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Digital Foci Media Buddy (Portable Picture Storage) Review
by Ben Stafford -  1/12/2006
Introduction

The Digital Foci (pronounced "foe-sigh") Media Buddy is a lower cost alternative to their Picture Porter Personal Data Manager. To keep costs down, the Media Buddy provides a backlit, text-based LCD instead of the color LCD on the Picture Porter. The Media Buddy is available in 30GB-80GB capacities, starting at $229.95.

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In the Box

In the box, you will find the Media Buddy, USB cable, ear bud style headphones, AC adapter, user's guide, Ulead Photo Explorer 8.5 SE (windows only), and leather carrying case. The Ulead software, drivers for Windows 98, SE, 2000 and Mac 8.6, 9.x are included on the resource disc.

Features

Let's start with what I consider the main purpose of the device. The Media Buddy's main function is to act as a portable data storage device for digital media. In our case, we're interested in it to free up space on our digital camera's memory card or to backup the images on the memory card. The Media Buddy can handle the following card formats: CompactFlash I/II, MicroDrive, Smart Media, Multi-Media Card, Secure Digital Card, Memory Stick, MS PRO, MS Duo, and MS PRO Duo. The built-in card reader can transfer content from the memory cards with a USB 2.0 interface onto the internal 2.5 inch hard drive. You can get the Media Buddy in 30GB, 40GB, 60GB, and 80GB versions.

A backlit, text only 2.4 inch LCD screen provides details about the files on the internal hard drive or any removable media cards. You can't view pictures on this screen, but you can see the filenames. The LCD also displays copy progress information and other system status messages.

Each time a card is copied to the internal hard drive, a new folder is created on the Media Buddy. The folders are named for the type of media and are sequentially numbered. For instance, when you copy files from a Compact Flash card, a folder titled "CF0001" is created. If you take the same card out, put it back in, and copy again, it creates a new folder called "CF0002". Also, you can choose to copy a whole card or just a single file from a memory card. Then, when you attach the Media Buddy to your computer via an included USB cable, you can see each folder that was created on the device.

The Media Buddy can also be used as an MP3 player. A headphone jack along the side of the device allows you to listen in. There is no built-in speaker.

A built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery provides 1.6 hours of battery life.

Design and Build Quality

The Media Buddy is not small, about the size of a small paperback book. The official dimensions are 5.8" (L) x 3.4" (W) x 1" (H) and weighs in at 11.2 ounces. It is available in three colors: powder blue, pearl gray, and artic silver.

The front of the device has the LCD and three buttons. The Auto key provides a one-press function to copy images. The Play/Enter key allows you to play MP3s or to drill into a directory on the hard drive or memory card. Finally, the Stop/Cancel key stops MP3 playback or navigates you out of a directory up to the parent directory.

On the left side of the device are two buttons to increase and decrease volume and then two buttons for Scroll Up and Scroll Down. The slot for Compact Flash cards or a micro drive is on this side as well.

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On the right side of the device, you can plug in the AC adapter, the headphones, and USB cable. A Reset button also resides on this side in case you need it. Also on this side, you can insert the SD/MMC, Memory Stick and Smart Media cards.

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The power button is along the top of the device.

As far as build quality, the Media Buddy has a solid feel to it. The case is rigid and buttons are easy to depress. All the buttons are raised above the surface of the body. I didn't take it apart to see if there was any shock absorption for the hard drive, but I did notice that the screen wasn't "square" in the body's plastic window that is above the LCD. Not too disconcerting, but when you see something like that, you wonder if it's been dropped and jarred loose. As always with a device with moving parts, it's a concern about how shock-proof it will be. However, if this device is used as one that you only pull out of your bag when you need to make space on your camera's memory card, then the chances of a drop are very low.

The included carry case is a bit bulky, but it has room to carry the headphones, USB cable and any other small supplies (like memory cards) that you may need.  All jacks/slots are still accessible while the device is in the case.

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Performance

Transferring images from a memory card is very simple -- insert a card and click the "Auto" button. Images will start transferring immediately. During transfer, the display tells you how many files have copied and a completion percentage for each file. An animated arrow shows the device transferring from you media to the hard drive. You can also spend a few more button presses to drill into a folder on your memory card and just transfer the files in that folder or a single specific file.

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Once hooked up to your computer, the device acts like a USB mass storage device. Browse the folders, move files back and forth, create new folders, etc. Transfer time was on par with other USB 2.0 devices.

MP3 playback worked well. It's not the best use of a device like this with the limited battery life, but if you want to, I won't stop you. The device can only play one folder's worth of MP3s at a time, so you can't play files that are in a subdirectory of the directory that you're in. If you want a "playlist", then you need to create a folder with all the files you want in that particular playlist. If your MP3s are organized in folders by album name, you can only play one album at a time. You can tell the player to repeat by using the Auto button.

There were a couple things about the device that I didn't like. First off, the device didn't show long file names (see correction below). So, for a Led Zeppelin MP3, I saw "LEDZEP~1" for the folder name and "LEDZEP~1.MP3" for the first track. The User's Guide showed a screenshot of long file names, but I didn't see them on the device. The other thing that I didn't like is that the device didn't tell you how many files were on a memory card. During transfer, I saw the number of images completed, but by not knowing the total number of images left, I wasn't able to tell how much longer I had to go.

CORRECTION: Regarding long file names - There is a file in the root directory of the hard drive that is titled Gdfont.gd3 that allows long file names to be displayed.  When I received the unit, I deleted the file thinking that it was something that shouldn't be there.  So, if you want long file names, then leave this file in place.  If you inadvertantly delete it, it is located on the Resource Disc included in the package.

Conclusion

The Digital Foci Media Buddy does a good job of what, I think, is its main goal in life. That is, to provide a higher capacity storage device for your digital images and movies. It also does this at a very reasonable price point. The 30GB model runs for $229 and the 80GB model run for $309. If you're going on vacation and you're not taking a computer, a device like this can come in handy. If you have limited storage on your memory cards or you just want to backup the images, the Media Buddy provides an easy to use, no nonsense way to accomplish this.

Pros

Cons

Where to Buy

Probably the best place to find the Media Buddy (and its bigger brother, the Digital Porter) is Digital Foci's website at www.digitalfoci.com.