MobiBLU B153 Review
By: Jonathan Kwan
May 6, 2006
Have you ever dreamed of listening to your digital audio player for 24 hours straight? Sure you have; and you'd do basically anything to make it come true: except for the fact that very few devices are actually capable of doing so.
The thing is, with MobiBLU, the company that brought us the DAH-1500i "cube" digital audio player, has came up with yet another revolutionary product -- not in size, but in battery life. With a manufacturer estimation of 153 -- yes one hundred and fifty three -- hours battery life, you can now listen to your music for theoretically six days and six hours non-stop.
Our review unit came in the same Fedex Express box as the MobiBLU DAH-1500i we reviewed a few weeks ago. With a very professional and elegant feel to its box as shown on the right side of the photo, it is one of the most well designed sets of packaging I've seen so far. Of course, with such an incredible battery life, the MobiBLU B153 itself is not going to be nearly as small as its predecessor even though storage capacity remains the same. Our review unit is the 512MB version, but 1GB and 2GB versions are also available.
Out of the box you'll get the player itself, a clear plastic case for the player, a USB cable, a pair of earbuds as well as a line-in cable that utilizes the USB connector on the right side of the MobiBLU B153. In addition to that, an in-depth manual on usage of this product is included along with a CD that has a lyrics manager; called Lyrics Manager (How original!). A separate manual is also included on how to use Lyrics Manager. It's nice to see MobiBLU's continuation to include very detailed manuals, which goes from which-button-does-what to navigation through menus, as we have seen with their DAH-1500i.
Personally, I do not really like the looks and performance of the stock earbuds, therefore I swapped it for my Shure E2c for our performance tests.
After taking a look at the accessories, I immediately noticed a non-standard USB connector was used on the B153. Instead of using standard digital camera sized connectors, MobiBLU opted for a proprietary connector -- which they could have easily implemented a standard digicam connector due to physical size of this product. If anything happens to the cable, you will run into lots of trouble.
At first glance, I wasn't too impressed by aesthetics of the B153 as I did with its predecessor. It doesn't have all the funky-ness and leet-ness of the DAH-1500i as well as my Creative Zen Micro 6GB -- which is slightly taller but sports a much larger screen, a touchpad and simply sexier. Of course, none of the ones I just listed can match B153's incredible rated 153 hours battery life, but still. Looks are very important these days; there's a reason why iPods sell, despite their negative points.
Thickness comparison with the Creative Zen Micro 6GB. (All three versions -- the 4GB, 5GB, and 6GB -- have the same physical size. I just like to show off my 6GB version) Anyway, in terms of width and height, the B153 is almost identical to my Creative Zen Micro 6GB. On MobiBLU's B153, it is thicker in the bottom than the top, as opposed to symmetrical design on the Zen Micro along with the majority of digital audio players on the consumer electronics market today.
Along the top of this player is an array of buttons. All of these buttons are multipurpose, most common usage purposes are listed below:
- Play: Turns on and off the B153, starts/resumes/pauses songs
- LDB: When the song is paused, hit this key to display the clock. When songs are playing, hit this key to display the lyrics if song is tagged by Lyrics Manager. At any time you can hold this key to switch player mode (FM Radio, Line In, etc) When charging and playing, this button can also be used to display battery charge status.
- SRS: Switch between EQ modes. Also used for bookmarking.
- REC: Switch play modes. In Line-In and Mic mode, you hit this key to start or stop recording. When a menu is displayed, press this button to exit out of it.
On the surface of the B153 is a little joystick for navigation use. By quickly pressing and releasing the joystick, you'll get a song selection menu. The four-line display has one line occupied by the folder name (Eg. "Root") with the rest of the screen left to display three songs at a time. If you press and hold the joystick down for approximately one second, a player configuration menu will be displayed and for you to go through and customize the player's settings to your likings.
You can also use the joystick to select items by quickly pressing it down when an object is highlighted. In addition to that, the four-way joystick is also used to navigate through menus as well as adjusting volume and skipping through songs when audio tracks are playing. When navigating through menus, pivoting left and right goes through menu screen and up/down allows you to highlight your selection.
At first, controls seems to be pretty confusing as a lot of key functions are dependant on the situation (Imagine writing all those If-Then-Else statements) and it takes a while to figure out when to hold down which keys and when not to. With some experience with the DAH-1500i, I quickly got used to it as the style is very similar.
I noticed a few problems related to B153's firmware. Even after the update released a few days ago, there are a few issues with organizing songs in the song selection menu -- for example, the B153 misplaced a song that starts with 'Y' at the top, and placing newly added songs, regardless of file name or ID3 tags, at the bottom of the list. I cannot enter the Watch configuration screen under Settings therefore unusable. It also has problems with displaying certain special characters (Such as a full character coma), which turns into asterisks on B153's screen. In Random All play mode, you cannot go back to the previous song once you skipped past it. Let's say you have five songs on your B153: In The End, Ocean Avenue, Numb, Breaking the Habit, and Because of You. If you skipped from In The End to Ocean Avenue to Numb, and you attempt to go back to Ocean Avenue while Numb is playing by skipping back, it will randomly pick another song, say, Breaking the Habit. When you decide you want to play Numb again, skipping Breaking the Habit will cause the B153 to choose another song, in our case, Because of You. It's too 'random' for my likings and this problem does not exist with any of my other players.
Also, if you are playing a song, and you select the same song from B153's song selection menu, it will restart the song. You can use the joystick or the Record button to exit out of this screen, but is still annoying, and a bug that needs to be fixed.
Underneath the B153 is a Hold switch, and behind it a very noticeable lump sticking out, caused by its large 1600 mAh battery. You can slide the Hold switch to disable other buttons on your player, whether your B153 is turned on or off. In addition to that, when plugged in, the Hold switch can be used to choose between charge and listen at the same time OR charge and connect to computer. This always comes in handy!
A clear plastic case tags along with the B153 in our retail box. While this case offers near full body protection, it blocks out the Hold switch, USB port, mic, as well as making buttons and the top harder to press and OLED screen slightly harder to read. Another thing I did not like about the case is the material used; these kind of plastic are fingerprint magnets (See above photo) and attract millions of little scratches. Besides that, once it's bent it makes those un-visually appealing permanent white marks.
The MobiBLU B153's OLED screen displays a good amount of information. The following information are displayed on the screen when a song or audio file is playing:
- File format
- Play mode
- EQ setting
- Bit rate
- Battery indicator
- Folder name
- Song name (File name or ID3 tags)
- Song progress bar
- Time elapsed or time remaining
I noticed MobiBLU B153's bit rate and battery indicator isn't very accurate. As far as the bit rate indicator goes, my songs that were not encoded using Windows Media Player, it incorrectly detects them as VBR (variable bit rate) files when they are really running at 128kbps. The DAH-1500i does not have this problem. After a firmware update that was released a few days ago, it correctly detected the 128kbps WMA files that were not encoded using WMP, but still detects my 160kbps tracks as VBR.
Speaking of firmware updates, updating firmware on the B153 was by far the fastest, easiest, and hassle-free when compared to other players. All you need to do is copy a small 512K BIN file to the B153's root directory. Turn on your player, a firmware update screen will appear for less than two seconds. That's it! Firmware flash is complete.
As an attempted improvement over its predecessor, the B153 now displays ID3 tag information. Unfortunately, I do not like the way of how it is displayed nor does it display ID3 tag information in the song selection menu. Before we get into that, folder name of where the song is located occupies a line above the line that displays song information. Good idea, as this usually shows album name. However, if you are putting everything under Root, well, the word Root is here to stay.
For ID3 tags, at first I thought it reads song name only -- like one of my previous players, Creative's Zen Nano Plus. Out of my expectations, it reads three pieces of information, in the following order: artist name, song name, and album title. Album information would have been better, if not already, displayed on the line above, so basically this piece of information is not very necessary since it increases scroll time before I can actually see what song is actually playing. When skipping through songs, I don't want the artist name to be displayed first, like the photo above -- I want to know what song it is. Also, do we really need artist information on such a small screen, especially displayed as the first thing? The only good thing I can say is that scroll speed is configurable, but that's about it.
ID3 tag support? Yes. Am I using it? Nope. Why? Poor implementation.
You can set B153's OLED screen to get into sleep mode after a certain amount of time to conserve battery. Unlike LCD screens, you cannot see anything on the screen once the OLED screen's sleep mode is activated, so you cannot see any song information without hitting a button to activate the screen. In addition to that, you'll have no idea when the player is turned on or off by just looking at it. It would have been more convenient if there is a separate indicator of some kind (Eg. separate LED) to show that the player is turned on when display is off.
When the OLED screen is in sleep mode, you'll have to press any button on this player to reactivate it. It will not do the specific button's function unless you press it the second time. For example, if you want to pause a song, you'll have to press 'Play' once to activate the screen and press 'Play' again to pause the song.
I found out that the B153's OLED screen is very hard to read when you are outside under direct sunlight, as with MobiBLU's DAH-1500i. I don't have a problem reading the information on the OLED screen indoors. Contrast is user-adjustable on MobiBLU's B153, and the difference is noticeable between 1 and 10.
After an approximate four-hour charge through my computer's USB port, the 1600 mAh battery was ready for use. Using pretty much a proprietary cable again, I must say that if you lose this cable, you are pretty much out of luck. As I mentioned earlier, the B153 has more than enough room to accommodate a standard digital camera USB connector as used on many digital audio players such as my Creative Zen Micro as well as... most digital cameras.
If you are travelling, and that you are planning to listen a lot, you might want to consider a ZIP-LINQ USB Power Adapter if you aren't bringing a laptop along.
Although no special software is required for copying songs to and from this player since Windows 2000 or later will detect it as a universal mass storage device, a lyrics management program called Lyrics Manager is included on CD. Lyrics Manager allows you to tag your songs and display song lyrics on the screen as you play your tunes. During my lyrics search, I had no problems finding lyrics information and tagging songs from Linkin Park, but failed to find anything for my Yellowcard files.
While I like the whole lyrics display idea, the biggest problem is that I cannot get it to work on the B153. For some reason, in Lyric Manager's model selection menu, I can select any MobiBLU model, see and tag the songs on my B153, EXCEPT when I select DAH-1900 (Another name for B153) from the menu in which the file viewer instantly becomes blank and cannot view any of my tracks. For testing purposes, I tagged the songs on my B153 under every model possible from the menu, but without luck, probably because tags for other models aren't compatible with each other. Until they fix this problem, I would not consider lyrics display as a feature as it does not work.
FM radio was pretty good. Receiving signal was strong and consistent. A nice nifty feature on MobiBLU's B153 that I haven't seen in other players is a signal strength indicator on the FM radio screen. Basically self-explanatory, the signal strength indicator indicates FM radio signal strength. Buzzes while listening to the radio were rare, and background noise was only limited by FM radio technology itself. The B153 also features FM recording with direct encoding up to 160kbps MP3.
A condensed mic is also located on board the B153. When you have your earbuds or headphones plugged in while recording, you can directly hear what you are recording through your sound output device; a great feature. When recording in relatively quiet environments, recording quality is fair with a noticeable amount of hissing in the background. You can change the microphone gain in Settings to suit your surrounding environment (Use less gain in environments with more noise, etc). Recording quality in noisy environments is reasonable, but unfortunately you'll have to remove the B153 from the case to use the mic since MobiBLU's included case covers the mic. Microphone recordings will be directly encoded to MP3 file format, from 64kbps to 160Kbps.
The B153 plays standard audio file formats such as MP3, WMA and WMA with DRM. Since most of my files are in WMA format, I don't have a problem. It does not support Ogg Vorbis and such, but majority of digital audio players does not support it either. That would have been a good feature, although not significant enough to draw points away from the B153.
Line-in recording with direct encoding up to 160kbps MP3 is also supported through the player's USB port and a special included cable. You can record directly from sources such as a CD player. Like recording with a mic, you can hear what you are recording by plugging your headphones or earbuds into the player's headphone jack. From our tests, quality was subliminal. Signal from certain frequencies were not picked up, making the song sound very weird and annoying since it suddenly becomes quiet in the background, and instruments all of a sudden plays again (Signal inconsistencies). In addition to that, recorded volume was nowhere near as loud as the input signal when compared to what we heard during our recording with headphones plugged in. In fact, it was way too weak for my likings since I had to max out the volume on the B153 to listen to what I recorded, and even at that point it's not loud enough (Total output with our recorded file using line-in at 30/30 volume on the B153 was about the same as 10/30 on our originals). Please note that I usually listen to my music at less than 30% on my Creative Zen Micro 6GB, so I am not a volume-obsessed person with significantly damaged ears.
Boot up times were improved significantly when compared to the DAH-1500i. From the time of pressing the power button until it is ready to play a song, it took 4.23 seconds. On our shutdown tests, the B153 took 2.11 seconds from the time we press the power button until B153's screen goes completely blank.
Moving on, let's check file performance tests with my 'super-ultra-1337' computer:
AMD Athlon 64 3000+ S754 Newcastle @ Stock 2.00GHz (Cool & Quiet ENABLED)
Arctic Cooling Freezer64 Pro
Asus K8V-X Motherboard
Corsair 2x512MB, Single Channel, DDR400 @ 2.5-3-3-8
Western Digital 80GB 7200RPM 8MB Cache (NTFS)
ATI All-In-Wonder Radeon 9800 Pro
Arctic Cooling VGA Silencer Rev. 3 @ 2400 RPM
Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2
Pioneer DVR-108 Multiformat DVD Burner
Liteon 16x DVD Drive
Thermaltake Matrix VX
OCZ Modstream 450W PSU
Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2
Our first series of tests compares real life transfer speeds, using Windows Explorer.
Write means copying from the test file from our test system to the device.
Copy means to copy the file from the reference device to our test system.
Move means to move the file from the reference device to our test system.
Our test system's hard drive is formatted using NTFS file system, while MobiBLU's DAH-1500i uses its default file format (FAT32) along with MobiBLU's B153 using FAT (Also its default file system) and the Creative Zen Micro 5GB connected as an MTP device. This will represent performance as close to real life as possible, since this is likely of how you will transfer songs.
We used a total of sixty (60) non-DRM WMA files, which totals to be 243MB, in our following two tests. The results used below were obtained from our previous review here which is ran under the exact same tests, with the exact same methods, with the same computer. The only thing that's change on our computer is the case, which would have absolutely no effect on our tests since every single component inside has not been changed.
Moving files were not supported by the Zen Micro in MTP mode therefore appeared as '0' on the graphs below.
Transfer times - LOWER the better.
Transfer rates - HIGHER the better.
As you can see in our tests above, the B153's really suffers in our write tests; taking 140.64 seconds to write 60 files totalling 243MB means a below average write speed of 1.73MB/s. When compared to the DAH-1500i's write speed of 2.05MB/s and Creative Zen Micro 5GB's 3.04MB/s score, 1.73MB/s isn't much to show.
Things changed during our read tests. Copying at 5.62MB/s, the B153 ran past Creative Zen Micro 5GB's 56 second score which translates to 4.34MB/s transfer rate. Moving our test files took the MobiBLU B153 23.67 seconds; an incredible 10.27MB/s which outperformed its predecessor's 8.55MB/s score.
Let's take a look at our HDTach results. We were actually pretty surprised that HDTach results weren't too close to our Windows Explorer tests as they are usually very close in our previous reviews.
As you can see in our graph above, the B153 (Red line) clearly beats the DAH-1500i (Blue line) in terms of read performance. Click on the screenshot above to view more details.
CPU utilization as well as random access is nearly identical with my Sandisk Cruzer Mini 512MB. However, the Cruzer Mini consistently beats the MobiBLU B153 by nearly 1MB/s in our read tests.
While you won't find many reviews on digital audio players this detailed on file performance, it gives a general idea of how fast it takes to transfer files from your computer to your DAP and back. Unless you change the songs on your digital audio player every day, the relatively slow file transfer rates of MobiBLU's B153 shouldn't bother you too much.
In terms of sound performance, I used my Shure E2c for our tests. During our tests, I noticed almost no background hiss, although it is possible to hear it while listening very carefully 3:00 AM. What I mean is that it is only possible to hear it in very silent environments.
EQ presets on the MobiBLU B153 weren't to my likings. All of them either stresses too much on treble or bass. A custom EQ weren't there, I though this player has pretty much poor audio performance...
Until I figured out in the Settings menu, it is possible to take and modify the presets to my likings. Custom EQ in action now!
After configuring the equalizer to our desired setting, we went through a wide variety of music -- from classic instrumental music to the latest rock hits, testers at APH Labs compared and discussed performance and we came to the following conclusion:
There wasn't any artifacting in our bass tests on the B153. However, the amount didn't blow us away either; it did not match performance offered on my new, latest generation, and improved Creative Zen Micro 6GB (Bye bye, first gen 5GB version!). Midrange was average, but not as 'clean' as I hoped -- pretty close to MobiBLU DAH-1500i's performance. Treble was okay, but didn't go as high and clean as the Zen Micro 6GB.
For treble, midrange, and bass separation, the B153 performed fairly well. Although better than its predecessor, the DAH-1500i, my Creative Zen Micro 6GB's was still better in this category.
In general, music performance on the B153 weren't impressive and did not blow us away. We had to admit that it is slightly better than the 'cube' (Which is by far smaller than the B153), but sound reproduction still cannot match our Creative Zen Micro 6GB, where both has pretty close physical dimensions (Zen Micro uses a hard drive, B153 uses flash memory. There's enough room for a better audio processor on the B153). Bass and treble wasn't as good as the Zen Micro 6GB, and midrange wasn't as clean as well.
Output power was similar to the MobiBLU DAH-1500i. After our equalizer adjustment, volume of the B153 at 12/30 is approximately the same as my Zen Micro 6GB at 8/25.
SRS WOW is also available on the MobiBLU B153. For those who don't know, SRS WOW is a combination of SRS TruSurround and SRS TruBass. When SRS (Any setting; TruBass, TruSurround or WOW) is enabled, user EQ will be disabled. Unfortunately, while the whole SRS WOW thing sounds cool (And great for marketing), it distorts the sound on the B153 (But not as bad and significant as on the MobiBLU DAH-1500i).
Ok, we saved the best for the last. You must have been wondering if the MobiBLU B153 really lives up to its incredible 153 hour battery life rating! After weeks of testing (and the delaying of this review), we finally got the result -- and this was a very hard result to obtain since it takes us theoretically more than six days of continuous draining to actually bring the battery down once. Heck, I even went to Calgary for one weekend and back without even turning off the B153 off once -- it just stayed turned on the whole trip, whether I was listening to it or not.
After adding up the numbers, our results indicate the B153 lasted (Drumroll) exactly 130 hours. The test were ran under the following conditions:
- OLED screen turns off after five seconds. We had a moderate amount of song skipping.
- Custom equalizer was on
- Non-DRM WMA files at 128Kbps were used in our tests.
- Volume was set between 7/30 to 14/30, where most of the time it's on 14/30.
- Shure E2c earbuds were used.
Although missing 23 hours from its specifications, this is still 85% of the rated battery life, which is still reasonable. 130 hours of battery life means approximately 5 days and 10 hours of continuous play! Or, if you were to listen to the B153 for four hours a day, one charge will last you over one month.
Though outfitted with a downright incredible battery life, and a brand new approach to firmware flashing, the B153 failed to impress us in other areas. Unimpressive looks, proprietary cables, line-in feature that doesn't work very well, case that blocks out functions, controls that takes a while to get used to (Although a very good manual is included to compensate), a plethora of firmware bugs, unfavored way of displaying ID3 tags, and OLED screen that is nearly impossible to read under sunlight sure turned us away. As a digital audio player, sound performance failed to impress, for one thing, due to its size because it can accommodate a better audio processor. It has a very clear advantage -- battery life. However, its obvious disadvantages should not be ignored nor overlooked.
Special thanks to Bob and Aaron over at MobiBLU for making this review possible.
Warning: According to many of our readers as well as our investigation, MobiBLU's support is virtually non-existent as they take a long time or don't reply to emails at all. Please take this into consideration before purchasing this player; because if you are to run into any problems in the future, chances are that you will not get an replacement. The rating below is our original rating and support was not a factor of that score at the time of review.
Note: The number ratings below has been adjusted accordingly to comply with our new Number Rating System.
What do these ratings mean?
Absolutely incredible battery life, but has firmware issues; aesthetics and sound performance failed to impress as well. Looking forward to MobiBLU's next improved product!