Product: Imation RipGO!
Retail Price: $199.95 USD
Date of Availability: In Stores Now
The Imation RipGO! is a product like none other before it. Some companies opt to do MP3-CD players. Some companies will make portable CD recorders. Imation has a product here that not only plays CDs, MP3s and WMAs, but also manages to make them as well. MP3-CD players have come down so much in price the last year that I'm always tempted to buy a few for stocking stuffers, especially for people who aren't technically literate. But then I usually come to the conclusion that it's not worth it since those people won't be able to make their own CDs of digital music. RipGO, on the other hand, is a music player I can give with confidence.
For a player that does so many things, I was surprised at the setup process. On modern operating systems, simply plugging in your RipGO to the PC's USB port will let you see the device as a CD drive. Imation includes a jukebox software, the popular Nero Burning Rom recorder and some tunes to get you started. The software is all on an 8cm disc and I was about to put it in my CD drive when I realized the RipGO basically substitutes for it. Installing the software through the RipGO, the device acted like a regular CD drive, which was very impressive and implies that the RipGO really necessitates a change of paradigm. It's no longer a dumb music appliance.
This feature practically means the RipGO works with any CD recording software. I use Nero Burning Rom regularly but I found out an OEM copy only works with the device it comes with. Thus, the RipGO's recording software will only work with the RipGO while my existing equipment's Nero worked only with itself. It was a minor annoyance to uninstall my existing program but the RipGO is able to work with anything, including the recording capabilities embedded in Windows XP itself. The RipGO is a 4x6 drive with no option for rewriting. It might sound slow in this day and age of 32x or 40x recording but considering the RipGO only handles 8cm discs, the slow speed is not as apparent. A full disc of audio only takes a few minutes to record and the recording worked without a hitch. While Imation recommends you record only when plugged into the A/C outlet, you can do so using the batteries; just don't expect to be using it for the whole day.
Being a multi-faceted device, I wasn't sure whether the RipGO could handle the variety of WMA and MP3 files that were on my PC. Many value MP3-CD players are unable to manage exceptionally high encoding rates or special features like VBR. The RipGO, I'm happy to say, played just about every format I threw at it. It reads song names from MP3 or WMA files but in lieu of one, it also reads long file names; great for people who don't have an organized digital music collection. Using scrolling text and a folder browser on the RipGO's LCD, you're able to play by folder (perfect for albums) and also get full song titles. There's even an effective backlight included to offset dark environs.
Like many popular portable players, the RipGO includes an EQ and it also has an option for line out. With the headphones they give you, you're not likely able to differentiate between WMA and MP3 recordings. Only when you connect the device to a receiver, are you able to truly hear the difference between compression codecs and rates. Otherwise, if you're listening this on ear bud headphones in a screeching subway, the RipGO provides enough volume but clarity will depend on what kind of phones you give it. Under normal circumstances, the RipGO exhibits no aural anomalies, like hums or distortion. And while the device includes a reset button, the device never hangs or crashes.
It does, however, have some problems with skipping. I find if you skip more than two or three tracks, the RipGO will go crazy, making mechanical noises in an attempt to keep up. Does it have a slow access time? I'm not sure. If you want to jump around songs, it's best to use the browser included. And since there's no way to make playlists, all the organizing must be done using folders before you record the music on to the disc. The RipGO is a small device for a digital music player, such that you always mistake it for a solid-state player. Being a CD player though, it's inevitable it'll make noises switching tracks and in silent settings, that could prove to be disturbing.
The only other crux in the RipGO package is the battery life. With a list of 128kbps MP3s or equivalent WMAs, you're looking at a little over three hours playing time on a full charge. Without alkaline batteries or any alternate power source, you're unable to supplement this. Imation suggests you record with 64kbps WMA files to achieve the optimal five-hour playing time, which is the rate I normally use for PDAs. That way the drive accesses the CD far fewer times and saves the battery from powering the motor. It doesn't take long to charge the device's lithium ion battery but it takes time (in units of hours) to reach full charge. Furthermore, the charging process is rather complicated. Because the device has a USB mode to act as a CD-R drive, a digital player mode and also a charging mode, you have to turn on the device with the A/C adapter plugged in, then turn it off (once) to kick it into a standby charging mode.
Currently, the RipGO doesn't have any accessories like belt clips or, most importantly, replaceable lithium ion batteries. As someone who has carried an iPAQ handheld with an expansion sleeve on, the RipGO isn't all that big. But if you're used to players like Apple's iPod or even the iRiver SlimX, the RipGO might be hefty. The headphones don't come with volume controls so changing basic things like volume while the RipGO is inside a backpack or handbag will require a third party headphone.
To criticize the RipGO solely for these faults, however, is to focus too much on the valley ahead and to ignore the entire landscape. RipGO is a holistic package for anyone. At no point in time was I ever required to refer to the manual on how to compile my music or worry about whether the RipGO handled multiple or open sessions. It plays, records and even substitutes as a backup CD drive for a PC seamlessly. The latter encourages me to hope for an option to buy a bigger brother version of the RipGO with support for a full sized CD but even now, the RipGO is a one of a kind device. Like all pioneers, the RipGO suffers from some common first generation problems, chiefly the short battery life. A lack of accessories is also a factor and almost suggests that perhaps Imation does not have absolute faith in the RipGO.
Imation, a manufacturer of CD media, obviously knows the media business. The 8cm format is cheap, easy to manipulate and discard. With a few improvements, the RipGO could easily become a digital music franchise for Imation, much bigger than the HipZip and up in the echelons of the Rio, Archos and the Nomad-a solid and impressive debut product in its own right.