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A sweet note for stressed out IT pros

Strom Tip: A sweet note for stressed out IT pros

Category: Digital Music Player
Name of tool: Nomad Jukebox C
Company name: Creative Labs Inc.
Price: $270 online store
Windows platforms supported: 2000, Me, 98, NT
Quick description:
Portable digital music player that will get you lots of attention when you bring it out.

**** = Very cool, very useful

Key features:

Organize and listen to your music on the road in a small and nicely designed package.

Somewhat complex operation.
Battery life could use some improvements.


I know many of my reviews have focused on tools that help you with your professional IT lives. But sometimes stressed out Windows administrators need a break from the daily grind of keeping their companies' networks and systems humming. What better way than to listen to some music CDs? Only trouble, you don't want to cart your entire collection around, or even a small subset to the office. A better solution is to make a digital copy of your music, and download it to a music player.

In the past year, several of these devices have sprouted up. They range from products that store music on flash memory to more capable devices that have more storage. My favorite is still the Nomad Jukebox C from Creative Labs. While the software and battery life could use some improvements, it is still the best way to take your music on the road. Its sonic quality is first rate, and while a bit pricey, you can't beat the convenience.

The Nomad Jukebox C is the latest in a series of portable digital music devices from Creative. The company sells other less capable devices that don't have their own hard disks, so they can't really hold much in the way of music storage. Just to give you an idea, an entire CD's worth of music can take up 60 to 75M bytes of disk space. The Nomad C looks like a portable CD player until you proceed to pick it up -- it is much heavier, because it includes either a 5G or 20G byte hard drive inside the unit. That gives it plenty of room to store your music. Depending on the compression routines you use to convert files from CDs to various digital formats, you can hold more than 100 CDs worth of tunes. The Nomad supports a wide variety of file formats, including MP3s and Windows Media Formats.

And unlike a portable CD player, you can carry it around without having to worry about it skipping if it gets bumped or moved. It is the perfect accompaniment on the plane for road warriors when you don't have the energy or the space to drag out your laptop, and don't want to watch some bad movie for the 18th time.

Loading up your jukebox will take a series of steps. First, you have to convert your CDs to digital files. You can do this with the included software, called Creative Playcenter, although my favorite still remains the Musicmatch Jukebox software. Then you have to transfer the files from your PC to the Nomad's hard disk, via a USB cable and software. The process isn't complex, but it will take a while to move all this data. (It took me about two minutes to move 25M bytes of music or five songs from my Windows Me 200 MHz Dell to the player.)

Creative has done a decent engineering job. Earlier versions of the Nomad player had plenty of bugs and took forever to transfer music. These problems seem to be fixed with the more recent versions of the PlayCenter software. And once you buy a Nomad, you can easily download updates from its Web site, something you should do when you get your player in any event.

The controls for the Nomad are fairly simple to operate. It comes with a small LCD display and a series of buttons that will be obvious to anyone who has ever operated a stereo or portable CD player. You can search for music by just about any parameter such as artist or album name or song title. It's also a snap to set up playlists of favorite songs either on the unit itself or by typing in the information from your PC's keyboard in the Playcenter software, and then transferring the list into the player.

One of Nomad's latest enhancements is its ability to use PlayCenter to transfer the contents of organized audio file folders to the Nomad itself. What is particularly nice for those of you who collect audio CDS and put them into a file format is the fact that you can retain your folder information and organization from your PC to the Jukebox.

One item that is big on my wish list is better battery life. The Nomad uses rechargeable batteries, and they don't last longer than a couple of hours of continuous play. But more importantly, the battery life indicator on the unit could use some work as well: it drops quickly from, say 67% available life to practically nothing.

All in all, this is a very capable piece of gear. If you have lots of stress in your professional life, or do lots of traveling, it's something you'll want to have along for the ride.

Click here for a more detailed analysis of digital music from Strom's Web Informant.

Strom-meter key:
**** = Very cool, very useful
*** = Hey, not bad. One notch below very cool
** = A tad shaky to install and use but has some value.
* = Don't waste your time. Minimal real value.

Bio: David Strom is president of his own consulting firm in Port Washington, NY. He has tested hundreds of computer products over the past two decades working as a computer journalist, consultant, and corporate IT manager. Since 1995 he has written a weekly series of essays on web technologies and marketing called Web Informant. You can send him email at

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