on January 23, 2010
Pros: Wal*Mart didn't hassle me about bringing it back.
Cons: This piece of doo-doo locked up and failed to boot three times in 48 hours. Also, I can't say anything BAD enough about Audiovox's "Customer Service."
Summary: Don't waste you time, money and good nature.
A year or so ago I bought a new car with a nice factory stereo, which in addition to playing MP3 and WMA formatted CDs, had an 'AUX' input for portable stereo devices. One can plug in, for example, a portable cassette player, 8-Track (no, I never owned one) or MP3 player. For a while, I used the MP3 player in my camera/cellular phone, but it does not keep your place in the music if you use another function, and its playlist editing capability is, well, limited. I wanted a dedicated MP3 player primarily for use in the car (those Public Radio beg-a-thons can be SO tedious) and on the commuter bus.
Wal*Mart had a selection of MP3s available right after Christmas, ranging in price from about $30 to $230, not including the Fruit Machine EyePods. There were a few Sony machines in my price range, but the screens were on the small side. They also offered a handful of Philips MP3 players, but many of the reviews I had read were negative. There were also a couple of RCA players, including the 8GB 'Opal' series model M4308. It had a 2" screen (minimal, with my aging eyes) and didn't require an indentured servitude to the Company iStore to load my own files. I brought it home for $50, and left it connected to my computer for the required four hours before starting it, while I loaded music and videos onto it per the manual.
When I had loaded less than 2GB into the flash RAM and finished the charging cycle, I disconnected the unit and turned it on. It told me it was creating the library, and that it could take a few minutes. I went and made dinner and took care of other chores, I checked the player, and found it was still creating the library - an hour and ten minutes later. I had a $50 brick on my hands.
I tried to find help on the RCA consumer service website, but it's a hopeless case. I finally called their 800- line and talked to the AudioVox (surprise!) Customer Support desk. They sent me an eMail, which told me to go to the AudioVox website and click something from the front page. Guess what? Their front page is a Flash animation with loud music and four selections: "Find a Product | Product Registration | Corporate Information | Branded Sites," none of which lead directly to the Consumer Support area. I called the Customer Support desk back, and the RUDE S.O.B. called me an IDIOT (his word) and told me what I needed was right there in front of me! Gee, I'm sorry, but I'm only a professional Computer Scientist, and I can't navigate a website that their CSRs obviously haven't seen since the last update.
I hung up on the @$$ and downloaded the firmware update I needed from the RCA Audio-Video website. The good news was that it de-bricked the unit. The bad news is that a firmware upgrade requires formatting the flash RAM - bye, bye tunes and movies. One can still backup the contents to the computer, but what a pain. Without loading any files to the machine, it booted okay. I loaded up some music and short videos (see NOTE, below). Again, it booted, and played fine. As I filled the RAM with files, I discovered that the device had bricked again. Repeat after me: "Wipe, reload, repeat." Progressing slowly, I found that the Opal hung once I had loaded more than 1.5 gigabytes of files onto it, even using their own software. I have also discovered that it hangs when you use the 'drag and drop' method to load any unsupported file formats (MPEG-4, for example).
In less than 48 hours, this little nightmare had hung three times, requiring major brain surgery (a lobotomy) to correct. I took it back to Wal*Mart, where the Service Desk attendant told me that she had personally processed three returns over two weeks. I traded it in on the new Sony Walkman NWZ-S540 (16GB with built-in speakers) for twice the price, but I haven't had a single problem with that one.
Do not even consider the RCA 'Opal' 4300 series. You will face nothing but heartbreak (or heartburn) and disappointment.
NOTE: The M4308's press claims it supports the AVI, MPEG-4 and WMV video formats. Only conditionally - you have to use their "RCA EasyRip" software to convert it to Sigmatel's proprietary SMV format. That conversion takes longer than the video's runtime for anything longer than a few minutes.