Belkin Media Reader

Belkin Media Reader, as shown on the Apple Store

I ordered a Belkin Media Reader for iPod a few weeks ago on the French Apple Store. I didn't like it and returned it a few days later. I'm not going to write a full review, as I couldn't test it fully, but here are my first impressions.

Frankly, I was not sure from the start that I would keep it, so I did not unwrap the enclosed batteries to keep them in their shipping state. I gathered four AAA batteries from remote controls around. Those batteries were in good shape for the remote controls, but apparently not good enough for the BMR, which seems to require a significant amount of power to operate. The iPod kept telling me that there was no media card to read from. Since Belkin claims that this is basically a FireWire card reader, and that it plugs into the dock port of the iPod, I don't understand why it requires extra batteries, rather than use power from the iPod battery over the FW port. Other FW card readers don't need batteries.

The FW claim is written all over the box. Then again, why isn't there a FW port so I can connect this directly to the computer? I found similar FW and USB2 media card readers ranging between 20€ and 40€, much cheaper than the 100€ Belkin is asking for the BMR in Europe (120€ VAT in France, through the Apple Store). I appreciate that the BMR let me download images to the iPod, without a computer nearby, but for that price it's not good enough and the claim that it is a FW reader is false. Its FW capabilities are non existent without the iPod.

Another thing I disliked a lot is the quality of manufacture. The BMR looks cheap, way too cheap for its price tag, and ugly, way to ugly when plugged to the iPod -- the photo above goes a long way in reducing the contrast in design and quality between the BMR and the iPod. When I opened the plug part, some piece of plastic fell down and I wasn't able to find where it came from. The cards compartment is judiciously protected by a sliding door but I have serious doubt about how long this can work without breaking or blocking. Same for the cord and plug, which requires some level of manipulation (torsion, traction, compression) and cast fear of breaking things too easily. It reminded me of a lot of those electronics gadgets that one can find anywhere in the US, and thoughts of Radio Shack popped into my mind, only to remember why their stores disappeared from France a long time ago. Damn the French, those sophisticated bastards, who think that cheap plastic cannot sell with a 3 digits price tag.

And finally, once I had the thing in my hands, I wondered why the hell I had to have this big, overpriced, plastic gadget when both my camera and iPod have enough software power to talk to each other through a simple cable, like the camera does with any computer (and even some printers!). Thank you Belkin, but I'll wait for that instead of abandoning myself yet another time to the geek buying impulse.

8 Comments

I think your frustration comes from not understanding firewire. Like many protocols, (i.e. USB, IDE, etc) it is a master-slave type situation. The iPod is firewire but it is a slave, or "device" in more modern terms. It needs a master, or "host" to control it. The host has more complicated requirements - like controlling multiple devices simultaneously and providing power. Here lies one of your frustrations....although there is a power pin on the FW connector on your iPod - this is power IN. Most likely the battery requirements on the iPod are high because it must not only power the reader, but the iPod is probably also trying to charge from this connection! Your other problem is not being able to connect the same reader to your computer. Since the Belkin reader is a host, it doesn't know how to talk to another host as defined by the specification....only to a device like an iPod. In USB, a new specification call "On the GO" or USB OTG tries to solve this eternal problem by allowing a devices to switch from being a master to a slave (device to host). You'll see some of these devices on the market shortly. Until then, you'll get cludged devices like the Belkin iPod reader.

Thanks Kate. Then how come Apple provides an implementation of TCP/IP over FireWire that allows two hosts to connect together?

My media reader stops downloading photos in the middle of a session. It reads that the card has 120 photos but quits downloading after only 38. Consistantly too. It stopped downloading at the same file ever time I tried. Is there a preference that I'm not setting properly or do I need to partition the hard drive or something. I'm very frustrated.

Hello Francois,

I was interested in your comment:

"both my camera and iPod have enough software power to talk to each other through a simple cable, like the camera does with any computer"

How can I do this? I am interested in buying an Ipod, and it would be easier to justify if it can be used as a digital image backup device.

Thanks,
Nick.

> I am interested in buying an Ipod, and it would be easier to justify if it can be used as a digital image backup device.

Me too, that's the point ;-). Unfortunately, it doesn't seem possible, at this time. But I bet it will be eventually.

Some initial comments after buying both an iPod (3rd generation 40 GB) and the Belkin Media Reader:

- I'm using this setup with 256 MByte Extreme Sandisk CFs (Type 1, I believe), of which I carry four as digital film. Each card holds 34 RAW images from my Minolta DiMAGE A1 camera (though if I chose another file format, I'm sure I could get lots more in 'em).

- I've been testing with the Media Reader to see how many cards I can sequentially read before my fully-charged iPod's battery dies. So far, it's between five and six 256 MB cards in a row.

- The iPod's internal HD spins up more-or-less constantly while transferring files from the Media Reader. I'm assuming that the Media Reader is not supplying power to the iPod at all. Either the iPod has virtually no RAM buffer to speak of, or the Media Reader is horribly inefficient at transferring files to the iPod.

- Average transfer time for one 256 MB CF card is 11 minutes and 20 seconds; this seems to vary by about thirty seconds give-or-take depending on the card's contents, but in all cases the card was virtually full. This works out to roughly 22 MBytes/min transfer rate, a tiny fraction of the capabilities of the Firewire spec.

- Since you can get an 80% charge on an iPod in one hour, and a 100% charge in four hours, realistically, this means I can probably never shoot more than approx. 270 pictures/day. (Fill four cards with 34 RAW images each, dump 'em, fill 'em again, and then dump 'em late in the evening back at your home/hotel/whatever, after you've re-charged the iPod. Then re-charge the iPod one more time for next day's shooting.) Mind you, if the iPod's battery recovers significantly throughout the shooting day, you might be able to bump this number up to ten or eleven 256 MByte CF cards. In any event, the iPod's battery meter is completely unreliable when doing a data dump -- after the very first card, it told me that the battery was half-empty, and after the second, almost completely empty. It lasted for three more cards after that. :-/

Is this combination of reader and iPod an acceptable solution? Yes, with discipline. But if you're like some of my friends, approx. 270 pics/day (equivalent to approx. eight 36-exposure rolls of film) is woefully inadequate. In that case, you'll need a digital wallet with a *much* more powerful battery than the internal one in the iPod, or you'll need to bring along a laptop. Laptops may be unavoidable in some situations, but the iPod/Media Reader combination is hard to beat if you need a light, compact solution.

- I've purchased this solution for a trip to the States (Hawaii, to be exact), and I'm confident that I can keep my shooting down to eight cards/day. In fact, given the limitations of the Media Reader and its interaction with the iPod, I really don't have much choice. ;-)

Your first mistake was buying a device without on-board media reader slots, and no photo display. The new Archos GMinis are good, and cheap. Moving upscale a little, the new RCA Lyra has full-colour display and reads CF.

I have been happy with my new BMR's performance ( but agree it looks cheap, and the bloody little cable will probably snap off a week after the warranty expires !)
Problem is it does not support my new Memory Stick PRO.
Does anyone know if there is a way to use the BMR with a Mem Stick Pro?
Bruce

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