Sungale’s Sub-par Portable Media Player

I have plenty of questions about the new Sungale Cyberus ID700WTA portable media player. Why does this device have so much trouble connecting to my wireless network? Why do my video clips continually skip and stutter when I’m playing them back? Why is the touchscreen so hard to use?

But most of all, why would anyone pay $279 for this device?

On paper, the Cyberus ID700WTA “Smart Info Engine” sounds great. It’s a portable media player/e-book reader with a big 7-inch color touchscreen. It plays back photos and videos, as well as audio tracks in a variety of formats such as AVI, MPEG4, DVIX, XVID, WMA, JPG, BMP, TIFF and PNG. It has wireless Internet access, and allows you to watch video from YouTube, listen to IP radio, check weather, get news updates and driving directions, check your Gmail, and look at photos from Picasa.

And the device looks good out of the box. It comes wrapped in a handy leather case (my test unit came in a black case, but brown and white also are available) and is light and comfortable to hold. It comes with an AC charger for powering up, and Sungale says it will offer three to four hours of battery life once fully charged.

The Smart Info Engine also comes with a mini USB cord for connecting to your PC. Once I made the connection, though, I started to notice the device’s flaws. One of its biggest drawbacks is its included software, called File Converter, for transferring content over to the player. The app’s interface is downright ugly, which would be acceptable if the app were usable, but it’s not.

The File Converter software should, conceivably, convert files to the right format for you. I’m not just going on the name alone here: The software has a button that says “Convert.” But each time I pressed it, nothing happened — until the software froze on me. I thought I might have better luck with the app’s other option: “AddFile.” And I did, to an extent — it added my content to the list, eventually. But it was incredibly slow to respond, and several times the app just froze up on me. Each time, I had to force-quit the application, and finally resorted to transferring content over using Windows Explorer.

Once I managed to get the content on the Smart Info Engine, I was hoping things would go a little more smoothly. I was wrong. When you turn on the device, you’re presented with two options: Link to Internet or Go to Main Menu. I attempted to connect to my home wireless network, which is protected with a WEP password. But the Smart Info Engine wouldn’t connect — it kept giving me an error message. I was able to connect to my neighbor’s unsecured Wi-Fi network without a problem, though. (And, yes: I double-, triple-, and quadruple-checked that I was entering the correct password.) Sungale provided me with a firmware update for the device, but this did not correct the problem. It said the issue was likely due to a flaw with my home network setup, but I have since been able to connect multiple other devices with no problem.

Once connected, you’re instructed to proceed to the main menu, which is a bit, well, basic looking. It features small square icons for the various features of the device — almost in the style of an iPhone. But the design lacks the finesse of an iPhone, even though the 7-inch, 480×800 pixel screen should be up to the task.

You tap on the icons to access various features, like YouTube or Gmail, but the touchscreen is not nearly as responsive as I would like. Prepare to push hard. The Smart Info Engine also lacks a stylus, which would have been helpful, as some of the text you have to tap is small, particularly when you’re using an onscreen keyboard.

Once you access YouTube, you can browse available videos in categories like Top Rated and Top Favorites Today. You can access your own YouTube account, but I couldn’t find any way to search the site. And you’re not actually seeing the YouTube site; you’re seeing a list of videos reformatted for viewing on this device. Once I played back videos, though, most looked surprisingly good. I noticed some occasional stuttering, but nothing terrible.

I wish I could say the same about watching the videos I had actually stored on the device. I transferred a couple of titles to the device itself and loaded some videos on an SD card that I inserted into the available slot. Finding the content was a breeze, but when I played it back, it looked awful. My video constantly skipped, and often was too pixilated to be viewed at all. And despite the fact that the Smart Info Engine has a big 7-inch screen, video plays back in a smaller window that looks to be about 3.5 inches diagonally. Why not just use the whole screen?

That’s yet another question about this device, but the answer seems to be: just don’t buy it.