We've taken a glance at Wolverine ESP Multimedia players before, but none have had the ability to store 160GB of data on an internal hard drive, the largest amount of storage space available on a portable player. We've had a chance to spent some quality time with the Wolverine ESP, and found it to be a bit clunky but impressive nonetheless.
With its 7-in-1 flash memory card reader, it's a great dumping ground for your digital photos when you're in the field, backing up those cards so you can wipe them clean for another round of shooting. Meanwhile, that 160GB of storage space on its internal hard drive gives you a fast cornfield onto which you can load lots of video. We tested it with DivX and AC3 files, which it played back flawlessly on its 3.6-inch 320x240 LCD screen. Here's more about our hands-on experience:
Boot up the Wolverine ESP and you can immediately tell there is a spinning hard drive inside. You can feel its slight vibration in your hand as you hold the palm-sized unit, which is slightly larger than a deck of cards. However, at slightly less than an inch thick and weighing 10.2 ounces with its battery inside, it's a bit portly for our taste.
The Wolverine's creators were apparently sensitive to battery drain while the unit accessed and used its hard drive, the cost the unit judiciously puts the hard drive to sleep when it's not in use for a while. In our testing, this technique gave the unit plenty of juice to play more than three movies in a row without running out of power.
Even so, we found ourselves longing for flash memory inside this unit rather than a spinning hard disk. But that may not be practical yet. Now that we've heard there are 160GB solid-state flash drives soon to be available, we're hoping that someday soon such a disk might be put into a player like the Wolverine ESP, but at this point that would probably be prohibitively expensive.
In addition to its audio/video playback capabilities and storage convenience, the ESP even has an FM radio on board that doesn't sound half bad. Its user interface is not exactly a smooth as an iPod, but it works well enough, using a four-point joystick for navigation, the middle of which you push down to select an item. We found ourselves accidentally selecting an item from time to time, but after spending a few days with the unit, a we got accustomed to its quirks.
It was easy to place movies, video and photos on the Wolverine's hard drive, where it was instantly recognized after plugging into a USB port on a PC. There was no conversion of video files necessary as it is with the Sony PSP, and we just drag and dropped files into their already designated, straightforward folders on the Wolverine's hard disk. Today's Wolverine is more versatile than those of the past, supporting video files in MPEG-1, MPEG-4, WMV9 and the aforementioned XviD and DivX formats.
When you select a video file, you have to wait for the movie to load first, and we counted 17 seconds until a 90-minute DivX video file was loaded and ready to play. The 320x240 screen had just enough pixels for its 3.6-inch size, doing a superb job of playing back the video files we tested. Our only complaint is that this isn't a 16x9 screen, and most of the movies we viewed left too much empty space at the top and bottom of the screen because of their wide aspect ratio.
The Wolverine also works well as a music player, although its volume might not prove to be loud enough for a noisy environment such as aboard an airplane. Still, we found its sound to be adequate, doing justice to MP3 files as well as, WMA, OGG, WAV, AAC and CDA files. The unit is also adept at displaying photos, and it really is a trusty field companion for digital photographers, with its ability to store and display tons of JPEG, TIF, text and RAW images.
It's also pretty cool the way you can record video directly onto the unit from a TV, DVD player or camcorder, but you'll need to buy the optional cradle for $69.99 if you want to do that. It would have been nice to have some sort of timer to use it as a full-fledged personal video recorder.
Overall, the Wolverine ESP 160GB does what it says it will do, but not entirely gracefully. Its best feature is that relatively gigantic 160GB hard disk, giving you the freedom to store just about any data you might need when you're on the road. It's fairly rugged, too, where we must admit that it survived a drop of about 3 inches onto a hard desktop while it was playing, and still kept on going without a hitch.
The Wolverine ESP does a lot, but you'll pay a price for that versatility and voluminous disk space: it's $549.99. But if you're looking for a competent video player and a great backup system for your field photography, it gets the job done and would be a smart choice.
Product Page [Wolverine]