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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!


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.


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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
Value
Ease
of Use
Features

Overall

What
do these ratings mean?

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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