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.

How to Fix Your Broken mobiBLU Cube

I’m reposting this because a number of people have found the instructions for fixing the mobiBLU cube useful — especially in light of the fact that the mobiBLU website is useless. I want to extract just the cube stuff out of the original post, and hopefully this post will get the Google juice of the original so that people can rehabilitate their formerly bricked players. Certainly, Hyun Won doesn’t seem that concerned about it but I am, fellow netizens.

My MobiBLU cube MP3 player has been acting up, failing to start with the buttons and requiring hard resets with a paper clip. I decided to update the firmware. The updater only runs on Windows, so I fired up my one Windows box and downloaded and installed the firmware updater. When I ran it, it hang for minutes looking for the device (which was already mounted as a lettered drive and which I could see via the file system.) The instructions say that if that happens, you hold down the play button, press the reset button with a paperclip for 5 seconds, release the reset but keep the play button depressed until you get a recovery screen. Wow. I did all that, a thing popped up on Windows saying that the “USB Recovery Device has been installed, reboot to make it active.” Dear god, what a pain but I did it. When I rebooted, nothing ever happened again. The installer looks for the device forever, the reset never again prompts any response, nothing every happens.

I’m about this close to throwing this piece of crap out the window. I strongly recommend against anyone buying the MobiBLU. It’s cute and tiny, but is a pain to use on its best day and eventually eats itself. There are a few rampant iPod haters on here (and it is only a matter of time before the exact same anti-iPod rant gets commented on this post as I’ve received one dozen times already) but my Shuffle was fun to use and caused me zero problems up until the day it failed catasrophically and stopped mounting on the computer. The mobiBLU was never fun to use and caused ongoing problems for a long time. I’m half tempted to pull the Shuffle out of the drawer and see if it magically works now. If the mobiBLU can’t be updated and continues to act finicky, I’m thinking about going for the slap cheapest MP3 play that takes SD cards as its media.

Thus far today, I’m pretty sick and tired of things that Just Don’t Work.

Update: I installed the mobiBLU updater on my wife’s computer, followed the instructions to the letter. When I did the reset and it entered recovery mode, I pressed “Update”, then the program bombed out with a “semaphore time out period expired” error message. Now the device is completely dead, won’t mount or turn on or anything. I guess that’s that, end of the line with this device. I strongly recommend that people avoid this manufacturer.

Here is what commentor Jared posted that allowed me to fix my Cube.

I had the same problem Dave had, and I figured out how to fix it, since I couldn’t find anything on it.

Here’s how to fix that “semaphore” problem.

If you’re getting this error, install the CD software that came with the DAH-1500i, that’ll install the firmware that was defaultly on the product (100.100.105), when installing that, a popup comes up that says “the Recovery file is newer than what you’re installing, would you like to keep the newer one, click NO, so everything’s back to where it was. So, continue with that. Now, make sure it’s working properly, and that it turns on and mounts, and has allocated memory. Now, install the 100.100.122 firmware setup. This’ll overwrite that file you said “No” to. Reboot. Now trying installing the x.x.122 firmware, the way you were trying and it should work. It’ll read

Current firmware: 000.000.000
Firmware Upgrade: 100.100.122

Hit start! If you see “Allocating table”, that’s a good sign!

Then you’re good to go!

Thanks Jared. Anyone who has had the same problem with this thing, hope this fixed it.