I have recently received the new Latte Espresso MP3 player from the manufacturer (Latte Communications, a Silicon Valley-based company) and it makes me realize just how dated my iPod Nano has become in a few short years I have owned it. It is no secret that the price and feature set of MP3 players constantly keep improving. And "MP3 player" is somewhat of a misnomer since those newer devices can do so much more. The Latte Espresso is definitely much more than an MP3 player.
I have used quite a few MP3 players, from the unappealing but functional Philips HDD077 to excellent iPods of different generations, including Nano models. I still like iPod Nano, but it is obvious that it has its shortcomings, including the lack of memory expandability, lack of WMA support, audio recording or radio and its high price. And of course, something that is apparent only after using a touchscreen-equipped device, the controls are somewhat clumsy.
Them there is the proprietary connector that iPods use. You cannot charge iPods from just any USB-to-mini-USB cable or a cell phone charger, it does not come with a wall charger and you cannot copy music from just any computer (iTunes software is a requirement). And you need a separate FM transmitter if your car's stereo doesn't have an iPod adaptor or and aux input.
Having used the previous Latte players: the Latte Neon M3, Latte ICE and Latte iVu players, I was expecting good performance and features at an attractive price from the new Latte Espresso. Once I got the new Latte Espresso MP3/WMA/AVI/MPEG player, I charged it for 8 hours and transferred some 7 GB of music to it in a short order.
What is Latte Espresso?
The Latte Espresso is a portable MP3/WMA/Video player and photo viewer, FM radio, voice recorder, portable drive and an E-book reader. It has a built-in FM transmitter for being able to listen to your tunes through your car's stereo without having to use a cassette adapter or cables. The player has a 3-inch wide-screen touchscreen display with haptic technology (420x240 QVGA). The haptic technology makes the player vibrate when you touch the screen, providing feedback.
The G-sensor rotates the display based on the player's orientation (except for video playback). The player comes with either 8 or 16 GB of built-in memory (depending on the model). It comes with headphones, USB cable and manuals.
The player features a built-in microphone for voice recording. The music can be copied to the player directly over USB with no need to install any software. The same applies to files of any kind when you use the Espresso as a flash drive.
The player plays MP3 and WMA and supports ID3 tags (version 1 and 2). It supports menus in many languages. In addition to MP3 and WMA, it can also play OGG, FLAC, ACC, APE audio formats and AVI, RM, RMVB, WMV, 3GP, MPG, DAT, MP4 and FLV video.
The player also has a FM transceiver. It can both receive FM radio (including functionality to auto-scan, set presets and even record radio shows) and transmit over FM band (for use with car stereos that don't have an aux imput).
The interface is USB 2.0 High speed with speeds of up to 4 MB/s. The battery life is up to 15 hours.
Advantages Over iPod Nano 1st Gen
First, there is the large and colorful 3-inch touchscreen with haptic technology. After using the touchscreen, the iPod's wheel feels dated. It also limits the functionality (but does let you scroll through files faster).
Just as the previous players from Latte, the Espresso has a mini-USB jack (used for charging and data transfer). This means you can use your mini-USB cell phone chargers, if you have one (for example, the one for Motorola RAZR V3 works perfectly).
The music transfer to the player does not require special software: you just connect it using the supplied USB cable and copy MP3/WMA/JPEG/etc. files over. Of course, iPods require iTunes software. The Espresso also plays WMA, which is a file format iPods do not like (but I sometimes do), AAC, OGG, FLAC, ACC and APE.
The Espresso has an FM radio and voice recording with a built-in microphone. It also can vatious video formats and lets you view JPEG photos, BMP and GIF files.
The player supports text reading and has a flexible equalizer, including graphical equalizer function, where you can adjust individual frequency ranges.
The Espresso can play very loud (even with aftermarket headphones of low sensitivity); the display is very clear and its radio has good reception. The voice recorder and e-book reader features are also nice-to-have features.
The built-in FM transmitter is a useful feature too. With an iPod, you have to get a separate accessory and the integration is sometimes not ideal. With Espresso, you just need to have the headphones connected and turn the frequency out on.
The Espresso sounds very good, even with the supplied headphones. Of course, for better sound and an apples-to-apples comparison, I used my usual headphones of choice: Koss KSC-75. Not surprisingly, the sound is detailed, has well-defined bass, mids and treble and the instrument separation is very good (if you use the highest bit rate possible). The sound quality largely depends on the source.
Switching through a few headphones, including my Creative EP-640, Koss KSC-75 and Sennheiser HD202 headphones and discovered that the player provides good amount of bass and overall sound is as good as I have heard from an MP3 player.
Furthermore, unlike iPod Nano that plays just loud enough for medium-grade aftermarket headphones, the Espresso can play very loud. I used its volume at up to 12-17 even with my aftermarket headphones (the music was loud enough then) and it can go 32. Thinking about the numbering scheme makes me recall the movie "Spinal Tap" where the amp could go to "11". Make sure you do not overdo it with volume - your hearing will thank you later.
The radio reception is very good (the headphones have to be connected since the cord serves as an antenna) and the sound is also good. The radio station/frequency display is very legible and uses large lettering. The preset management is clear, although at times I wished I could just store the current radio station as a preset car stereo-style, but pushing and holding the preset button.
My Infiniti G35 doesn't have an auxiliary input and an attempt to connect my iPod through its cassette deck (which I never use otherwise) by means of a cassette adaptor was unsuccessful. After my previous attempts at using the Latte iVu, I knew that the headphones have to be attached to the player since the cord serves as an antenna (both for receive and transmit). This is the case with all FM transmitters, including the Espresso.
The sound quality might depend on you car's radio's performance, but since mine is not the best (the reason I rarely listen to music on radio), the sound quality is not nearly as good as playing a CD and the volume was relatively low.
The huge 3-inch screen is very sharp, colorful and is informative. The touchscreen function works rather well. The only area a had slight issues with was the vertical scrollbar. It is pretty narrow in width and you have to use your nail to ensure you "click" it.
The icons are good-looking, the audio playback features a spectrum analyzer, instant bitrate display and more (including the ability to view ID3 tags). All of the above displays are accessible by simply tapping your finger on the specific area of the screen.
The photos look very good and the screen seems just huge comparing to the one on the iPod Nano. The colors are pleasing and backlight is bright (the screen's brightness is adjustable).
Another advantage over iPod is the ability to navigate the directory structure directly. I frequently struggle to find any given song in my iPod Nano's memory because the search is only possible by genre, artist, album, etc. Some of my MP3s have no ID3 tags, some have them in a very non-English language, which does not help.
The Espresso lets you find the song you want to play in its directory tree simply by navigating it. And you can even delete files if you want (but not the directories).
One feature I would like added is the ability to quickly (e.g. 1-click) navigate back to the song that is currently playing. If you are listening to a song and navigate somewhere in the directory tree structure, to get back to the song that is currently playing (even to adjust the volume or pause it), you have to get all the way out of the file browser, go to the music player area and select "current playback" option. Then, you would have to navigate your way back to the place in the directory structure you were browsing.
The built-in battery lasts up to 15 hours, depending on the screen usage, volume and functions used. I normally use it for about 5-6 hours in a row and see no sign of battery depletion, so the battery life is suitable for me. The charging takes about 4-6 hours and it is recommended to charge the player 8 hours first couple of times.
It Is Easy To Use
The touchscreen with haptic feedback is easy to use and is much more pleasant in this respect than button-based players. The menus and icons are descriptive overall and navigation is rather easy with a few caveats (see above). There is also a small quirk - when the player is in vertical position, the "volume up" button is on the left and "volume down" is on the right.
The player feels solid. It has a stylish body with solid jacks and a power/hold switch requiring reasonable amount of force to operate.
The player has USB 2.0 High-speed interface, which is definitely an improvement on the previous models'. I measured transfer speed from my computer and it clocked at 3.92 Megabytes per second, which is very impressive.
The G-sensor rotates the display when the player is rotated, so you can use it either horizontally or vertically.
Pros: 3-inch touchscreen, features, looks, playback volume, battery life, performance, FM radio
Cons: When using the FM transmitter, your car's radio limits the sound quality
The Latte Espresso has a lot of features, good performance and is easy to use. Its huge touchscreen, solid playback and a good price make it a very good choice.