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The Rome MP3: Portable MP3 player—with a twist
by Jer "Azonic" Davis

The story begins
I've been a fan of MP3s for quite a while now. I've even gone as far as converting our entire CD collection to the format, as well as building a CAJUN system for my Chevy S10 Blazer.

I'm sure you've all seen the various portable digital music devices that have been released over the past year or so. Starting with the Diamond Rio, and continuing through literally dozens of players, all very similar in design to each other.

Well, a while ago while, flipping through an issue of "Portable Computing" magazine, I came across an article detailing several of the portable MP3 playing devices currently on the market, and one of them really caught my eye.

First impressions
When my RomeMP3 player finally arrived, I was really excited! Being the impatient person I am, I couldn't wait to tear into the package and start playing with my shiny new toy. After getting the shipping box open, I was greeted by a nicely designed retail box. After admiring the pretty box for about 1.5 seconds, I returned to the task at hand and pulled out the inner packaging. The Rome package includes the player itself, a 1.2v rechargeable battery, battery charger, parallel port data cable for transferring your files, a CD-ROM, the instruction manual, and a pair of ear-bud style headphones.

When you first receive your RomeMP3 player, you're supposed to charge the battery for a full 3 hours. I didn't. Like most of us would, I wanted to play with this sucker immediately. Unfortunately I ran into a few snags, so I ended up sticking the battery in the charger. I then tried to forget about my new toy until it was time to go home.

The software
The software that ships with the RomeMP3 player claims it's compatible with Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows NT. That wasn't entirely the case. At the time I got the Rome, the only NT software available was far from functional. It was unable to connect to the Rome, and despite all of my efforts, I just couldn't make it work. I was thwarted again when I got home. My primary workstation at home runs Windows 2000, which at the time was not supported at all. Fortunately, a week or so later Rome sent me newer versions of the Rome Manager software that worked correctly with Windows NT and Windows 2000.

The Rome Manager software is very simple and easy to use. Just browse through your computer using the explorer-style tree on the left side, select a few MP3 files, and download them to the Rome. Because the Rome uses a parallel port cable for transfers, it can take a while to move music to and from the player. This arrangement was only slightly annoying, and isn't much different from most other portable MP3 players on the market.

The player: solo
One of the things that impressed me most about the Rome was its unique design. This is what originally caught my eye in the magazine article, and what makes the Rome stand out in the sea of candy-colored plastic that comprises most other portable MP3 players. The Rome itself is slim and lightweight. The unique design makes it very easy to carry in one hand or stuff into a shirt pocket.

The UP-301 model player that I received is the first in a line of RomeMP3 players. This model comes standard with 32MB of memory, a small compartment for the slim, 1.2v rechargeable battery, and your standard assortment of control buttons. Along the top edge of the Rome you'll find your most commonly used controls, such as: play, stop, fast forward, rewind, volume controls, and a "hold" button. The "hold" button functions much like the hold feature on a portable CD player; when activated, it keeps you from accidently triggering one of the other player functions. Along one side of the player you'll find the 1/8 inch stereo headphone jack, as well as controls for intro, menu, EQ, A-B, repeat, and random.

I rarely used any of the more advanced controls, mostly because the only display that the UP-301 has is a single LED on the front of the player. This LED communicates the current state of the Rome by blinking in some bizarre, morse-code like way. A small LCD display would have made using some of these more advanced controls much easier. Despite the lack of a traditional display, the Rome was very easy to use.

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