I have a confession to make: I am a iPod owner who dislikes his iPod. I don’t hate the iPod; quite the contrary, I really like it but am frustrated by it’s caretaker, Apple. For everything Apple has done right, there’s lots of things that it has done wrong. For example, if you look at the files on the iPod itself you’ll see undecipherable file names for each of your music files. Plus there’s Apple’s Love/Hate relationship with DRM. Then there’s codec limitations. You can listen to MP3, AAC,Protected AAC, Apple Lossless, Audible, WAV and AIFF, but what about open codecs like Ogg Vorbis?? To Apple, there’s no such thing.
So I went in search of something more and thought I found it with the Insignia Pilot, and it’s mostly true. Come along with me as we explore Best Buy’s Insignia Pilot 8GB MP3 Player…
The Insignia Pilot is part of Best Buy’s house brand, and as such it gets no respect. Almost everyone overlooks it, but maybe they shouldn’t. I think it deserves to be on anyone’s short list and is worth picking up.
A little larger than the second generation Nano, the Pilot has a screen that is similar in size to the IPod Classic. Its screen is very resistant to scratches. Mine is about 3 months old at this point and is still scratch free. That’s a testament to the durability of a device that sees nearly 8 hours of use per day, as it’s always with me and is frequently in the same pocket as my keys or cellphone. The face of the Pilot is a fingerprint magnet, but then so is the screen on my iPod.
The Insignia Pilot supports MP3, WMA, WMAPro, WMALossless,Secure WMA, Audible, and Ogg (Tracks will only be recognized in MSC Mode). Audio quality is very good even over the Bluetooth headphones which I will talk about later. Ogg Vorbis files also worked very well. I now download the Ogg versions of Twit, The Linux Link Tech Show, The Linux Action Show and the Lottalinuxlinks Podcast.
The Pilot supports both ID3 tagging and Album Art although I was unable to get Album Art to work consistently. I tried using Easy Tag, iTunes and other tagging programs andbut was unable to get the art to display with any consistency. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t; what was good though, was that if it worked on the file once, it always worked.
Playlists are supported, but on Linux I have yet to figure out how to sync them across. I tried creating a .pls file and moving it across and it sees the playlist, but it won’t play the files in it. On Windows, playlists will sync in both the Best Buy Digital Music Store which is just the Rhapsody Music Service and Windows Media Player. After putting a playlist on it, I tried looking at the file on the player in disc mode and was unable to figure out how to get it working on Linux. This is only a small problem though, as you can just play things a album at a time or create your own playlists on the fly. You won’t be able to save them, but at least you can create them.
Video codecs supported are MP4 and WMV. A note here: MP4 means a Xvid with MP3 Audio in a AVI file. H.264 isn’t supported unfortunately, so most video podcasts will not work if they are set up for the iPod. You can convert them with the video converter that ships with the Pilot which is the ArcSoft Media Converter, or for Linux users you can use mencoder or I used iRiverter to convert the video. Video quality is a bit pixelated, but it does work and is very watchable.
It also has a built in FM radio. Reception was great when using the wired headphones and non existent when using just bluetooth headphones since the antenna for the radio is the headphone cable.
Battery life with Bluetooth on sucked; I mean it was REALLY bad. I would use it on the daily bus ride which is 45 minutes long and by the time I got to work it was down to 2 or 3 lights out of 4. So it would probably last 2-2.5 hours when using the Bluetooth headphones.
Without Bluetooth, I got around 8 hours of battery life.
The upside with using wired headphones will seem apparent when you go on your first plane ride, as it has 2 headphone ports.
It will record line level inputs to a .wav file. Hooking a mic to this without a amp won’t work so using this to record podcasts probably won’t work.
The interface is a bit chunky and seems a bit haphazard; it’s definitely not better than the iPod interface but it works. The mechanical wheel is a bit jerky, and I would much rather had a click wheel. The little rocker on the top is only used for some very limited functions. During playback, this is how you add stars to your tracks similar to the way you would on the iPod. The bad thing is that these aren’t kept at all in mass storage mode which is what I use on Linux. That’s okay as playlist support on mass storage mode is also non existent. The only other buttons there are is the button that takes it back to the top menu at a single button press and the on/off/hold switch.
The thing really holding this device back is it’s firmware. Bugs like the audio sounding like a chipmunk when resuming when using Bluetooth headphones and the LCD wigging out on some tracks can be fixed in firmware. If Best Buy/Insignia can figure this out, I think they have a real winner.
The Insignia Bluetooth Headphones
Not included with the Pilot are the Bluetooth headphones. They are the wrap around style and will charge off of a USB port. They easily paired up with the pilot and my LG enV and the Insignia Pilot. They worked fine for music, but sucked for phone calls; my wife said it sounded like I was in a tin can when I was called, plus there is no noise cancellation.
The right earphone had the controls for volume, forward and backward and the play button which is also the on off switch. You hold the button until it beeps to turn it on or off. When on, the Insignia logo will flash blue. When charging the logo will be red. To pair it with a device, you hold the button a bit longer when turning them on and it will go into discoverable mode with the logo flashing red and blue. The pin on the headphones s 4 zeros. Getting the headset into discoverable mode is a bit tricky, but it works.
When paired with a cell and the pilot and a phone call comes in, the music will pause while you take the call then come back on.
I also tested it with my phones media player and it worked in the same fashion.
Audio quality was good in music mode. RF interference from my microwave would cause the audio to cut out. I would also get the occasional blip when I was waking outside. With that said, the quality is better than I expected. I have used other wireless headphones that are not Bluetooth which were worse, and these are the best wireless headphones I have ever used even with the bugs.
If you need a decent headset for a low price, this is the one for you.
Summary: Insignia Pilot 8GB
While not the greatest MP3 player, you could do alot worse. This is one of the best MP3 players for a Linux person. Even though I had to return it once, it’s worth picking up. It’s available only at Best Buy for $149.99 for the 8 GB model and $119.88 for the 4 GB model.
What I liked: The price is right.
What needs improvement: This needs official Linux support. Best Buy should work with Linux developers or release a spec on how to create playlists on Linux. A player with Ogg Vorbis support should have better Linux support than this does.
Summary: Insignia Bluetooth Headphones
Not the best sounding headphones, but good enough for the price. They do happen to be the best sounding wireless headphones I have ever used. Far better than the non-bluetooth set I tried about 2 years ago. Again, you could spend a whole lot more, but why? Get these headphones. They are available only at Best Buy for $49.99.
What I liked: NO WIRES! They sounded good.
What needs improvement: Needs better noise rejection for voice calls and better interferance rejection when in music mode.