When describing the Baylis Eco Media Player EP-MX71, it's hard not to think of treehouses, dreadlocks and music festivals.
This is an MP3 and video player that needs no power cables and will potentially work for years without ever being connected to a computer. It's powered by a hand crank, an internal dynamo and a lithium-ion rechargable battery. It's the eco-warrior's dream; as environmentally friendly as a tree with an acoustic guitar wedged in it.
For around £129 for a 2GB player, it sure isn't as wallet-friendly as it is earth-friendly. Is its green nature worth such a high price, or is this just a giant wind-up?
Well yes, it is something of a giant wind-up -- it's a chunky, rubber-coated device with a palm-sized plastic handle on the back. Fortunately, it clicks into the player's enclosure, giving a semi-snug fit. Large plastic buttons on the front sit below a low-resolution, full-colour 46mm (1.8-inch) screen, which is capable of displaying full-motion video.
Probably the most interesting aspect of the design is the torch on the top -- apparently Trevor Baylis thinks torches are important to MP3 players. In addition, there's an SD card slot, a USB port and a few function buttons scattered around the external casing. The 2.5mm line-in socket seems utterly counter-intuitive, though -- why on Mother Earth wouldn't this be made to fit standard 3.5mm cables?
Our main gripe is that although its large size is justified by its inclusion of a dynamo and crank, this chunky player doesn't have a belt clip, and it should have. Hippies love belts.
We're going to forgive the lack of a belt clip because this rubbery friend of the earth plays OGG format music files, as well as WMA, WAV and good old MP3. One minute of furious cranking will give you about 40 minutes of music. Of course, you can charge via USB if you prefer, and a full charge will take about nine hours, but the battery will play for 20.
If you're more into video, then the Eco Media Player's bundled software will convert your favourite clips into ASV format. But without a doubt the most useful feature is the phone charging capabilities. Using the supplied cable and one of many adapters for a variety of mobile phone manufacturers (Nokia -- new and old -- plus Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Motorola), you can use the crank to charge your phone. We tried it with a Nokia N95 and it caused smiles all round to see it charge without batteries or mains adapters.
You could argue this is just a rambler's tool that happens to play music. But it includes seven different EQ presets too, an FM radio, not to mention simple drag-and-drop management of files and the ability to record voice at a variety of MP3 bit rates. It's also got a loudspeaker for headphone-less enjoyment. Would a rambler really need all that?
Sadly, what it achieves with usefulness and earth-consciousness, it seriously lacks in ease of operation -- it's a very unintuitive player to use at first. You don't have access to a list of artists or songs. Instead, you simply skip -- slowly -- through one long list of songs one by one, or switch it to shuffle.
And video quality is poor, in part thanks to the low-res, low-power screen. It's also painfully slow to transfer music on to. But it's important to bear in mind how suitable this is for outdoor use, and we must concede that ignoring the MP3 player's drawbacks is semi-important. The built-in microphone makes a great dictaphone with very good sound quality, and with up to 2GB SD cards supported, you can offload those recordings to removable storage.
Media player prowess aside, sound quality is more than acceptable. It's no Creative Zen or Cowon D2, but it's above average in power and clarity and is perfect for camping trips. Do invest in some better earphones though, because the ones in the box are abysmal and make the player sound appalling.
It's just too hard not to like this thing. It's so convenient if you're a camper, hiker or festival goer. It's no replacement for an iPod and certainly not an advisable alternative, especially considering the £129 price tag.
If you spend any time in tents or sleeping up mountains, you'd be mad not to ditch the nano and snag yourself an Eco Media Player -- it will try its best to love you and you'd be crazy not to admit you kind of love it too.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday