Since the beginning of my MP-player phase, I went through quite a few MP3 players, from the lame, but functional Philips HDD077 to excellent iPods of different generations, including Nano models. I still like iPod Nano, but it cannot be denied that it has its shortcomings, including the lack of memory expandability, lack of WMA support, audio recording or radio and its high price.
The iPod uses a proprietary connector so you cannot charge it 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).
Having used Latte Neon M3 MP3 and Latte ICE players, I was expecting good performance and feature at an attractive price from the new iVu. Once I got the new Latte iVu 4GB MP3/WMA/AVI/MPEG player (Latte Communications, a Silicon Valley-based company, provided me with it for the purpose of writing this review), I was eager to try its features, especially its built-in FM transmitter and the 2-Megapixel camera.
What is Latte iVu?
The Latte iVu is a portable MP3/WMA/Video player and photo viewer, 2-Megapixel digital camera, 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. It also has built-in stereo speakers on the front panel. The player has a 3-inch wide-screen display (400x240 QVGA).
The player comes with either 4 or 8 GB of built-in memory (depending on the model). It comes with headphones, USB cable, car DC adaptor, software and manuals.
It features a built-in microphone for voice recording (WAV format) and built-in stereo speakers that are activated when the headphones are detached. 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 this PMP as a flash drive.
The player plays MP3 at 64-320 Kbps and WMA at 64-192 Kbps. It supports menus in many languages. It can play MP3, WMA, OGG, FLAC, ACC, APE audio formats and AVI, RM, RMVB, FLV video at up to 30 fps.
The interface is USB 2.0 High speed.
Advantages Over iPod Nano
Just as the Latte Neon M3, the iVu 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 (the one for my Motorola V3 works perfectly). The supplied 12-volt car power adaptor, along with the built-in FM transmitter hints at the intended use of this player. We will get to this subject shortly.
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. iPods require iTunes software. The only time when you might have to use the supplied software is to convert video files using the supplied AVI converter to be able to watch them on the this player.
The player also plays WMA, which is a file format iPods do not like (but I sometimes do), AAC, OGG, FLAC, ACC and APE.
The iVu has an FM radio and voice recording with a built-in microphone. It also has built-in stereo speakers, can play MPEG-4 AVI (requires conversion using included software) and lets you view JPEG photos.
The player supports text reading and has a flexible equalizer, including graphical equalizer function, where you can adjust individual frequency ranges.
Not surprisingly (after using the M3 and ICE), the iVu features excellent sound quality, can play very loud (even with aftermarket headphones of low sensitivity); the display is very clear and its radio has good reception.
The built-in transmitter is a nice feature too. With an iPod, you have to get a separate accessory and the integration is sometimes not ideal.
The player sounds very good, even with the supplied headphones. Of course, for an apples-to-apples comparison, I used my usual headphones of choice: Koss KSC-75. 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).
I used my 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 mediocre Philips HDD077, which could not play loud enough with aftermarket headphones, and even iPod Nano that plays just loud enough for medium-grade aftermarket headphones, the iVu can play extremely 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. Make sure you do not overdo it with loud music though and 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, so you cannot use it as a radio through its built-in speakers with no wires attached) and the sound is also good. The radio station/frequency display is very legible and uses large lettering.
I was excited most about the player's built-in transmitter since 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 failed miserably.
At first (and without reading the manual) I just powered the iVu on, selected a song to play, set the transmitter frequency to an unoccupied frequency and turned the transmitter on (all can be done from the same menu). There was only static in the speakers. Then I realized that the player needs headphones to be connected since the cable serves as an antenna for the transmitter as well as for the radio.
Connecting headphones helped the situation, but with a caveat. The music was pretty quiet and I soon discovered that the transmission power is adjusted by the volume. Therefore, I had to crank the volume all the way up to improve sound quality and volume through the car's speakers. The downside to this is I fear for the life of the headphones because at this volume they might not last long. Solution: use some throwaway headphones for this purpose.
Another caveat is the sound quality. It 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 as good as playing a CD.
The player comes with a DC adaptor that has a USB port on the other end, in which you plug the supplied USB cable and the other end of the cable goes into the mini-USB port of the player. Neat.
The huge 3-inch screen is very sharp, colorful and is informative. The icons are good-looking, the audio playback features a spectrum analyzer, instant bitrate display and more (including the ability to view ID3 tags).
The photos look very good (surprisingly for the 400x240 resolution) and the screen seems just huge comparing to the one on the iPod Nano. The colors are pleasing and backlight is bright.
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 iVu lets you find the song you want to play in its directory tree simply by navigating it.
The 850-mAh lithium polymer 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.
It Is Easy To Use
The Neon M3 had some usability issues, which were improved upon in this player. The Latte iVu is easy to use once you get used to all controls being on the top of the player. The buttons feel solid and provide good feedback when pushed.
The player feels solid. It has a stylish black plastic body with controls 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 3.5 Megabytes per second, which is very impressive.
The built-in 2-megapixel camera is a nice bonus. The pictures taken with it are similar in quality to pictures taken with a good cell phone camera.
Pros: Built-in FM transmitter, features, looks, large screen, playback volume, weight, battery life
Cons: Your car's radio can limit the sound quality when using the transmitter
A product with a lot of features and reasonable price, the iVu is a good deal. It plays music well and if you have a car with no auxiliary input, its built-in FM transmitter may be its best feature. Its huge screen, features and performance at a good price make it a very good choice.