Insignia Sport, My Best Podcast Player So Far

My Creative Zen V Plus has been getting flakier and flakier lately, requiring hard resets and just acting funky. Under the best circumstances it never has been a perfect device for podcast listening – acceptable at best. When my boss told me that he got an Insignia Sport 4Gb player from Best Buy for $60 on clearance, I looked at the specs and reviews online and basically jumped up and drove to Best Buy to buy one for myself. I’ve been using it for a few weeks now and can say that it is the best portable MP3 player for listening to mostly or exclusively for podcasts that I have ever owned.

Running down the list I have owned in order: an original 512 Gb iPod Shuffle; a 512 Gb mobiBLU cube; a 4 Gb Creative Zen V Plus; and now the 4 Gb Insignia Sport. I’ve also had the Zune but I’m not counting it in this list partly because it is big and in a different niche than all these, but also because their attempts to add value to podcasts actually make it unusable for the task. All the rest of these were about the same price, in the high $90s at the time of purchase.

Here’s a rundown of the pros and cons of each device as I found the experience of trying to use them as dedicated podcast playing devices.

Original Gumstick 512 Mb iPod Shuffle

Pros: Easy to use; small and light; very easy syncing with iTunes combined with smart playlists made for the best file handling I’ve seen; remembered the spot in long MP3s without bookmarking

Cons: No display made it impossible to identify timestamps of shows for later quoting on EGC; both the original and replacement went DOA after 9 months

512 MB mobiBLU Cube

Pros: Tiny device; mounted as an external device for use with Macs; remembered the spot in long MP3s without bookmarking

Cons: Playlist feature too cumbersome to use so I always listened in alphabetical order; weird nonstandard USB connector that went in through the headphone jack; built in headphones in the lanyard broke early on

4 GB Creative Zen V Plus

Pros: Large storage space for an inexpensive player; attractive display; theoretically plays video

Cons: Is MTP so it requires Windows to sync the device; forgets the position in file when it powers down so you have to remember to bookmark; playlist function is really cumbersome; the only format of video it plays is ridiculous and converting to it is a pain

4 GB Insignia Sport

Pros: Large storage space; cheapest of the lot at $60 on clearance; contains a microSD slot; theoretically plays video; mounts as standard external drive so usable with OS X; imports M3U files for playlists; remembers position in long files without bookmarking; has Bluetooth audio out; plays OGG files!!

Cons: Bluetooth is only for audio, you can’t move files with it; Weird conversion required to play video and it frequently fails; when twirling the wheel to change volume it is possible to be recognized as a “Next file” click; when going from file to file with different bitrates it freaks out until you stop and restart playing

Overall, I’m quite happy with the Insignia Sport. This is provisional as I’ve only had a few weeks of burn in time and the really annoying issues tend to show up after months or when your annoyance level rises to a boil for some functionality that isn’t quite right. I didn’t list it as a pro, but I like how the LED around the wheel on the Insignia Sport looks a lot like the fusion reactor in Iron Man’s chest. I wrote simple scripts to handle the moving of files from my podcatcher directory to the device and then write an M3U file to create a playlist of oldest to newest file. Since there are a couple of shows I always bump to the top of the list, I fudge the dates to make them earlier before I do the whole procedure. Just in not having to futz with the playlist like I did with the Creative Zen, thats a huge win. Over time, I really grew to hate that process. Now, I plug up the Insignia, call my sync script and a few minutes later it is done with no further intervention on my part. I dig it.

If you can find one of these on clearance, I say it’s an automatic buy. At the original price of $139 or so, it’s a marginal call. When an MP3 player gets down in the mid 2 figures some magic happens and you can take risks knowing that if the device sucks or you drop it in a lake you won’t be heartbroken. I’m glad I took the risk with this one.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father. Member of the Podcast Hall of Fame class of 2022.

8 thoughts on “Insignia Sport, My Best Podcast Player So Far”

  1. Andrew says:

    I continue to be impressed by how such a seemingly simple task is failed by the vast majority of devices out there. I think the biggest force keeping me on the iPod track for so many years has been that the entire lineup (outside of the Shuffles) has made for great Podcast and audiobook playback.

    Knowing that there’s an MSC device out there that I can count on makes me feel better about loosening my grip on the iPod-per-year replacement cycle.

    I’m not ready to give up my iPod Touch soon, but Apple could win a lot of loyalty back if they’d let me sync Podcasts over Wifi.

  2. Ken Kennedy says:

    Excellent review, Dave. Thanks for doing that. I live in the cheap MP3 player world as well, and they all have their little weird pros and cons…this will be an excellent reference for the next time I’m in the market.

    I probably should do a similar writeup.

  3. Tom Deja says:

    You know–I still own a 2GB Insignia that works after almot two year’s hard service, and I bought the 4GB Sport on the strenth of that one….

    It’s very, very wonky. It’s highly sensitive to static electricity, and I found mine had to be rebooted a LOT. And when the first real hot day happened here in NY. it literally fritzed out on me.

    So just be careful with it, okay?

  4. Rob Greenlee says:

    Dave, Please explain why you think that the Zune is unusable as a podcast catcher and portable video/audio player. Have you used or seen the Zune 80 player with a 3.2 inch screen and an 80 GB hard drive? I work on it everyday and use it everyday. It works great for me and thousands of other people.

    The Zunes WiFi support also allows users to wirelessly send/share video podcasts from Zune to Zune directly. Then the same user can subscribe or unsubscribe to that same podcast right on the device. The next time you wirelessly sync with the Zune Marketplace client software it automatically sends you new episodes. You don’t have to do anything else.

    None of these other players including the iPod can do that. We will keep innovating with the Zune and will make it the best platform for podcasts available. Our content catalog is growing every day and getting better all the time.

    Rob Greenlee
    Zune Podcast & Video Programming Lead

  5. dave says:

    Rob, I haven’t used the Zune in a while. Unless the firmware has been updated recently having audio marked with genre “Podcast” meant that it went into the special podcast section and wasn’t able to be put in a playlist or played sequentially. That means navigating from episode to episode which is a drag and you can’t do while driving. I just want to listen to all my shows in order. The whole “Podcast” functionality on the device is worse than having them just recognized as songs.

    The Zune is great as a video watching device, but as a podcast listening device I found the $60 Insignia 100X more usable.

  6. pj says:

    i went from an rca (God knows what) to the ipod shuffle, through 2 creative zens (a 2gb that was stolen, then replaced it with a 4b). as all zens do, it died a mysterious death. i now have the insignia 4g and am insanely happy with it (esp. at the clearance price!). however, do you have any tips on how a non-programmer can get podcasts downloaded easily? any other tricks would be awesome, too. one more thing, my phone bluetooth doesn’t seem to work with the device. did you have to buy a headphone bluetooth instead?

  7. Patrick says:

    Dave, Would you please post your scripts “…I wrote simple scripts to handle the moving of files from my podcatcher directory to the device and then write an M3U file to create a playlist of oldest to newest file.”

    My only complaint with both of my Insignia players is my inability to create playlists. I’ve tried unsuccessfully with .m3u and .plp types.

    TIA, Patrick

  8. dave says:

    Patrick, here is the script I use to create the .m3u. It’s a ruby script although it could be duplicated in many languages with a tiny effort:

    print "#EXTM3U\r\n"
    while ((line= gets) != nil) 
      line.gsub!('/', '\\')
      print "#EXTINF: 1,#{line}\r\n#{line}\r\n"

    I invoke it like this:

    ls -rt /Volumes/Insignia_SP/JuiceFiles/*/*.mp3 | ~/create_m3u.rb > /Volumes/Insignia_SP/podcast.m3u

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