The first rule of thumb when it comes to writing product reviews is knowing exactly what you are reviewing. The chance to get our hands on Iomega's HipZip Digital Audio Player was an opportunity too good to pass up.
But this review could just as easily be about Microsoft Windows and the vagaries of operating systems in general. Let me explain. When a multimedia product says minimum requirements include Windows 95, don't believe them.
I must have spent hours at home on the old faithful machine trying every download, patch and software configuration remedy I could find, before conceding there is no way Windows 95 would support the HipZip's USB connection.
Frustrated, I came to work, broke the corporate rules on our Standard Operating Environment and upgraded my PC from Windows 95 to Windows ME. So far, so good - but my trusty Pentium II 64MB PC now runs like a dog.
Before I got to the HipZip device, I first had to install IomegaWare which contains the drivers and tools needed to support the device. I also installed MusicMatch Jukebox, a fantastic software program that acts as the central point of control for MP3 file and CD imports. It also controls the export and management of files to the HipZip.
Aside from the fact that MusicMatch crashed my PC on the first install attempt, and it wouldn't let me complete the registration process ("Information Alert 502 Bad Gateway"), it does the job very competently.
The only criticism from someone who hates methodically working through a manual is the software is not very intuitive. After struggling to export a track from the CD-ROM to the HipZip, I relented and was saved after consulting the user guide.
The HipZip unit itself is sturdy, compact and most importantly does not skip when bumped like its portable CD player cousin. It comes complete with an imitation leather pouch which joggers will love, but unfortunately it does not leave enough clearance for the headphone socket which is easily bumped out.
The HipZip's 40MB disks are inserted into the top of the unit and are easy enough to remove, while all audio controls are easily accessible once you memorise what they all do.
The best rap I can give the HipZip is its remarkable CD-like quality. It actually includes graphic equaliser settings too, which for bass lovers has to be a plus. The only down side is it comes with average-quality headphones that curl around your ear. Get some proper Sony headphones and you're laughing.
Meanwhile, Iomega says its lithium ion battery gives you up to 12 hours of continuous play.
Overall I have this product to thank for my introduction to the world of MP3 music sharing. Would I buy one? At $669 I don't think so - particularly after I recently bought a portable CD player for $120 duty free.
However, I'm sure there are enough IT-savvy health freaks out there who would take on the tricky software installation challenge to enjoy an anti-skipping device. Just make sure you stock up on the PocketZip disks and up-sell customers a pile of them at $20.90 each. It's the printer cartridge mentality for portable devices.
Fast Facts - Iomega HipZip
Cost: $699, including GST.
PocketZip disks: $20.90 each.
Compatible with MP3 and Windows Mediaformats.
Distributors: Tech Pacific (Aus & NZ), Siltek Asia Pacific, Ingram Micro (Aus & NZ), CHA.