July 19, 2004 10:39 AM PDT

Virgin music device gets 'round

With its new MP3 player, Virgin Electronics is offering 21st-century technology in the shape of a 19th-century pocket watch.

Style seems to have taken priority over storage: The circular, half-ounce gadget has a capacity of 128MB, meaning that it can hold about 40 songs. That's significantly less than the number of songs--about 1,000--that can fit in Apple Computer's rectangular iPod Mini, which holds one-fifth to one-tenth the number of songs in the full-fledged iPod.

But the Virgin device, unveiled Monday, also has a more modest price tag. Available now at Target department stores, it sells for $99.99. The iPod Mini, by comparison, costs $249.

The company also announced on Monday that it is relocating from New York to San Jose, Calif., to be in the thick of Silicon Valley. Along with the move come two new executives: CEO Greg Woock and a senior vice president of marketing, Joe Sipher. Both executives formerly worked at handheld maker Handspring, now PalmOne. Woock also has worked at device maker Creative Technology, while Sipher had earlier been with Palm.

Virgin Electronics says it plans to build digital products with an emphasis on ease of use and customer value. It will focus initially on music products. That puts it in an increasingly crowded field against heavyweights such as Sony, Dell and soon, Hewlett-Packard.

The music player comes with its own ear buds but can also work with other headsets. Separately, Virgin introduced a $39.99 headphone for airline travelers with what it calls noise-canceling technology.

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Bravo...new market!
Bravo to Virgin for introducing a digital music player that's small, light, convenient and inexpensive all at once. The Virgin VP-1100 is the kind of player I would want to take along when going to the gym, riding the bus, or taking a walk. Claimed battery life is 8 hours and, at 128 megabytes (MB), the memory is large enough to accommodate 2 to 4 hours' worth of MP3-encoded music, depending on the quality level you choose.

I'd also take the VP-1100 on long trips, but only if I were bringing my laptop along, since I'd need that to recharge the battery and upload new songs. The device does well not only in terms of size, but also in terms of convenience. According to the specifications ( <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.virginpulse.com/products/detail-vp-1100.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.virginpulse.com/products/detail-vp-1100.html</a> ), it behaves like a normal USB flash memory device, allowing you to manage your music by dragging MP3 files -- in Windows, Mac OS, or Linux. The battery is recharged using power from the USB port. This can't take very long for a tiny 100 milliampere-hour (mAh) battery.

The main drawback is Virgin's choice of a non-standard, non-user-replaceable battery. According to the FAQ ( <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.virginpulse.com/products/faq-vp-1100.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.virginpulse.com/products/faq-vp-1100.html</a> ), "You must send the player in to an authorized Virgin Electronics service center to have the battery replaced." Of course, given the unit's small size, the designers could not have used a AAA battery.

Some people will complain about the small memory capacity. This device was designed to be small, not to accommodate an entire music collection. It was not meant to be used in the same way as the Apple iPod, for example.

Some people will also complain that it doesn't play songs bought from online music stores -- at least not directly. This is a question of file formats (no major online music service sells MP3s) and digital rights management (no major online music service sells music that's free of playback restrictions). Better to buy CDs, so that you can encode music in whatever format your digital music player requires.

The Virgin VP-1100 does look a lot like the Ben-Q Joybee 102 ( <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.benq.com/personal-av/mp3player_jb102.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.benq.com/personal-av/mp3player_jb102.html</a> ). I wonder whether there isn't a rebranding deal here.
Posted by rpms (96 comments )
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virgin pulse great for 90 days
I now know why the warranty is one of shortest on market.All the responses from online help when the mp3 player vp mpf 1000 went down were apologetic but not helpful. After finding out the warranty had expired it was apologetically sorry and thats all.
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