A very (very) long time ago I was invited to take part in the MoneySupermarket Inspect a Gadget blog contest, which was designed to discover budget alternatives to our favourite travel gadgets like tablets, music players and e-readers.
The deadline for the posts was just after our motorcycle trip so I knew I could never take part in the blogger competition, but MoneySupermarket offered to send me one of the gadgets anyway so I could see whether cheaper alternatives could live up to the expectations created by their more expensive counterparts. I naturally agreed, and chose the Currys Essentials Portable DVD Player to review.
I ordered the DVD player from the Currys website for £49.99 – around £20 cheaper than its nearest rival and £40-50 cheaper than most of the others on the site. I had a business trip for a couple of nights so I left it all in the box and packed it in my bag, so I could test it out in my hotel… but it didn’t work. The DVD player would not read the DVDs I’d taken with me – came up with a no disk error every time – and again when I tried it at home with a different selection of DVDs. After speaking to the Currys customer service team I popped in to my local Currys store last week and they exchanged it – I like it when you can order something online and get it swapped in store, it’s good customer service, thanks Currys. My new DVD player works fine, and so more than a month late, I can now tell you about it.
Anyway, back to the DVD player itself…
The spec isn’t bad. It has a small non-reflective seven inch LCD screen, a small lightweight unit that has a similar surface area to a DVD case (although it’s much fatter), a two hour battery life (and it comes with a mains charger and car charger), a remote control, an AV cable to connect it to your TV (great if you’re staying in a hotel and want to view your DVDs on a bigger screen) and the ability to play all manner of DVDs (NTSC and PAL, although only Region 2), music CDs as well as show photographs as a slide show.
I quite like the design of the unit. The shiny black finish is very elegant (although it does get covered in finger prints very easily!). It’s an absolute doddle to use – put the DVD in and press play – and has all the menu functionality you would expect from a DVD player. The viewing angle is also very impressive.
There are two things about this inexpensive portable DVD player that mean I would probably want to spend more on something better…
The first is the screen resolution. At just 480×234 the clarity is lacking – it’s really grainy. Obviously this is designed to be portable and so the small screen is an advantage in itself, especially if you are using this on a plane or in a car, but when you are comparing it to more expensive gadgets like watching films on an iPad (which is what the Inspect a Gadget scheme is about) then it does fall a long way short. A good comparison is one of those back-of-the-seat aeroplane monitors from about ten years ago. I think I have been spoilt with my more expensive gadgets and so expect an excellent picture; I found anything other than simple brightly coloured imagery poor.
Basically, if you’re watching a “dark” movie such as Chicago or Batman Returns (for example) then you will be squinting a little bit to see the detail. Also, if you’re watching a fast paced movie with lots of fight scenes or car chases then you might struggle a bit. But, if you use this to watch animation and other brightly coloured films, stand-up comedy, feel-good television box sets (think Monsters Inc, Galaxy Quest, a bit of Bill Bailey and some Big Bang Theory), then you can probably manage.
The second thing is the sound. The unit has two 1w speakers which simply didn’t do any DVD I put into the player justice. I thought it was not much better with headphones – I simply couldn’t get any volume from the really decent Klipsch in earcanal headphones I was using. But then LincsGeek tried pulling the headphone jack out of the socket a little bit (so it poked out a tad) and that made loads of difference – much more volume. It is ok – it’s not a disaster or anything, completely fine for stand-up comedy or television shows, but you certainly don’t get any of the nuances of the music I enjoy when watching films like Pirates of the Caribbean or Harry Potter.
There are other flaws too, which a more expensive version might have taken into account:
The buttons feel very cheap and they’re loud. If you’re on a night flight with someone sleeping next to you, you risk waking them up. The more LincsGeek pressed those buttons while he was playing with it, the more annoying it got – I know why they provide a remote control! I have to say, though, I appreciate that the on/off switch is a slide switch meaning it is very difficult to switch on by accident and waste battery.
A two hour battery life sounds ok, and it does come with chargers, but that’s not enough to watch Lord of the Rings. Now I wouldn’t want to watch Lord of the Rings on this screen because it’s full of low-lit cinematography, but the battery life means I actually can’t. It also wouldn’t entertain me on a flight anywhere further than the South of France or north of Spain. Not a problem in a car or on a train (or in a hotel room) as I can use one of the chargers, but until economy aircraft seats come with power sockets it wouldn’t be much use.
Oh, and if you lean it back too far it falls over! – so you can’t get the viewing angle quite right if the table you’re using is the height of a coffee table.
Thinking about value, which is what this Inspect a Gadget post is all about, I completely appreciate that this is one of the cheapest portable DVD players you can buy at just £50. But I’m afraid for us it’s just not worth the money… if I’d spent £25 on it then I’d be able to forget about the terrible picture and rubbish sound, as well as the annoying loud buttons, but I can’t at £50.