FujiFilm FinePix 40i Review
You can't place MP3 files directly onto the SmartMedia card using Windows Explorer (or similar), nor can you using a card reader. MP3's first have to be converted into a special encrypted .SQV file. These files then reside under a directory named DSAM on the SmartMedia card. You also can't use non-ID SmartMedia cards (recognizable because they have ID stamped on them) for audio playback, the uploading software ties the encrypted MP3 tracks to that particular SmartMedia card (stopping you from copying audio files to a friends card once they've been transferred). On closer examination the SQV files are still MP3 format with a special header attached. Apparently this method of locking an encrypted MP3 to an ID card was devised in association with NTT and isn't unique to the 40i (but importantly it's still MPEG Layer 3 audio format, no codec conversion is going on here).
"Audio Downloading Software"
(Shouldn't that be Audio Uploading Software??)
This is the application that enables you to get your MP3's onto the 40i, it's pretty simple to use. Connect the 40i and power it up, assuming you've already installed the USB drivers the SmartMedia card will show up as a new drive letter on your computer. Start up the Audio Downloading Software and it'll search for an ID card (no ID card, no work). It'll then display current audio files on the card in light blue, drag some MP3's from Explorer (or similar) into the window and they'll show up in Green as "Registered for transfer". Simply click on Transfer and it'll start encrypting and transferring the MP3's straight onto the 40i's storage card.
Simple enough, right? You can also delete tracks and view available storage space. You can change the order of transferred tracks by just dragging them up and down the list.
Timings & Battery Life
USB transfer from our Windows 2000 test machine to the 40i using the "Audio Downloading Software" took 76 seconds to transfer 7 tracks (34 MB) which works out at about 450 KByte/s transfer (which is fairly respectable for this kind of device).
Under testing the 40i did very well for audio playback on it's 2 x 1600 mAh NiMH batteries, it lasted a solid 2 hours 45 minutes playback on a full charge (just setup repeating the same tracks). Impressive stuff.
Sad but true, the 40i only supports MPEG Layer 3 with bit rates up to 128 Kbit/s. Which is a bit of a shame if you really appreciate the quality of 160 Kbit/s or 190 Kbit/s MP3's. Most of my MP3's (copied from my own CD's of course) are 160 Kbit/s, sure it means bigger files but also discernibly better audio quality than 128 Kbit/s. Not sure why Fujifilm limited it at 128 Kbit/s, perhaps it's part of the agreement NTT have with the record companies, we can only surmise. Still, most people consider 128 Kbit/s near enough to CD quality and it does mean smaller file sizes (it'd been nice if the Audio Downloading Software featured a bitrate converter).
What a shame Fujifilm are only doing two bundle packages with either 8 or 16 MB SmartMedia cards, this is very limiting for MP3's and pictures...
Audio playback is so straightforward it's hardly worth writing about, but just pop in the audio remote control and switch the 40i over to "AUDIO" mode (power switch on the top of the camera) hit the play button on the remote and you're off (assuming you remembered to upload some MP3's of course)... Volume levels are loud enough to keep anyone happy, supplied earphones leave a little to be desired but because the remote has a stereo jack you can easily switch them out for your favorite pair (though obviously driving a pair of Sennheiser full size cans may drain the battery a little more).
Audio quality was good, the bass boost helped push the little earphones so you could actually hear some bass, switching them for a pair of Sony earphones improved things no end.. Overall I'd give the audio a "good" rating.