Note: If you’re not familiar with Saved By the Bell, I suggest you open up your wallet, clear a couple of days, and catch up. Then, return for the review.
The Nextar T30 is the Jessie Spano of the Portable Media Player world. The sub-$100 player has its upsides – it’s attractive, has a decent feature set, and the price for picking one up isn’t nearly as daunting as the cost of its more popular competition. But, much like AC Slater discovered when he started courting Jessie, the Nextar T30 features just enough potential deal-killers that you’ll wish that you had either made the effort to get your hands on the more attractive competition, or settled for something just as middling, but not quite as frustrating.
The T30, like Jessie, is a smart-looking piece of hardware with a slim profile. Its face is dominated by a 3.5 inch QVGA (320 x 240 resolution) screen, which Nextar claims supports over 260,000 colors (I didn’t count). The body, which is just under half an inch thick, sports a cheery orange accent. Tiny buttons for playback and navigation run the top and right edges. At 4″ x 3″, the whole package is light, easily pocketable, and garners the coveted “wow, that’s a big screen! Cool!” reaction from the easily impressed.
In any range of conditions, I had no problem with the screen’s brightness – even in full sunlight, the picture wasn’t washed out. The picture quality is passable, but not great – even with well-encoded video or 320×240 images, there was still noticeable pixelation.
Sound quality was adequate via the built in speaker, better using headphones.
Smarts (It’s What’s on the Inside That Counts, Right?)
Jessie Spano, a geek’s girl before there was an even a concept of a geek’s girl, knew it all. History, math, science, she could handle it all. The T30’s functionality is almost as impressive, with qualifiers – it plays music, plays video, displays photos, and serves as an “ebook” reader. 4GB of internal storage come built in, and an SD port allows for up to an additional 2GB. If you roll analog, you can calm your Top 40 craving with a built-in FM tuner that also allows you to record the audio directly to the T30’s storage. I was able to manage my media with Windows Media Player with no problem, and the brave can simply create folders and drag files in Windows Explorer.
I’m So Excited! I’m So Scared!
So how can you resist? Let’s reserve a table at The Max, get on the Zack Morris phone, and take this little mama to the prom!
Not so fast, bucko.
Hands-on, the Nextar T30 has some issues that could, for some users, prove more worrisome than our beloved Jessie’s skeleton-laden closet (most worrisome first):
- The Caffeine-Pill Addiction (the deal breaker): Just like Jessie’s lust for caffeine-fueled all-night study sessions almost destroyed her, the Nextar T30’s downfall is the device’s interface. It’s maddeningly slow and the button layout forces you to operate it with two hands. New media is listed seemingly by the day it was added, and there’s no way to adjust the display. Since you can’t sort your data (by album, song name, artist, etc), finding any piece of individual media when you’ve uploaded a full 6 GB will be an extensive, frustrating click-fest.
- The Bad-Boy Brother: Media management, like Jessie’s rebellious half-sibling Eric, is aggressively irritating. Quick example: I own Wang Chung’s Greatest Hits (who doesn’t?), and I want the option to be able to listen to the album as a whole, or to listen to “Everybody Have Fun” on my “All Time Greatest Hits” playlist. To do this, I had to create two folders (one for each playlist), and then copy the song into each folder. Having to load the same media onto the same device twice is about as bad as trying to cheat Screech out of his valedictorian spot because you want to get into Stamford University.
- The Know-it-all Attitude: You can play any type of video, as long as it’s an avi (video conversion software comes in the box, but doesn’t convert Quicktime files). You can read any ebook, as long as it’s a .txt file. You can listen to any type of music, as long as its an mp3 or wma file. Blech. I know format lock-ins aren’t unique to Nextar, but it’s still frustrating.
The Kelly Factor
Like Jessie, the Nextar T30 is in a field laden with tough competitors. Jessie Spano always seemed to find herself shown up in one way or another. The Nextar finds itself similarly outcompeted:
- The Creative Zen 4 GB, the Stacey Carosi of the bunch. Not much prettier, but a lot more pluck – for the same price point, provides a more vivid (but smaller) screen, better media management, and basic contact info/calendar management.
- The iPod Nano 4GB, for $50 more, is the Lisa Turtle – richer, and more polished. It’s an iPod. The screen’s smaller, but if you’re reading this site, you don’t need a rundown on how the iPod works.
- The Archos 605 and iPod Touch are the lust-worthy Kelly Kapowskis. Both sport similar sized, more vivid screens, and are heads and shoulders above the Nextar in every category. I know the comparison is completely unfair, as these devices are targeted at entirely different markets, but the men of Bayside High and the Malibu Sands Beach Club had to make their choices as well. Is it worth a couple hundred extra bucks to have everything you always wanted, or do you want to settle for the issues-laden, unmanageable cheapie? The choice is yours.
The Report Card
Poor Jessie, despite all of her surface appeal, never came out on top. Time after time, her beauty and smarts were subsumed by her haughty whining, costing her friends, boyfriends, and audience love. The same holds true for the Nextar T30, a portable media player that manages to disappoint despite its attractive price point, appealing design, and huge screen. You may need to shell out a couple of extra bucks to pick up a better option, but the trifle of a few bucks is worth not having to deal with the T30’s maddening interface and media management issues. This little mama is going to detention – turn your sights elsewhere.