3 and unprotected WMA files. GAT is working on an upgrade to the firmware to provide DRM capability to play protected WMA files. For now, if you purchase protected WMA tracks online you will have to burn a CD and then rip the tracks back to your PC. These unprotected ripped tracks can then be transferred to the MP3 player for playback. Believe it or not, this is the work around Microsoft support provided me when I was trying to synchronize protected tracks from Windows Media Player 10 to my Windows Mobile 2003 Pocket PC's SD card. For voice recording the ADPCM format is used, this audio codec was specifically designed to provide excellent compression for speech recordings stored in .WAV files. It is also known in the international standards community as G721.

Recording voice conversation is one of the distinguishing features of the FIO Digital MP3 Player Sunglasses has over the Oakley Thump as well as being 50% cheaper. For the outdoor and sports enthusiasts who never leaves home without his shades and MP3 player, this gadget is the perfect convergence of the two.

The more expensive Oakley Thump uses a plastic tube system to hold the earphones in place, while the Fio glasses use wires. The Thump have are more targeted towards the "rugged" user with its angular design.

SETUP

The enclosed CD contains Windows 98SE USB drivers, a firmware upgrade tool, a disk format/encryption utility, and a sound file conversion tool. The sound file conversion tool converts .rec, .act, and .rcd files into .wav or .mp3 files. The installation utility recognizes the OS you are running and only installs the required components. I installed the software on Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2. Since the MP3 player conforms to the USB flash drive standard, there are no special drivers required under Windows XP.

Installation is very strait forward and easy to follow

PRODUCT FEATURES

These MP3 Player sunglasses are marketed and distributed by Global American Technologies, LLC (GAT) which describes itself as an "emerging technologies company providing high-level expertise in domestic and international high-technology business development, channel development, distribution strategies, and marketing of high-tech products". It has an interesting array of products which are worth checking out.

The controls and interface to the MP3 Player are on right stalk. To use the MP3 player you must first get acquainted with the array of buttons and LEDs. There are three buttons on top, and two on the bottom. The four LEDs on the side provide valuable feedback while you are learning how to operate the player, but once you have mastered its operation there is little need for them since you will be operating the player while it is on your head. Without a mirror the LEDs are useless, they just make you look like a Christmas tree and currently there is no way to turn them off. I think an audible response (beeps) system would be a good addition and/or replacement to the LEDs.

View of MP3 player from top of stalk with LEDs, Power/Play/Pause, Mode/Record, and Random/Del buttons

View of MP3 Player from bottom of stalk with LEDs, Volume/Fwd/Back buttons and USB mini plug port

The included USB cable also provides power for charging. There is mention of an optional AC charger in the manual, but I was not able to find it on the FIO website. It takes about 2 hours to fully charge the battery. As the unit charges, the charge LED will become dimmer and turn off when the battery is fully charged.

To start the unit, you press the power/play button (a red power LED turns on), and wait 10 seconds before you can press play. The player begins at the last MP3/WMA track and position you were listening to (a blue MP3 LED flashes while playing, Christmas tree comes to mind!!). If you just resynchronized and deleted your last selection, the player begins back at the first selection. The middle button allows you to toggle between voice recording mode (.WAV) and MP3 mode. You cannot play .WAV and MP3/WMA selections back to back without changing modes. This is a bit cumbersome, but probably not an issue since the odds of listening to voice recordings and music together are probably slim. By pressing this same button for 3 seconds you enter voice recording mode, another press stops the recording (a yellow REC LED flashes when playing or recording). This is when an audible response would be great so you can determine when the recording starts. The last button allows you to play your tracks in random order, or by depressing this button for 2 seconds while a track is playing, you can delete it. The two buttons on the bottom of the stalk allow you to move forward and backward between tracks, as well as adjust the volume level. To increase or decrease the volume, you press and hold the plus or minus button until you get the desired level. The sound quality is excellent and the player provides for a full midrange response. Although not incredibly loud, the volume is adequate.

This is a plug and play device, plugging it into your USB port XP will load the appropriate driver and a removable disk will be created.

I used Microsoft Windows Media Player 10 (WMP10) to synchronize songs. WMP 10 recognized the flash drive and allowed for easy synchronization from my library. However it would not transfer any protected songs automatically (refer to solution above).

I was able to transfer 90.3 MB of 128Kbps WMA tracks (2 hours 59 minutes) in 2 minutes 20 seconds which equates to about 645 KBps, not very good for USB 2.0 but acceptable for this type of device. I fully charged the unit in a little over 2 hours and ran my 128MB unit for 9 hours and 15 minutes, 1 hour more than advertised. The 1GB unit may run closer to 8 hours due the additional memory power draw.

The disk tool allows you to create an encrypted partition on the flash drive to secure your data. However, you will need to perform the partition operation before you load any data (including music files) since it erases everything on the flash disk. .

Flash drive Partition and Encryption Utility

I chose to use 10Mb for encryption purposes. A new removable drive is created on the PC. When you bring up File Explorer for the new drive, it displays a utility RdiskDecrypt.exe that you must execute to gain access to the partition. You enter the username and password you selected during partitioning, this grants you access to the drive's data. Once you eject the drive, the flash drive will re-encrypt the data. The next time you reconnect you will have to execute the same utility to gain access to your data. Since the utility is stored on the flash drive you can decrypt your data on any PC with your username and password. The encryption partition is only for data and not intended for your music tracks. This system works well. The encryption utility currently does not work on the MAC.

As an amateur road cyclist I thought taking a ride would be an excellent way to test the quality, comfort, usefulness and pleasure of these glasses. As far as quality goes, they are well constructed of high quality plastics and optics for the lens. My only concern is the durability of the ear bud cables, which could get snagged and ripped out of the player. When the ear buds are not in use, they should be slipped onto their storage clip so that the cables are not dangling. Keeping the sunglasses in the provided heavy duty case will also help protect your investment.

Ear buds in and out of their storage clip. You can also easily attach a head band at the end of the stalk.

As a one size fits all, the memory nylon frame works very well. My wife and I tried them on, we both found the fit to be secure and comfortable. The real test would come when I had my cycling helmet on. I was a little skeptical because of the bulge in the stalk but was pleasantly surprised with the comfort level.

Ready to rock on...

I wondered how the ear buds would feel after sweating, but during my 2 hour ride, I found that they fit comfortably. The whole setup felt very natural. The clarity and contrast of the polarized lens against the black pavement was excellent. It is clear that the optics are of a high quality and seemed as good as my Bolle sports glasses. The fidelity of the music and volume levels where more than adequate for riding. I am sure the same is true in a skiing environment, although would love the volume to be louder. The buttons are well located and once you understand their functionality, are easy to use. I was even able to record a note while riding. The wind noise is apparent but not obtrusive.


HELP SUPPORT

Even though the manual and its print are small, the operation of the player is well explained, albeit with some funny translation idioms. I did not have to use GAT's technical support since everything worked as advertised.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

The bundled software works on Windows 98SE, ME, 2000, XP and MAC OS. The encryption utility currently does not work under MAC OS. The flash drive works with the Windows 2000/XP native USB drivers. The software takes up 3.73 MB of you disk drive under Windows XP.

BUGS AND WISHES

Like all other MP3 flash players, this product falls in one of two camps, Microsoft or Apple. It is clearly in the Microsoft camp, since it does not support the AAC format that the Ipod uses. It currently does not support the playback of protected WMA tracks, falling short of full Microsoft compliance. GAT hope to rectify this soon. Here is a list of features that would improve the product:

  • Ability to turn off LEDs

  • Audible response (beep sequence) for button commands

  • Heavier duty cables for the ear buds

  • Higher volume level

  • Availability of different color lens

I believe the next generation of this product should include Bluetooth. The addition of Bluetooth would provide connectivity to phones and potentially other Bluetooth enabled devices such as PDAs and stand alone music players.

PURCHASING

The FIO MP3 Player sunglasses are available in 128MB, 256MB, 512MB, and 1Gb Flash memory configuration. The street price ranges from $149.00 for the 128MB version at Geeks.com to $299.00 for the 1GB version at

Cartridge America. At about 1/2 the street price of the Oakley Thump MP3 sunglasses, the FIO MP3 Player sunglasses offer a considerably better value. They are still somewhat expensive compared to an iPod mini or iPod shuffle, but you do get an excellent pair of sunglasses.

Pros

  • Solid construction
  • Data encryption capability
  • Voice recorder

Cons

  • Christmas tree LED display
  • Earbud cables may snag
  • No audible response to commands

OVERALL IMPRESSION

At first I thought this would be a James Bond type gadget, neat but not all that useful. After having used them, I found that the sunglasses are excellent. Rather than having to take my standalone music player, the inclusion of the MP3 Player makes listening to music an easy addition to my outdoor activities. The voice recording feature is a real plus when you are as forgetful as I am. If you can find the 512MB version for under $200.00 (currently $239.00 at

Cartridge America) I would consider them an excellent value for the combination of excellent sunglasses (alone probably $100.00) and a fully featured MP3 player (Ipod Shuffle 512MB with less functionality $99.00). With a couple tweaks to this product I think GAT has winner.

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