Optima A121 review: Optima A121

CNET Editors' Rating

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The Good Allows for encrypted files. Easy transfer of music files.

The Bad Headphone cable is badly designed. Not price-competitive with the iPod Shuffle.

The Bottom Line Optima's A121 has a nice feature set, but poor headphones and an asking price that's only just shy of Apple's superior Shuffle player make it a hard player to recommend.

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In both form and functionality, Optima's A121 MP3 player reminds us an awful lot of the Acer MagicDrive and while we were unable to confirm it, it wouldn't surprise us in the least to find out that both units sprung from the same factory. The A121 is a chunky little unit with a smooth black finish and a backlit blue LCD display that shows quite a lot of information, albeit in very tiny, tiny type. Like the rest of the field of solid state storage USB devices, one end is actually a cap that shields the USB plug, although on a mildly amusing note we did discover that it's possible to put the cap on backwards.

The base of the player holds the volume controls and hold switches as well as a standard earphone socket, while the top of the unit houses a single clickable rocker switch that's used for all mode selections, as well as track skipping when in playback mode. The back of the player houses the battery compartment, where a lonely AAA battery supplies power for up to a claimed eight hours, and the front of the unit houses the LCD screen and play button that also acts as the player's on/off switch.

The A121's physically intimidating size could be a problem for notebook users, as it'll easily dwarf multiple USB ports if they're close together, so thankfully a small length of USB extension cable is supplied in the box, along with the obligatory bud headphones that also act as a lanyard for the player itself.

It's a sign of how far the flash-based MP3 player market has progressed that it's not enough to just offer music playback and a bit of data transfer capability. Naturally, you can do both with the A121, which supports audio in MP3 and WMA format. Additionally, you can change the tempo of playback songs, as long as they're in MP3 format -- perfect for if you ever wanted the frankly mindblowing experience of finding out what a sedentary and low Barry White song sounds like even slower.

There's also the usual options for random play, graphic equaliser settings and simple section repeats, which work again via the clickable rocker switch on top of the player.

The A121 also acts as a simple but effective voice recorder and FM radio, and supports the use of lyric files in .lrc format if you fancy a little solo karaoke on the way to work. Sure, people are going to look at you strangely, and you might get thrown off the bus, but surely being able to belt out "Agadoo" with perfect lyrics is worth it -- isn't it?

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Where to Buy

Optima A121

Part Number: CNETOptima A121

Typical Price: $110.00

See manufacturer website for availability.