Pain from the knee and the Jukebox

Having just had knee surgery, I was cheered to find a new toy waiting for me. It was the Creative Nomad Jukebox from Creative Labs Inc., the people who made the SoundBlaster an industry standard.

I first saw the Nomad Jukebox at the Internet World Show in Los Angeles in April and was blown away. One hundred hours of music (it uses a tiny hard disk drive) in something the size of a regular portable CD player? Wow!

For anyone like me who relies on music to make airplane trips tolerable, this could be the best thing since the Sony Discman. And to plug the thing into my car stereo — heaven! The price was around US$400, and if you ordered at the show you got into the queue for shipments that were due to start in three months.

Well, the months went by and no product and no word from Creative. I (and thousands of other test pilots) started wondering what was going on. So when I hobbled out to my office and found the product waiting, I was excited.

My first surprise was that the Nomad Jukebox has special NiMH batteries made by Creative, and the product comes with dire warnings about using any other batteries. But it was the 9-hour charge time that was a bit disappointing. No matter. I put in the batteries, plugged in the power adapter and switched it on.

The sound is terrific! Lots of control of playlists, tone, spatialization-a geek audiophile’s dream toy. I installed the software on a PC, connected the Universal Serial Bus cable and discovered the first oddity: I couldn’t copy the music already on the device to the PC. I suspect it was somehow “locked” for copyright reasons. This could turn out to be a problem for other users, as subsequent events will show…

I started to download some MP3 files, and the Jukebox suddenly complained that the operation couldn’t be performed, as the batteries didn’t have enough power, even though the adapter was still plugged in.

Thinking that the Jukebox must be confused because the batteries were in, I unplugged the adapter, took the batteries out and plugged the adapter back in. The Jukebox booted and then sat there for 10 minutes claiming it was “Preparing Library.” In the manual it says this means the Jukebox has stopped responding (duh) and if resetting fails, call tech support. When I called the tech support number given in the product literature, the awful interactive voice response system makes (surprise!) absolutely no reference to the Jukebox!

After chasing through customer service for the real tech support number, I finally got a human being who knew nothing about the product but was determined in a lackluster sort of way to help me. This help consisted of doing several times exactly what I had already done according to the manual. She also had me try to reformat the Jukebox but couldn’t begin to explain how I would restore the music that was apparently locked on the disk (obviously this was all completely new territory to her).

When we finally came to the staggeringly obvious conclusion that the thing had died, she arranged a replacement and I spoke to her supervisor. I told him that I had just spent 90 minutes getting unbelievably lame support on a brand-new product. He apologized and freely admitted that they hadn’t seen the product until a few days earlier.

Houston, I think we have a problem . . . and I think I can safely say that the product was released before it was ready and before the company was ready to service and support it. Idiots.

When I can hobble to FedEx to have the old one sent out and I get the replacement, and if it works, I will pass it on to others for consideration. Until then, this is Hopalong Gibbs signing off and waiting for the next spot of cheer. I am not optimistic.

Gibbs is a contributing editor at Network World (US). He is at