Review and Tips for Nomad Jukebox
Originally written April 2002. See below for comments added since.
The Nomad Jukebox is an awful product. Please don't buy one. If you already own one, see the tips below on this page. If you don't already own one, see the review below for an explanation on why you shouldn't get one.
I recently acquired a Jukebox and was so under-impressed by it that I decided to write this review. My Jukebox was purchased for me as a Christmas present in Christmas 2001. I rapidly realised how bad it was, and by April 2002, it had stopped working entirely. It refused to boot up. I returned it and luckily got my money back without question (mainly because it was bought from Amazon.co.uk, who provide fantastic customer service).
The Creative Nomad Jukebox is called the Nomad Jukebox in the U.S.A. and the D.A.P. Jukebox in other parts of the world (in particular, Europe). Don't ask me why. It's a shame because it causes confusion. But the two products are identical. I will refer to it as simply the Jukebox on this page.
If any of the information on this page is inaccurate, or you have something useful to add, please let me know.
The Creative Jukebox is an portable MP3 player with an internal 6GB hard disk (though I believe you can now get a 20GB official version, and 30GB and 40GB unofficial versions are available — Update as of 2004-04-04: this no longer seems to be the case), because the internal hard disk is simply a standard 2.5" laptop hard disk). 6GB allows you to store about 100 hours of music at 128kbps (the data rate most people compress MP3s to, and normally adequate I find, though music with lots of percussion can require a higher data rate). Other sample rates can also be used. It has USB file transfer, and you can transfer MP3s onto it via the supplied Creative PlayCenter software, which will also rip CDs and create MP3s from them for you. It will also play WMA (Windows Media Audio) files and can record WAV files using the line in socket. It has a line out socket for attaching to external speakers as well as another line-out socket for attaching to another set of speakers, which you can use in conjunction with Creative's EAX surround-sound feature in the Jukebox.
Unfortunately, the Jukebox and Creative's support for it suffer from many flaws, some of which are annoying and some of which make the device practically unusable. These include:
- Creative's support for the product is terrible. I don't know what their support for other products of theirs is like, but for this it is not good. They do not have a single website for the product, but instead scatter product information over many sites all over the web. This in part is perpetuated by the unnecessary multiple names for the product. Their websites with Jukebox-related information include:
In fact, the support is so terrible that when I first got the Jukebox (as a Christmas gift), it took me almost a week to find out definitively what the latest version of the supplied PlayCenter software was and where to download it from. In the end, I downloaded it from an unofficial site because Creative's download was slow and kept breaking. Their websites comply with very few usability guidelines.
- www.nomadworld.com — The primary U.S. support site. Over-designed, though it does theoretically have some useful downloads.
- www.creativejukebox.com — The European Jukebox site. Not only is it terribly designed (see web design links), but it is more oriented towards selling than supporting the product, with the Q&A section full of patronising excuses for such a terrible product:
Q. Is it possible to skip the introduction?
A. No. The start-up process takes approximately 25 seconds. Seeing an introduction is better than looking at a blank screen.
- asia.creative.com — Appears to contain almost no useful information short from how to buy accessories.
- The supplied Windows software, Creative PlayCenter, is very unreliable and will crash unpredictably. It is over-designed and it attempts to do many of the features of a multimedia front-end, without managing to do any of them well. I cannot comment on the Mac software as I haven't used it.
- The battery life is poor. The player comes supplied with 4 AA long-life batteries, which is what it requires, plus a spare set, and a charger which plugs into the back of the Jukebox. However, the battery life is normally bad (rarely more than 3 hours), and many people have reported even worse battery and charger-related problems.
- The player crashes a lot. It is not uncommon, using the player every day, for it to crash every few days, and have to be reset. This is irritating in the extreme, as it will often crash even in the middle of a track — everything will stop and no button will do anything. The only solution is to use a paper-clip in the reset socket. Sometimes the player also crashes during the startup procedure, for no readily apparent reason, since a reset normally fixes the problem. The startup procedure, incidentally, normally takes about 30 seconds or so with a mostly full Jukebox.
- The player's menu system is badly designed and once again, like Creative's websites, does not conform well to usability guidelines. Also, it is way too slow when you're playing MP3s.
- The player is bulky and heavy. I can't really complain about this, since I was well aware of this before I got it, but it is worth bearing in mind if you are considering buying one.
- The headphones which come with the Jukebox are very cheap and nasty. Plan to replace them.
- Creative provides no support for operating systems other than Microsoft Windows and the Apple Mac. In particular, there is no Linux support — it has been reported that Creative refuse to release specifications for the Jukebox and hence make it difficult for others to even write software for Linux that interacts with the Jukebox. Several projects are underway to develop software for Linux, despite this, but none are yet complete. One promising example is the API for Linux for the Jukebox.
- Their websites contain so much marketing doubletalk that it would be amusing if it weren't for all the other problems the Jukebox suffers from. Examples include (originally from http://uk.europe.creative.com/products/product.asp?prod=110&page=12, a link which Creative have now decided to break):
Q. Is there any plan to release the Jukebox software with Linux support?
A. Not immediately, however we will review OS support going forward and if there is sufficient demand to cover the development costs we will obviously support it. [...]
Q. Is it possible to integrate a bpm (beats per minute) counter into the playback speed function?
A. Creative's technological capabilities are immense, remember we have some of the BEST audio engineers in the world! The key here is not what is possible but what is feasible in terms of timing and pricing. Technically, it's possible to do many things but we felt this product was appealing to so many people, it was worthwhile releasing it now. In the future, we may develop very specific products to suit very specific user's requirements but this depends on costs and market size. [In other words, let's fail to give any useful answer to the question at all, but instead talk about our marketing strategy and how great we are]
Recommendation: Do not buy a Creative Jukebox.
Until recently I had a Jukebox. The following tips describe how I managed to avoid driving myself insane with the poor quality of the product. If you've read this review, but unfortunately you've already got a Jukebox, I recommend the following:
- If you're using Windows, ditch the Creative PlayCenter software. In fact, you may find it more sensible to leave this installed in order to make sure that the appropriate drivers for the Jukebox stay on your system. I believe you can get a package containing just the drivers, but I'm not sure where from. If you are going to leave it on your system, or you even want to use it, I recommend that you upgrade to the latest release of the software (in my experience, the best place to download from is www.nomadness.net — try searching for 'PlayCenter'). To my knowledge, the latest version is 2.5.
- Download MP3 Library from Trapper Software (only available for Windows to my knowledge). This software basically does everything that the Creative PlayCenter does (or at least all the Jukebox-related functions), with considerably less bugs. In fact, I have yet to have it crash. Sometimes it does have a few problems interacting with the Jukebox, but these are generally fixed by rebooting (turning off and then on again) the Jukebox. Thus I suspect these problems are related to the Jukebox itself. Plus, according to the help file, it is freeware. The software is Windows only, but, as mentioned before, at the time of writing, I know of no stable Linux software for the Jukebox. I very much doubt there is any for any other platform (except of course the Mac — the software is supplied with the Jukebox but I know nothing about it).
- Keep the batteries charged. You may find that they don't last as long if you charge them before they've fully run out, but the battery life is so short that if you don't you may find that the batteries run out too often when you most want them not to.
- Update as of 2002-08-29: Apparently there is a beta of version 4 of the firmware which 'vastly' improves the Jukebox's interface. I know nothing about it so cannot say whether this is true. Try it at Nomadness.
- Update as of 2003-02-24: I've received comments about the Nomad 3 from John Lancia, so in the interests of fairness I'm putting them here:
Just to let you know, the Nomad Jukebox 3 is a different beast from the original and a vast improvement over it. I stayed away from the original because of the horror stories about its interface, but I tried out the Jukebox 3 and was quite impressed. It features a scrolling jog wheel that combines search and selection and as you reported the new firmware release made everything even better. The main thing being able to scroll along the full name of tracks and files as opposed to having it cut off after twenty characters. Connectivity rocks with USB and firewire and there is a digital/analog recording port too. As well, if you spend about a half hour on the phone with their tech support (long distance) they can tell you how to reboot or reformat the thing without using the paper-clip. It's crashed about three times on me in the three months that I've owned it. Blah blah blah, I think that if you tried out the new jukebox, you'd find it pretty deck. He also added:
One thing I'm not sure I mentioned is that there is absolutely no copy protection on the Jukebox 3 or the software that it uses. You can install it on as many friends computers that you want with no hassles. This is what decided me on the Jukebox over the iPod. Take that to mean what you will. Personally, I'm still not going to be touching any Creative product from now on, given how they failed me last time. But if anyone does want to comment further on the Nomad 3, I'd be interested to hear your observations.
- Update as of 2003-08-03: Anthony Reina has commented:
You are absolutely correct with your review of this terrible product. It is the worst all 'round.