Frontier Labs Nex IA
Priced in a bundle with a 1GB Hitachi Microdrive card for $279, or $119 sans card, Frontier Labs' boxy, white Nex Ia player supports Type I and II CompactFlash cards, so you can keep multiple cards with different music collections or voice or FM recordings on them.
Installation was uneventfully easy: I plugged in the player, and Windows immediately recognized it as a drive. I had to use the included Media Jukebox software to load music tracks onto the device, but to get data files onto the player I simply dragged and dropped them from Windows Explorer. After I loaded the software on my PC, it scanned the hard drive for music files (checking the "advanced" option let me limit the file types in the search). Once the software found music, it then imported files into the music library. From there I picked which tracks I wanted to load. The device supports MP3, WMA, and Ogg Vorbis (with a firmware update.)
The controls are straightforward, with a simple four-direction joystick to adjust volume and advance tracks; a button below brings up the menu. On the side is a small record button, as well as a button that lets you choose between using the FM tuner and playing MP3s. The bright blue LCD is easy to read.
On the downside, file transfers over the device's USB 1.1 interface were exceedingly slow, as transferring one 68.5MB album took nearly 30 minutes. (USB 1.1 conceivably should be able to transfer that much data in a matter of a few minutes.) One other gripe: The door to the media enclosure is quite flimsy and flips open too easily.
The included ear-clip headphones sounded fine at lower volumes, but their output grew quite distorted when I cranked it up. Using different headphones helped, but regardless, this player lacks the power to generate clear-sounding music at high volumes. Both live and recorded FM radio sounded clear, as did voice recordings.
In the box is a carrying case with belt holder, Media Jukebox software, a USB cable, headphones, and an in-line remote with a clip that you can attach to your shirt or to a pocket. The Nex Ia takes two AA batteries, which aren't included.
An inexpensive and handy option if you already have media cards, but you can find better-sounding (and smaller) players for less money.
This story, "Frontier Labs Nex Ia" was originally published by PCWorld.
Frontier Labs Nex IA