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Star Combo
256 MB MP3 Player/Digital Voice Recorder/Pen Drive

[image] Star Combo

Note: contrary to what it says on the box, in the manual, and on the web site you bought it from, this is NOT compatible with Mac OS 9 or X!

Have you ever owned one of these things? Drop me a note and let me know about your experience with it?

Overview: Mounts as a pen drive, plays MP3s, records and plays back sound as ACT files. System requirements: a PC with a USB drive (1.1) drive and Windows 2000 or XP (98 is also supported with a driver on the included CD). Cost: About $120

Background: the computer industry is swarming with these little things called "pen drives." They are usually USB devices you can insert into your computer that mount on the desktop like little hard drives. You can store files on them and take them with you. This is very handy if you need to use your files on a lab computer that doesn't have a Zip drive.

Many of these drives have additional features like the ability to play MP3 files you've stores on them or record your voice with a built-in microphone.

The lowdown: I personally had a miserable experience with this thing. I bought it on eBay for about $110. It shipped in a few days, and I had a chance to try it out. Unfortunately, it would not mount properly on my Mac. While connected to the USB port, it would unexpectedly shut itself off while trying to connect.

On my brother's PC, however, it seemed to work fine. Sometimes it would act up, but most of the time, it mounted fine as a separate drive in My Computer and it even played well with his other pen drive. I also tried it out on the lab computers at the local library, and it mounted and worked without a hitch.

Sound recording: Sound recording seemed to work fairly well. I could play back files with the unit itself, but getting the recording started and stopped required going through the main menu. In short, you shouldn't use this thing to take notes while driving your car, but it should work nicely to record a lecture in a classroom.

Important note: Recorded files are in ".ACT" format, a file format I have never heard of before. On the Windows 98 installer CD, it includes a Windows program to convert the files to WAV format.

MP3 Player: I went for a quick walk while listening to the MP3s stores on the unit, and they sounded fine. I especially liked the "lock" button. Most functions are performed with a little flip switch than you have to press in somewhat painfully in order to start and stop the music, say "OK" to an option, and just about everything else. It's a pain, but works all right. You can flip the switch once to skip to the next or previous song, or you can hold it down to turn the volume up or down.

It plays the MP3s in alphabetical order, which is a bit annoying if you like to "shuffle" your MP3 playlist, as I do. It has a few other options, like preset "equalizer" settings and an A-B repeat mode that makes no sense to me.

The Good: Very inexpensive and seems to play and record just fine.

The Bad: It will not work at all on a Mac, and will often have problems connecting to a PC. Many users report that it tends to shut off and restart itself repeatedly instead of mounting as it should. Sound files are recorded in ACT format and have to be converted to WAV with a separate Windows program included on CD-ROM.

Final verdict: If the drive actually connected and mounted to my Mac, it would pretty a fairly decent MP3 player. Since it doesn't, I'm busy looking for another one. If you have a PC, this is a pretty nice little gadget, though it would be nice if it recorded sound as WAV files and connected more reliably.

What's in the box:

  • Thin manual written in broken English and what looks like Chinese.
  • AAA battery
  • The StarCombo unit
  • Male-female USB extension cord
  • earphones
  • Mini-CD (the kind that require a tray to load, not a slot-loading CD-ROM drive) with Windows 98 driver and program to convert ACT sound files to WAV format.

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