Review: MusicGremlin's Wi-Fi music player makes iPod look overrated

Thanks to unimpeded capitalism, there are so many music players available that deciding which one to buy might make your head 'splode. In fact, only two players really count — iPod and Zune. Everything else is just marketplace clutter. The question is, can a third player break through? Little-known MusicGremlin is trying to get traction with its MG-1000 player. Since June, it's offered something that Zune only recently did (and iPod never did): Wi-Fi. And, it does it better than Zune.

The Dream
You're at the 'Bucks and you get a sudden craving for Tangerine Dream. You whip out your 8-GB MusicGremlin and use its Wi-Fi to log onto them company's site, where you quickly search for, find, and download some T-Dream. Whew! Crisis averted! Then, when the nearby cute MG girl signals her desire to join you for some techno, you cleverly Wi-Fi a copy of the album over to her. Meanwhile, your gloss-black MusicGremlin, with rubberized cursor control and side panels, and small but highly colorful display, draws admiring glances from everyone. You're the man!

The Reality
At least that's the way it looks in the MusicGremlin commercial. In real life it's not quite like that. For starters, music isn't free. That's because of those damned intellectual property rights people. I, on the other hand, believe that everything should be open source. For example, if someone needs a silver tea set, they should be able to come into your house and take yours.

But I digress. MusicGremlin charges you $14.99 a month for unlimited subscription access, or 99 cents per track. Of course, that's on top of $299 for the player. You can use Wi-Fi to grab music from MG's site or your own computer. Open Wi-Fi is easiest; protected hotspots require passwords, which are a royal pain to enter on the non-keyboard MG. Downloading from the site is pretty quick — a minute or so for a song — and the company's celestial jukebox holds about 2 million songs.

The Gremlin's in the Details
For music socializing, MusicGremlin lets you share subscription music with other MG owners who are on the subscription service, either player-to-player or over the Web. Importing MP3 and WMA files from your PC requires WMP 10 and a USB cable (you can't use Wi-Fi for this, strangely). Nicely, an FM radio is onboard. In the box are an AC charger, USB cable, and earbuds.

You don't need to worry about Wi-Fi messing up sound quality. The bits fly through the air just fine, and quality is determined by the compression ratio of the file itself. The player's fidelity is similar to that of other players, and as with other players, you'll probably throw away the supplied earbuds and buy something better.

At the End of the Day…
MusicGremlin doesn't have the cool form factor of the iPod, or the nice, big screen of the Zune, but its Wi-Fi feature is quite good. À la a cell phone, you just find a signal and get the music. As long as you're buying it and not ripping it, it's easier to pull music from the ether rather than mess with your PC and a USB cable. Either this player is surprisingly good, or the iPod and Zune are overrated.