We were pleasantly surprised when we discovered (by snooping on its firmware files) that the Pontis MX2020 multimedia device that Geeks.com sent us for a review actually uses Linux (embedded distribution uCLinux, kernel 2.4.19). If it’s video, audio, pictures, recording or even basic PDA functionality via its touch screen, the Pontis MX2020 can do it all. And for very cheap too.The Pontis was released around the same time the also-Linux based Archos PMA400 PDA/PMP combo device (which runs Qtopia). But the PMA400 costs over $600 while the MX2020 costs just $199, making the MX2020 a promising purchase for users who don’t have a PMP device yet and just want to try out the waters. The MX2020 was originally released in Korea from iUbi as PMP2020 and was later ODM’ed to German company Pontis and the Chinese company KISS. Although it’s based on the GPL’ed Linux, I could never find any diffs or patches of the iUbi uCLinux implementation for download.
The MX2020 sports a 20 GB hard drive, a 3.5″ TFT touchscreen and a compact flash port. The original Korean version supported WiFi via a special CF card too, but the Pontis has this ability disabled. The MX2020 comes with a cradle that has a slot for a second battery (charges via AC or USB), a standard usb cable, A/V cables, CDs, a very well-written and visual manual, earphones and lastly, a leather case. The device is smaller than the other two PMPs we have reviewed in the past, the RCA Lyra RD2780 and the Neuros 442. On the device itself you will find two embedded stereo speakers, a hold button, a reset button, an integrated microphone, two A/V inputs/outputs, an on/off button, a joystick (works as arrow keys and as volume up/down and forward/back songs), a play/pause button, a Stop button, a mini-usb slot (for file transfer only, not for charging), a connection slot for the cradle and a Menu button. And of course, there is the stylus.
The stylus looks a lot like the Zaurus one, which I like very much, as it is not very thin of very small. It is what I would call “the right size”. The MX2020 includes some basic PDA functionality, including a Calculator, a Memo, a Notes (painting) and Calendar application. The touchscreen functionality is integrated with most of the button/menus throughout the media applications so you could, let’s say, change the volume with the stylus too. However, the file manager and main menu requires double-clicking with the stylus instead of a single click, which can confuse some existing PDA users. On the back of the device there is a small hole, where you can place the “nose” of the stylus in it and make the stylus function as a “stand” for the device, helping the viewing experience.
Booting the device takes about 8 seconds. When fully booted up it you are presented with the 9 main icons, from which 2 of them are disabled. The first one is Video, the second one is Audio, third one is Pictures. Then you will find a file manager, the A/V recording application, the setup of the device and the PDA functionality. WiFi and TV/Radio icons are disabled (I tried my Linksys WCF12 wifi card, didn’t work). I must say that moving around to icons, files and menus is just slow. I don’t know why, but it is slow, and each time you open a new application the LCD turns black for a tiny bit until the new application is fully loaded.
Each of the three main uses of the PMP, video/audio/pictures, show a file manager view but with only the filenames they recognize as supported. For example, if you load the Video icon, you will be presented with a file manager view that will only show up .avi or .asf files. The rest of the files in that folder will be ignored so the user won’t open the wrong file. The device supports MPEG2, DivX 3.x, 4.x, 5.x, ASF, AVI, Xvid and supposedly Mpeg4, but my Xvid/Mp4 file I tried didn’t work. All the rest of my DivX and ASF files worked without a problem. Even the video I recorded last week with the Neuros Recorder 1 worked perfectly and smoothly in the device. You must be careful with DivX though. The device won’t playback movies encoded with B-Frames in them, so it will skip these frames in a way that can make playback look not very smooth and actually give the impression that video playback is slow (which is not the case). So, avoid B-Frames when encoding your DivX files for this device.
When clicking the “Menu” button the user is presented with a different menu each time depending if he/she is in the screen of video, audio, pictures or file manager. You get EQ for audio, LCD settings when in video, zoom and rotate when in pictures, delete/rename etc when in file manager mode etc. However, I (and everyone I showed the device to) found the general UI inconsistent when trying to use the MX2020 (especially in its settings and PDA apps), but ultimately it doesn’t take long to learn its quirks.
The audio player has some very good quality, and is able to play WMA, OGG, AAC-LC and MP3. The device doesn’t support playlists, but your can organize albums by directory, on the /top/mp3/ folder. Be aware of the available firmware upgrade (May 16th 2005 version). While it adds a bit better ogg support (ogg was still working before the upgrade btw) and B&W video recording, it totally breaks WMA support and introduces 1-2 new smaller bugs. So, think hard before you decide to upgrade the firmware (which btw is an easy procedure to do). The Pontis company was sold a few months ago and they don’t have plans to further support the device, from what I learned from its CEO.
The picture viewing experience was very satisfying, but only jpeg pictures are supported. The funny part is that the actual UI of the device uses BMP icons, and yet the picture-viewing application does not read BMPs.
Recording audio, video, audio/video and voice is very easy. The manual is detailing very well how to use the A/V cables and the resulted QVGA recorded video is of a very good quality. Click ‘Save as’ to this video we recorded to check it out. The industry’s standard audio and mpeg4 video it encodes with was compatible with any media player we tried it out.
Battery life is “ok” compared to other early hard-drive PMPs in the market. It achieved 3 hours of video playback (enough to watch a 2-hour movie in medium LCD brightness) and 7 hours of audio playback (with LCD off). The device can be mounted from all operating systems that support external USB disks. The compact flash disk will mount on the /top/cf/ folder of the device and using either its internal file manager or your desktop operating system’s you can use the CF card to copy audio/video in it.
Overall, the Pontis MX2020 is a very good PMP device for customers who never had one. It’s not perfect, but it carries out all simple operations perfectly. And for that price ($199), it is absolutely unbeatable. It is the most affordable hard-disk based big-screen PMP on the market today, and yes, it runs Linux.
Apart from the minor niggles the author mentions there is no ogg support. Think i`ll still go for the GP2X!