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Old Feb 21, 2011, 6:09 PM   #1
Join Date: Nov 2009
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Default MP3+1 Camera (MP3 spycam) review: (may EXPLODE by reset!, flimsy, poor lowlight)

The MP3+1 Camera is a tiny Chinese clip-on MP3 player with built-in VGA camcorder. The robust looking aluminium case roughly resembles an old Apple iPod Shuffle (2nd generation). Like the latter it lacks a screen, so you can not see the pictures and videos you take.

On first glimpse it looks like a great thing suitable as a lightweight sport camera (for bike rides, jogging etc.) or to make hidden camera interviews or observations. By making your own strap, you may even wear it on the forehead as a comfortable point-of-view camera. Unfortunately it is way less robust than it looks like - especially it has a very dangerous mechanical design flaw that during reset can make the internal lithium battery explode and make you loose a hand. Also the card slot frame breaks apart when the too big special USB cord plug pushes against the card. It supports only slow USB1.1. The video has poor lowlight with ugly green tint and poor video sound quality.

Here are some vendor links with more photos:

MP3+1 Camera Tiny MP3 DVR

Typically this device comes in blue metallic, but I ordered a black version through eBay for 11.39GPB (without micro-SD card). Unlike a real iPod Shuffle, the circular button pad is solid white (no case coloured center button like depicted on the box, which may be a photoshopped iPod) and turned by 90, data is stored on a micro-SD (aka TF) card and the headphone jack has a smaller diameter than the regular 3.5mm iPod or Walkman plug (which prevents easy use of standard earphones). The jack is also used for a special USB cable to charge the internal (unremovable) LiPo battery and transfer data. When new, the cables stink of gasoline. The grey-white earphone has flimsy feeling cables and is made of hard plastic (i.e. at least no Chinese toxic plasticized earpiece). On the front is a tiny dark hole with the lens (which is least visible in the black version). The instruction sheet has a Chinese and English page but explains very little. Mine came without a driver CD. The chest shaped cardboard box is held close by a fairly strong small magnet and an embedded piece of iron at the front flap; fortunately the magnetism outside stays weak when the flap is closed.

caution: Never try to push in the micro-SD card wrongways or too far using force. Doing so will break the card holder rail. The card has to face up (label on same side like the button pad) and the end has to stick out about 2mm. The slot is not spring loaded, so you have to pull, NOT push to remove the card.

When I tried it out, I had trouble to insert my micro-SD card (a Platinum 4GB micro-SD class 4); it didn't fit, so I turned it upside down, which either damaged the card holder or the card failed to fit because it was already broken.

- operation

Press '>' for power on (yellow LED lit). Hold it 3s to turn power off again.

Press '>' until the blue LED goes on, which indicates that MP3 is playing. The button pad {'+', '-', '<<', '>>', '>'} has the usual basic music player functions and should behave like expected when MP3 music is playing.

With music turned off (yellow LED lit), the '+' buttons starts and stops video recording (yellow led flashes in a strange rhythm). '-' takes a photo (takes very long, yellow LED flickers, goes dim, goes out and after 11 seconds turns on again). It can not film or take photos while it plays MP3.

When the yellow LED keeps flashing and the device turns off after a while, the card is not inserted or not properly aligned, which happens when the slot rail was damaged.

- MP3 sound quality

I installed some classical pieces and the tekkno piece "Doop" from CD to test the sound quality. The original earphones are nicely lightweight but definitely lack bass. Also treble is a bit too soft and only turns better when the earplugs are turned with the diaphragm facing forward until they almost fall out of the ears (which is bad for jogging). At least the mids are ok without harshness, so classical music sounds fairly pleasant, although not really natural. Their cable stinks toxic like gasoline, so vent it out before use. Because the jack non-standard (2.5 instead of 3.5mm?), you can not easily plug in better phones.

The player has only the basic functions. Before starting each MP3 file (also between tracks) it sounds 3 quiet popping noises (much like dropping the tone arm on a phono record). Also during songs it occasionally seems to pop a little (or did something touch the phones cable?). So far I know, a genuine iPod Shuffle has speech synthesis to read song numbers and even speak out the song names. The MP3+1 has neither speech output nor other acoustic signals, but may it be that a Chinese version would talk Chinese instead, and that the manufacturer simply omitted the Chinese language samples for the export version and so causes the popping?!?

- USB connection

For USB connection the device comes with a short black USB cable that has a special 4 lead jack plug. USB connection also charges the internal LiPo battery.

caution: The jack plug handle of the USB cable is too thick and will damage the card slot with card inserted. So before first use cut a 3mm piece of the soft PVC away from one side of the plug rim to prevent collision with the card.

I used a small saw, but a fine file, knife or scissor would be suited also. Unfortunately I found this out only after my card slot was already damaged, so the device behaved randomly and often turned off or refused to work as an USB drive to access the files on the card. Also the USB icon on the USB plug is embossed on the wrong side (it should indicate which side to insert up, not down).

When the card looses contact during operation, the device can crash and lock up with yellow LED lit. In this state you can not turn it off any more, so it will drain (and possibly damages) the internal battery. To prevent this, you have to reset it, which is severely dangerous when performed wrongly (see below).

In USB drive mode, the yellow LED flashes slowly so long the battery is charged, and Windows 98SE system control panel indicates the generic sounding device name "Company PMP Platform SDCL:" and lists it only as a (slow) USB1.1 device.

- set system clock

To get correct file dates, you have to set the system clock of the device. For this make a text file containing only an ASCII string in the format "YYY.MM.DD HH:MM:SS" (e.g. "2011-02-20 03:14:00"). Do not omit leading zeroes, else it won't work. Copy the file as "time.txt" into the root (main) directory on the micro-SD card, switch the device off and on again. During power-on it will set its internal system clock and delete time.txt. (If the file is still there afterwards, the clock set has failed - likely by wrong data format.)

- file system

When a memory card is inserted, the device adds the following directories to its FAT32 file system:

- RECORD (contains photos with names like AK######.JPG)
- RECORD (contains videos with date stamp names like YYYY-MM-DD HH-MM-SS.avi)
- VLT (contains PROFILE.DAT, DEFAULT.ALT, currentplay.alt)
AUDIO (Copy your MP3 files here.)

The files PROFILE.DAT, DEFAULT.ALT always have the date of the last taken photo or video, which hints that they are update by use. PROFILE.DAT is 69KB big and starts with the string "SpringII1M 0.0.5"; the rest looks like binary data. With no MP3 files installed, the other 2 files are 0 bytes and are likely used to hold temporary data when pictures are recorded or MP3 is played. After MP3 music is copied to the AUDIO directory, DEFAULT.ALT and currentplay.alt both contain the same data which is a sequence of MP3 file name strings. It is no plain ASCII file, but every 2nd character stays a 0-Byte (may be derived from 16bit Chinese fonts?).

The device uses and deletes a correctly formatted "time.txt" in the root directory to set its system clock. Other given files or folders are ignored.

- faulty webcam mode?

When '>' is held for some seconds while connected to USB, the device switches into a mode where the yellow LED stays on. Windows 98SE requests to install an "Anyka USB Web Camera" driver, however my specimen came with no driver CD. So I tried to download the following Anyka drivers:

DriverWebcamMP5.zip (27330 Byte, 07-10-22)
PC_Camera_Driver.zip (27229 Byte, 06-10-22)
Anyka_PC_Camera_Driver.zip (27286 Byte, 06-10-27)
Anyka_USB_Web_Camera_driver.zip (27655 Byte, 07-06-12)
usbanyka.zip (9546 Byte, 07-10-22)

But none of them work. Early versions don't recognize the device, while later versions show a yellow "!" in system control panel. It may be that it needs a newer driver version or the downloaded drivers don't support Windows 98SE correctly.

Even worse, the broken(?) webcam mode can not be turned off any more, so the device stays unresponsive (locks up) and drains battery with not chance to turn it off. To get it back to work, you have to reset it, which is severely dangerous when performed wrongly (see below).

- reset

MORTAL DANGER!: The following procedure looks simple, but can be very dangerous when performed wrongly due to a mechanical design flaw can make the lithium battery explode, which makes this MP3 player a highly unsafe product.

To reset the device, you have to insert a pointed object into the hole marked "RESET" on the rear plastic side to push a tiny black switch button. This hole is way too tiny for a ballpen tip, which may suggest you to use a needle, pin, wire, tiny screwdriver or other metal object, but DO NOT ATTEMPT this.

The malicious flaw is that the hole is placed too low and so only its upper half is covered by the flimsy hollow plastic switch tab. So when you miss or break it, the inserted object will easily slip under it, and only 1mm below lurks the lithium polymer battery which is a vulnerable foil package without hard cover that may get pierced very easily when it comes in touch with any sharp pointed metal object. (When I discovered this, even my battery was badly scratched.)

Piercing a LiPo battery will short it internally and start a chemical reaction that can make it explode in a fireball with the vigour of a shotgun shell, releasing very poisonous smoke and residues (see YouTube examples). People already have died by exploding mobile phone batteries of this kind those shot deadly shrapnel into their heart or shredded veins. So unless you request to loose a hand, you really don't want to have the metal case detonating in your hands.

Thus instead of inserting any pointed metal objects into the reset hole, solely use a thick piece of nylon string or similarly soft plastic object to push the switch tab. I used a piece of a plastic tie from a clothing price tag that has a chain of tiny beads between thin sections to prevent it from sliding in too far. I recommend to tie this to the headphone cable to always take it with you when the device crashes (it surely will) and refuses to turn off. Alternatively you may install a finger pushable plastic button for easy reset.

If you aren't sure where the switch tab is, you may carefully remove the screws and lift the rear cover off to very the situation. I recommend to make a U-shaped sheet plastic protector (e.g. from a blister package) and bend it around the front rim of the foil battery pack to defuse the reset hazard.

- how to open

To open the case, unscrew the 2 tiny screws on the rear plastic cover and lift it off. You can now lift off the circular button pad (which was held in place by a tab at the rear cover) to watch the cheap metal cap switches underneath. (Commodore C64 and Atari VCS users have learned to hate them from cheap 1980th joysticks.) When you carefully push at the PCB rim, it will start to slide out to the front end. The front cover (with jack hole) is part of a plastic frame that loosely surrounds the PCB and can be easily detached once the PCB is taken out. Watch out how the parts fit together (PCB at frame corners, cable placement) because the case is very crowded. (Take digicam photos.)

caution: Regard that cables of the LiPo battery cables are permanently soldered to the PCB, so you are handling life parts those may cause damage when shorted. Despite the battery contains a protection chip (tiny PCB under yellow adhesive tape) and so likely won't explode when shorted, if you are soldering any parts, first solder off the red + cable from the pcb and insulate it with adhesive film. And of course you will need an low power SMD soldering iron.

DANGER!: Urgently keep the battery away from the hot soldering iron; it is heat sensitive and will ignite and explode in a fireball when touched with it.

I have installed 2 thin cables at GND (2 capacitors near left screw) and the battery + contact (wired in series with a tiny 18k resistor for short circuit protection) and pulled them through the screw holes in the plastic frame. This way I can measure the actual battery voltage from outside because the charger circuit seems too stupid to display when it is finished (which may depend on the USB voltage).

The camera stops filming when battery voltage drops to 3.4V. On my USB port it charges only up to something like 3.79V while the LED keeps flashing (I stopped after 2h) and so wastes most of the capacity because LiPo should have 4.2V when charged properly. May be the manufacturer worried about explosion risk by overheating resistors or diodes and thus crippled the charger (It indeed turns only luke warm), but in this state it can only film some minutes. So I tried an external USB power supply with standard USB jack and 5.22V output voltage, and after another hour the LED now indeed stopped flashing at a reasonable battery voltage of 4.16V.

- what's inside

The MP3+1 player is an impressive example of cheap miniaturized hardware. Unlike my expectation there is no COB (black blob) chip inside, but a fair amount of SMD ICs and discrete components. The optic assembly is much tinier than in any regular hybrid camcorders. The lens itself is only about 1mm.

The microphone hangs on a long cable and a hotglue blob quite deep in the middle of the case, far away from its sound hole, which may reduce damage risk (do not insert a reset pin here...). Placing it next to the hole may increase sensitivity.

On the PCB back is printed the type is "CX318PCB REV1.2" and the apparent design date "10-08-23" hints that it was made in 2010.

main ICs:
CPU: "ANYKA, AK3651B10002, FS04A10" (small BGA, under round crumbly golden quality sticker "XD").
IC1: "SEC610BHZ5 (last 4 digits wrong?), K4S841633H, ZHA212GF" (small BGA)
ROM(?): "SST, 25VF016B, 50-4C-QAF, 0740053-A" (8 pin SMD)

Nice is that MP3/MP4 players by ANYKA seem to be well examined by hobby programmers, so there may be much hardware info for hacking available on the internet. (Improving lowlight and sound recording would make sense. Also motion or sound activated video monitoring would be useful.)

The battery is an unlabelled silver LiPo foil pack with protection chip under orange adhesive tape. Compared with my 808 Car Key Camera #8 (EKEN chipset), the MP3+1 chips are not only smaller, but also seem to produce less heat; also the aluminium case acts like a heatsink, which reduces the risk of battery damage and spontaneous explosion.

- card holder repair

The micro SD (aka TF) card is aligned by a flimsy U-shaped plastic frame that has the contacts at its front and tends to crack apart as soon the card is pushed in too far (which happens by the too thick USB cable plug) or inserted wrongways. While the pin section is soldered, the 2 remaining bars were only held by weak glue (dual sided adhesive film?). I really can not understand why this frame was not designed as a full square shape to make it sturdier, so I even suspect here a self destruction mechanism. (My similarly small 808 Car Key Camera #8 has a spring loaded TF card holder that works completely different.)

To fix the cracked frame, you need a strong and hard glue. You may use a tiny drop of superglue after covering the lens with adhesive film.

caution: Superglue vapours tarnish everything close to them with a white unremovable layer that will destroy the lens when not firmly glued tight with adhesive film. Do not remove the film before the glue has thoroughly dried (at least 6 hours).

If you fear to damage the lens, you might also use epoxy glue instead, which makes no white stains but is more poisonous.

- video quality

The instruction sheet tells the following:

* Picture element: 1,300,000 CMOS
* Visual angle: 65 degrees
* Minimum illumination: 1 Lux
* Storage Temperature: -20C - 80C
* Operating Temperature: -10C - 50C
* Operating Humidity: 15-85% RH
* Card Capacity: Maximum 8G
* Record ( Format Supported ): The compiled code of the video adopts Motion JPEG, records and saves it as AVI files VGA ( 640*480@30 frame / second )
* Photo ( Format Supported ): The compiled code of the video adopts Motion JPEG, records and saves it as JPG files (1280x960)
* USB interface: USB1.1 / 2.0
* Operating system: 2000 / XP / VISTA32
* Music format supported: Mp3, MA

The video quality is quite poor and has a date stamp in the upper right corner. The claimed light sensitivity of 1 lux is a bad joke. It can barely see the white frame of my TV set and the VCF display of my VCR. But regarding how tiny the lens and image sensor is (perhaps 1/4 of regular hybrid camcorders) this is no wonder. Indoors with incandescent light the picture is fairly dark with poor lowlight and everything has an ungly green tint. It also tries hard to rapidly readjust white balance with every motion, which looks stupid. The black level is too high, so dark areas are filled with pale yellow-greenish snow. In daylight the colours get better. Despite VGA resolution it is not really sharp; the lens may be focussed rather at 1.5m instead of infinity. The sound of the video is sampled with only 8000Hz (16bit, 128 KBit/s) and sounds quite synthetic. It is not only the low sample resolution, but there is a graininess of compression artefacts those somewhat resemble the CELP voice of old toy laptops. (In comparison to this, the lowlight video and sound of my similarly tiny 808 Car Key Camera #8 (EKEN chipset) is much better.)

Despite photos have claimed 1280x960 resolution, they look like upscaled stills from the video and contain the same flaws. Indoors they blur motion a lot and because it takes insanely long to shoot a photo (yellow LED flickers, goes dim, goes out and after 11 seconds turns on again) you never know which moment will be on the picture. So I rather recommend to take a video and extract screenshots from it later.

Last edited by CYBERYOGI =CO= Windler; Feb 21, 2011 at 8:34 PM.
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Old Feb 21, 2011, 6:11 PM   #2
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The MP3+1 Camera is an awesome piece of miniaturized technology, but it works only mediocre and needs to be handled with great care to avoid damage.

And this is not a toy for children! Especially reset should only be performed by adults those fully understand how to do this, because inserting any pointed metal parts can result in a fatal battery explosion. The lack of warnings in the manual is completely irresponsible and makes of it a highly unsafe product. The manufacturer should urgently add a solid shield between reset hole and battery, or better install a finger operated reset button to defuse this unexpectable booby trap. (Or was it implemented by design to blow up enemy secret agents those try to spy with it?!? )
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Last edited by CYBERYOGI =CO= Windler; Feb 21, 2011 at 7:51 PM.
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Old Feb 22, 2011, 12:41 AM   #3
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Agreed-the design of the spycam looks a lot like a Chinese clone of a second or fourth gen iPod shuffle but with a camera built in.

Is one of the chips listed in your post is the sensor?

Last edited by babya; Feb 22, 2011 at 12:50 AM.
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Old Feb 22, 2011, 9:23 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by babya View Post
Agreed-the design of the spycam looks a lot like a Chinese clone of a second or fourth gen iPod shuffle but with a camera built in.

Is one of the chips listed in your post is the sensor?
The design looks like 2nd generation iPod Shuffle. The 4th would be square, not rectangular.

I have no clue about the image sensor. One would need to saw it apart under an electron microscope to identify it. The sensor is deeply buried in a tiny welded plastic assembly. Perhaps the Chucklohr site has more info about Anyka stuff (some 808 Car Key Cameras use Anyka hardware).

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Old Feb 9, 2012, 12:49 AM   #5
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Default How to Record Video

I have tried everything to record, but nothing will take. Am I doing this the right way? I press and hold the play button, then record the massage after roughly 12 seconds. I then attach the device (MP3 +1) to the USB and nothing is recorded. I have no files on the device. It is as if I did nothing to get a video. Please help.
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