Type: Underwater MP3 player
Specifications: Click here for full specs
Price as reviewed: £119.99
This latest generation underwater MP3 player is Finis' first to feature a separate component housing the electronics. Will having to strap this to your goggles in addition to the two ear-pieces make it much more difficult to use? Read our full review to find out!
I must admit when I first saw the design of this MP3 player my heart sank. As a keen swimmer who likes to listen to music while ploughing up and down the lane of my local pool, I've always favoured Finis' products. Of course there are other products on the market that do the job (ie Speedo's range of Aquabeat MP3 players), but of the great things about the Finis range is that there are only two parts to the product - effectively two ear-pieces, one of which houses the electronics to switch between the tracks and turn the volume up and down. That is, until now.
With the latest incarnation, the Finis Neptune, the US company has effectively taken the electronics out of one of the ear-pieces and put it inside a third component which straps to the back of the goggles (similar in principle to the Speedo Aquabeat). Obviously this creates a bit more drag through the water (not something I'm worried too much about) but more importantly it does make it more fiddly to put on before you swim. When you are desperate to get a lane to yourself before some head up breaststroker spoils your training session those few minutes can make all the difference!
Increased storage capacity
Clearly the main reason for this change of strategy is the Finis Neptune's increased storage capacity. From memory my first blue/white Finis SwiMP3 player had only 512MB of music storage which meant it really couldn't hold that many songs. The yellow/black version before this one (see picture below) was much better with 2GB storage, but I found after continued use for over a year it could no longer hold its charge in the water for more than a few minutes.
By comparison, the Finis Neptune boasts 4GB storage (enough for 1000 songs) and can, so the specs claim, go for 8 hours without needing to be recharged. That's long enough to get at least half way across the channel if you are feeling really ambitious. Another key difference is that previous players plugged straight into your PC or USB wall charger (not provided). This one has a separate USB lead, presumably to prevent corrosion of the USB points which can stop the device charging at all after a period of time, especially in heavily chlorinated pools.
Drag and drop
As you would expect from any MP3 player, loading the device up with songs is simplicity itself. Just connect the USB adaptor lead to your PC or Mac (OS9 or higher) and drag them across into the Finis folder. The Neptune is compatible with non protected MP3s and WMA files but if you have AAC files from iTunes then you will need to convert them in iTunes first. Protected MP3/AAC and WMA files can't be played.
One key benefit of the Finis Neptune is that, unlike previous models, it comes with a digital display built into the main unit. At first I thought what's the point of this given that the component is going to sit on the back of your head throughout your swim. But actually it's pretty useful to check battery levels (I've been caught out several times with the MP3 player dying during my swim) and also to choose what music you listen to before setting off. In order to save battery power, the display automatically switches off after about 20 seconds.
Ease of use
At the beginning of this review I made a big deal about how important ease of use is with these devices and how you need to be able to strap them on quickly and simply while in the water. And that the key advantage of previous Finis SwiMP3 models compared to rivals like the Speedo Aquabeat is that you don't have to attach a separate piece of electronics to the back of your head.
Well, I still think that's true. But I must admit I got used to attaching the Finis Neptune to my goggles much quicker than I thought. Importantly, unlike the Speedo Aquabeat which threads through the goggles strap like a belt through a belt loop (believe me, not easy when it's on the back of your head) the Finis Neptune simply clips down onto the back of your goggles like a peg hanging the washing out on the line. Similarly, the ear-pieces which are a bit smaller than those on previous models (presumably because they don't house the electronics) clip up onto the goggles using a much sturdier and springier grip than earlier units. Why the ear-pieces clip up onto the goggles strap and the MP3 component clips down at the back of the head I'm not quite sure. In addition to the digital display on the main unit there's also a play/pause button on one of the ear-pieces, in case you want to pause briefly to speak to another swimmer or lifeguard. You could do this on previous models too, but it's a much bigger button and therefore much easier to activate in the water. Bone conduction technology
Generally listening to music under water can be a quite underwhelming experience. Conventional earphones are difficult to put in your ear in the first place and tend to slip and slide all over the place as you are swimming, thereby impairing sound quality.
The great thing about the Finis ear pieces is that they are not only much sturdier than standard ear buds they also work much more effectively by conducting sound through your bones to your inner ear. This means that although they don't sound great on land, underwater they really come into their own. And although Finis has been using this technology for some time I really do think these are the best I have tested in terms of overall sound performance - in fact much the same as listening to music from an iPod or iPhone.
KEY SPECSBone Conduction Audio Transmission
Clear sound in the water without the use of ear buds Plays all popular audio formats including AAC, MP3,WMA
Compatible with iTunes®, listen to music, audio books, podcasts and more 4GB of Storage
Stores approximately 1000 songs or 60 hours of playback High Contrast OLED screen
Easily scroll through artist and songs, and view playback features Hydrodynamic Clips
Spring clips slip on securely to goggle straps and rest on cheekbones for secure placement Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery
Lasts over 8 hours per charge Waterproof to 3 meters (10ft)
Sound is clearest when submerged in water Gold Plated Connection Pins
Allows for quick song upload and charging while preventing corrosion in the water
Though I was initially sceptical about the design of the Finis Neptune because I thought it would compromise ease of use too much, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I think having firm clips you can grip onto your goggles helps enormously and the digital display is surprisingly useful in helping you to choose what to listen to before setting off on your swim and monitoring battery level. Certainly after the first couple of swims I had learned to put the Neptune on in around a minute which isn't bad going considering there are three components to attach to your goggles. Another major benefit is that sound quality is easily the best I've heard underwater. Let's just hope this model doesn't suffer the corrosion that has limited the lifespan of previous models.