Not the greatest - but the best Bluetooth workout player in a long line of disappointments.
Reviewed in the United States on 5 February 2021
I'm giving this Oakcastle MP3 player 4 stars. I could have possibly given it 5 as it is the winner of my comparison shopping. On the other hand, I might just as well given it 2 or 3 as it has many lackluster attributes compared to others the market. To see if this is the right player for you, you really need to understand your needs and what is out there.
I reviewed at least half a dozen players that all have a similar form factor to the Oakcastle (Victure, Ruizu, AGPTek, etc). In truth I did many tests of how their interfaces work and what features they have before I even plugged in headphones to listen. At first, the Oakcastle actually was getting low marks in comparison to the rest, but at the end of the day it turns out that it had the best feature set for my particular use case. I wouldn't like this to be my main music player (my Android phone is actually best suited for that), but for what I need it for, it ended up being my top choice.
I was looking for an MP3 player I could use while running/working out. Basically I wanted a Sandisk Clip Sport Plus equivalent. I had tried the Sandisk, but it had flaky support for Bluetooth and cost a premium that wasn't worth its feature set. These were my criteria:
1) Needed to be small: Small enough to be able to fit in my pocket or clip to my shorts/shirt and not feel like I was jostling about any weight. This criteria eliminates a large host of players on the market which simply are closer to the size of small phone. Having the clip was a plus, but usually it actually just goes into my pocket and I don't even know it is there. All players I reviewed met this criteria, and while the Oakcastle might be a tad bigger than some or a tad smaller than others, it is perfectly fine in this regard.
2) Bluetooth: It needed to have BT as I would be using it with BT headphones. This also eliminates a very large swath of players which just don't have BT support. It turns out this is really where the Oakcastle excels and may be the top reason I opted for it from all the other players out there. The range on the Oakcastle exceeds all other players. Sometimes by only 15-20% and in other cases 75% or more. I tested this with multiple pairs of BT earbuds and the results were hands down for the Oakcastle.
You might think you only need a few feet of range with a player that is going to be on or close to your body. However you will find that various atmospheric conditions and where you store the player may matter. I tested some players that would lose connection outside while sitting on a curb 3 feet from me while I stretched. Others might lose connection if they are in your pocket and you obstruct your ear at all (like moving your hand near your head). So while the range on the Oakcastle may be overkill, you definitely need to err on the side of better range.
But, there is even another Bluetooth issue which is a more compelling case for the Oakcastle. It can reconnect to your headset automatically when turning on. You might think this sounds silly...don't all players do this? No. Not a single one. Only the Oakcastle. On every other player you had to, at the very least, go back to the BT menu option of the interface and click on it to make it reconnect. On some models you actually needed to go and choose a "reconnect" option in the menu for the headset. The Oakcastle is the *only* one that when it turns on will just automatically reconnect to the last paired device (assuming of course it too is also on and in range).
While not a deal-breaker, the 5-10 seconds this saves me every single time I use it is a highly attractive feature.
3) Tactile (push) Buttons: I wanted to be able to use the player even with gloves on and/or be able to feel it in my pocket. This comes in handy if you want to change volume or skip a track. Many smaller players out there have a touch conductive control panel which won't work with standard gloves on nor allow you to manipulate by feel. On the other hand, many of the conductive panels light up (Oakcastle doesn't) so if your main use case is a dark room, you might prefer the other options.
4) Storage: I would have liked to have had more than 16GB of storage, even if that meant having to use my own microSD card. All of the players (Except Sandisk) supported this, but I found using external storage had its own limitations and all devices were limited to 4000 songs anyway (more on that below).
It is worth noting here that all of these players seem to built around one or two different chip and software designs that make them prone to many of the same problems. Some companies do customizations that make them more robust, others seem to opt for the vanilla functions. The Oakcastle was maybe the most unique out of all of them, but not always in a good way.
I have to say that the Bluetooth features I mentioned above are the main reason why I ended up with the Oakcastle. It has some other winning points versus other players in various feature sets, but also has some failings. There was one other player which I was confident was going to be the winner until I determined it could barely keep a BT connection from 3 feet away. So let's run down a list of where else the Oakcastle is superior and where it falls short:
PRO: Screen Brightness - It has the best screen brightness out of any model (including possibly the Sandisk). It is the easiest to see outdoors in the sun.
PRO: It has a discrete button for both Menu and Back. Not a feature all players have and makes navigation easier.
CON: On the flipside it does not have discrete volume buttons. It doubles the volume with the up/down navigation. What this means is you can only control volume while on the playing screen (or by using volume controls on your headset). This can be annoying sometimes, but I usually use my headphones to control the volume while the player is in my pocket.
CON: Very basic interface. It has perhaps the most basic interface of all devices. Not only does this mean it doesn't have any features like pedometer, voice notes, video playback, stopwatch...it doesn't even have a clock. In fairness, most of these features on the other players suck so bad you probably wouldn't ever use them. But it also means that it doesn't even display Album Art that you might have in your MP3 metadata (ID3 tags). It is the only player that does NOT show album art. I was pretty bummed about this because not only do I like album art, it is a quick and easy way to know what album you are listening to (even if the picture is small).
This becomes even more important on these tiny players that don't show a lot of text on the screen and has to scroll through song/album/artist information. In the end I decided that since this player is for a specific purpose, and will most likely be used in my pocket, I can live without the album art - but this did weight fairly heavily on my con list. The watered down interface may be a benefit to some as there is less to get lost in and sometimes fewer buttons to push to get to what you need.
CON: Screen resolution / text size and scrolling. Like mentioned above, the Oakcastle was a bit under average compared to the other players on how much text it fits on the screen at a time and how quickly it scroll that text. This means that if you are trying to view the artist/album/song information and that text is longer than fits on the screen you might need to wait 20-30 seconds for it to scroll through all this data. While all the players have this issue, the Oakcastle was a bit slower than most.
CON: Transfer time. The speed to copy data to the internal memory card was tied with the worst of the pack. I was willing to live with this for a few reasons. One, the player I liked the best (barring its Bluetooth issues) had the same slow transfer speed. Two, I didn't think I would be transferring large amounts of data frequently enough to make it an issue. And three - you can always take out the external storage card (microSD, sold separately) and put it into your computer to transfer songs.
CON: Song limits and listing: All of the players had limitations here. Regardless of what they say there is a limit of 4,000 songs if you want to use song Metadata (ID3 tags) to sort and view your library. Any more than this and weird things happen. If you want to browse instead in File Mode (which all players also support, and has its own set of limitations) you can go over 4,000 songs but will end up having to do a lot more in terms of trying to organize your file structure. Most of the players work like this.
Basically there are two ways to browse your music. One is in file mode which only shows file names (and usually truncates them even on scroll to around 30 characters). What this means is that if you have the following two songs files:
Bruce Springsteen - Greatest Hits - 01 - Born To Run.mp3
Bruce Springsteen - Greatest Hits - 01 - Thunder Road.mp3
They are both going to display while browsing in File Mode as:
"Bruce Springsteen - Greatest Hi"
You can see the problem here, which is why you most likely want to ensure all your songs have ID3 tags and that you use Playlist/Music mode instead of file list mode (which again means you need to keep under 4,000 songs). And while most players will scroll/show a folder name up to 24 characters, the Oakcastle is limited to only 18.
You will actually have the same truncation problem in Playlist/Music mode, but at least you can filter a little bit better based on Artist and Album. When playing a song, the interface will cycle through:
Song (ID3 Title tag) / Artist (ID3 Artist tag) /Album (ID3 Album tag)
(If ID3 tags are not present it will display only the file name.)
(Note this means that no track info is displayed unless the file name has it included.)
It isn't an ideal situation with any of the players for navigating through a large set of music. You are going to want to have curated your ID3 tags and probably renamed all your files to only contain track and tile information if you want to be able to easily distinguish. I give all the players a grade "D" in this regards, but the Oakcastle gets a "D-" because it limits character display even further.
CON: Switching between internal memory and microSD storage. Again, another problem with all the players which get a "C" grade at best. You need to toggle between the internal and external storage and the players also like to rebuild their playlist information every time you make changes to your card. While the Oakcastle has all these same issues, it seems to be a bit buggy about toggling to external storage. While most players allow you to select external storage and then go back to your list of songs to see them, it seems the Oakcastle won't actually switch into showing your external songs until you actually play one of them. I really didn't like this in comparison with the competition, but I didn't think it would affect me day to day. In fact, with only a 4,000 song limit I'm not sure how much I will even need or want to use the external storage as you can probably fit close to that limit within the 16GB of onboard memory.
I spent way too much time comparing all these players I figured I might as well spend at least a bit more time and share my findings here. There is a lot I don't like about the Oakcastle, especially when you compare it to what some of the other players offer. There are also, I'm sure, many other players out there at not much higher a price point which don't have some of these limitations but might not fit my specific criteria (size, BT, tactile buttons).
But, if you are looking for a small player to have on you while running or working out with a Bluetooth headset/earbuds, let me save you the trouble and tell you this is likely the best choice.