Two keys to creating a successful consumer-electronics product are simplicity and intuitiveness. Dell has accomplished both in its Dell Digital Jukebox (DJ). Released in October 2003, the DJ mirrors all the aspects that have made the Apple iPod successful. It has a sleek design, an easy-to-read 2" backlit display, long battery life, and simple scrolling navigation by way of a barrel roller. However, the most important feature of the Dell DJ is probably its affordable price: The 15GB version is available for $249, and the 20GB version for $50 more.

Upon opening the box, the first thing I noticed was the number of accessories that come standard with the player. Included are a remote control, a slipcase, headphones, a USB cable, a two-piece AC adapter, and the installation software and manuals. The second thing I noticed was the density of the device. The Dell DJ is small and compact, but it definitely feels solid and sturdy, weighing in at 7.6 ounces. The brushed-metal look of the casing is very attractive and adds to the unit's solid feel. The barrel roller, which instantly became my primary means of navigation, is located in the center of the unit, below the display, and is easily accessible whether you're a left- or right-thumbed driver. The face of the unit also features a home button, a back button, and a play/pause button, as well as skip-forward and skip-backward controls. The volume controls are located on the side of the unit, along with the power button. All of the controls are backlit, solid, and easy to use. I had no trouble blindly stopping and starting the player, adjusting the volume, and powering it down.

Detailed Tech Specs
Storage: 15 GB storage
Battery: Up to 16 hours
Display: 2-inch LCD with blue backlight
Capacity: Over 3700 songs (128kps)
File Formats: MP3, WMA, WAV
Dimensions: 4.1" x 2.7" x 0.86"
Weight: 7.61 oz
Dell Digital Jukebox with Accessories
The DJ supports MP3, WMA, and WAV audio formats. You get the standard browsing methods, which include album, artist, track, genre, and playlist. You can create DJ playlists on the fly, without needing a PC connection. For someone like me, this feature is quite convenient. I tend to transfer all the music I can to my player, then sort it out later. As I purchase new music, I simply add it to the player, then create playlists when I listen to it for the first time. Several Shuffle and Repeat modes are available, but a major flaw is the inability to select continuous play without a playlist. To listen to all the music in your library, you must create a playlist that includes every album on your DJ. Hopefully, Dell can correct this problem with a firmware upgrade at some point.

For managing your music through your PC, the DJ is packaged with MusicMatch software. Having MusicMatch bundled with the player introduces several advantages, the most apparent of which is access to the MusicMatch library. You can purchase songs for $.99 each, with most full albums costing about $9.99. MusicMatch is the only way you can transfer audio files to the DJ, which is frustrating for users who like to use Windows Explorer to manage all their devices. The DJ shows up as a removable drive in Explorer, but you can transfer only data files to the device. In an effort to prevent piracy, the DJ doesn't let you upload audio files from the DJ to PC.

Dell Digital Jukebox - Front ViewOne of the DJ's most impressive features is its outstanding battery life. A fully charged battery will last as long as 16 hours—twice the life of the iPod battery. The device includes an internal microphone, and I'm still trying to figure out why. You can record voice input through the mic, but you can't transfer your recorded files off the device to your PC, making it just about as useless as a mic can be. Another interesting but useless aspect of the mic is the record display. Level meters fluctuate with the volume, but you have no way to control mic sensitivity. Again, I'm not sure why Dell bothered to invest in this piece of hardware and the software to support it.

The case that comes with the player is a solid slipcover that obstructs access to most of the controls. The included in-line remote control helps alleviate this problem by providing access to a limited number of controls.

The DJ has eight predefined EQ settings, as well as four-band graphical equalizer that lets you create a custom EQ. Or course, you must upgrade your headphones if you want to actually reap the rewards of tweaking and configuring your EQ settings. The ear-bud headphones that come with the player are inadequate for generating high-quality sound.

Dell has created an excellent player at an attractive price that merits comparison to the iPod. Although the iPod is still the leader of the pack, the DJ isn't far behind.

Connected Home Magazine: Editors Choice Award 2004
Connected Home Magazine Rating (10 possible)
Design Ease of Use Performance Overall
8 9 8 8