The HipZip is somewhat of a hybrid, being a product of Iomega's prowess in the area of removable data storage and its occasional foray into the world of multimedia. This portable MP3 player uses tiny removable disks for music storage, and so occupies the no-man's-land between solid state MP3 devices and good old-fashioned CD and MiniDisc machines. And at £289.99, it sports a stinging price tag too.
The HipZip plays MP3 and WMA (Windows Media Audio) tracks directly from Iomega's own 2in square, removable, PocketZip disks. These rebadged Clik! disks seem the ideal vehicle for a portable MP3 solution.
However, the frustration of struggling to fit a whole CD quality MP3 album on to a PocketZip disk's 40Mb maximum capacity, is somehow reminiscent of the days of the low-spec first generation solid state MP3 players (a 128Kbps recording will produce about 1Mb of data for each minute of music). That said, as an MP3 player pure and simple, the HipZip is a more than competent performer.
We were particularly impressed by its refusal to skip even when being shaken relatively violently. It also handles with ease a full range of bit rates and multiple formats (MP3 and WMA). The audio produced is both clear and vibrant. Our only gripe was that our review model suffered from an annoying crackle caused by a loose headphone connection.
At 10.7cm x 7cm x 2.9cm, the HipZip is not the most diminutive of MP3 players. However, its design is both exceptionally easy on the eye and, at 189g with battery, light enough to be carried comfortably in an inside jacket pocket. The unit's buttons are sensibly placed and allow easy access to all necessary controls. Set in the middle of the fascia is a generously sized, backlit LCD for displaying essential information.
The unit is powered by a non-removable rechargeable lithium-ion cell. This may irritate those wishing to keep a couple of fully charged batteries always to hand, but that said, each recharge lasts an impressive 12 hours of playing time.
Transferring files is a painless experience thanks to the combination of the HipZip's USB connection and the excellent MusicMatch software. Additionally, we were particularly taken by the idea of using the unit as a portable data storage device. It is actually possible to download any type of file or document from your office computer, travel home listening to the music files, and finally transfer the computer files to your home PC using just a standard HipZip and a couple of PocketZip disks.
To those who desperately wish to archive their digital music on removable media, the HipZip might well prove a worthwhile investment, after all the price of a PocketZip disk is considerably less than its equivalent compactflash module. Indeed, MP3 enthusiasts who find the discipline of regularly updating the tracks on their portables too demanding, might welcome the ability to just pick up a couple of different disks each time they fancy a change.
These same people may already own a portable MiniDisc recorder/player of course. Fans of WMA tracks encoded at 64Kbps (FM radio quality) might also come to love the HipZip as they will not have to span albums over multiple discs. Ultimately though, Iomega has produced a piece of technology that promises to be the future for digital music while still clinging to the disk-based methods of the past.