capsule review

Transcend T.Sonic 530

At a Glance
  • Transcend T.sonic 530 1GB MP3 Player w/FM Tuner/Voice Recorder TS1GMP530

    TechHive Rating

    The tiny T.Sonic 530 is very inexpensive--but you get what you pay for, with frustrating controls and few features.

The packaging for the 1GB Transcend T.Sonic 530 ($50 as of 1/9/07) has a picture of a child using the device, which seems fitting. The player is tiny (about the size of two dice side by side), and comes with a strap so you can wear it around your neck. Also, its lack of features and clumsy controls will make it seem like a toy to anyone searching for a sophisticated gadget.

The T.Sonic's small size and low price make it a competitor to Apple's 1GB iPod Shuffle, which costs $79. However, the T.Sonic's five-button control system is nowhere near as intuitive as the Shuffle's touch-sensitive thumbwheel. The small buttons reside on the top and bottom of the player, so you need two hands to use the controls. The quick-start guide offers little help in sorting out how to navigate. For example, you have to consult the PDF menu on the CD-ROM just to learn that pressing the Menu button repeatedly will move you up one folder level through your music collection.

The T.Sonic lacks any sort of software for organizing your music library, setting up playlists, or integrating with an online music store (it doesn't support Microsoft's PlaysForSure digital rights management system). The player works strictly as a USB host device when connected to a PC--you drag MP3, WMA, or WAV files to the player using Windows Explorer. You navigate folders in a similar fashion when you're using the player itself, but you can't select the root directory, which means it won't play all of your music in succession. Assuming that you've organized your music collection by artist and album subfolders, you're left to play one album at a time.

That said, the T.Sonic fulfills a few basic needs that put it in contention with the similarly tiny 1GB Apple iPod Shuffle. For one, the player has a screen, which the Shuffle lacks. Granted, it's only a two-line OLED screen, but that's enough for navigating through artists and albums to locate music you want to hear--that is, as long as you're not in bright sunlight. Using the player during a morning jog, I discovered that its display was unreadable in the sun, which left me unable to switch artists and albums.

In addition to its welcome inclusion of a screen, the T.Sonic earned respectable scores in our audio-quality tests, delivering better overall sound quality than the iPod Shuffle; in particular, the T.Sonic's audio signal contained substantially less distortion than the Shuffle's.

The T.Sonic includes an FM tuner and a tiny built-in microphone for recording voice memos--two features that the Shuffle is missing. But considering its lack of software and its frustrating interface, the T.Sonic is more of a novelty than a serious music player.

Eric Butterfield

This story, "Transcend T.Sonic 530" was originally published by PCWorld.

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At a Glance
  • TechHive Rating

    The tiny T.Sonic 530 is very inexpensive--but you get what you pay for, with frustrating controls and few features.

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