Maybe we're asking too much from our portable music players. We expect them to add more features while continuing to shrink in size. What can the end result be except a tiny black hole of multimedia--completely unusable yet loaded with every feature you've ever dreamed of? The MPIO One (FG200) approaches this definition. The small, flash-based MP3 player reminds us of a MobiBlu DAH-1500i with video-playback capability. It's much like the Cowon iAudio U3, although it's slightly smaller and maxes out at a capacity of 1GB; the U3 goes up to 2GB. While we admire its spirit, watching video on a 96x64-pixel screen is no pleasure, nor is using its few controls to run through its myriad functions. It's attractively designed and incredibly lightweight, but if it were any tinier, we'd need to test it with a magnifying glass and tweezers. Consider it if you must have video on a tight budget--$139, $159, and $199 for the 256MB, 512MB, and 1GB versions, respectively--but we'd rather save up for the 30GB video iPod. With its range of colors--black, blue, silver, gold, red, and gray--and scratch-resistant anodized-aluminum coating, the MPIO One is as attractive as it is small, which is saying something. We tested the 512MB Harvard Blue (actually midnight blue) model, and the front is dominated by a 1.04-inch OLED LCD with 65,000 colors, which offers bright, vivid images but a Lilliputian 96x64-pixel resolution. The controls are below the screen--or alongside it, since you hold the MPIO One sideways when using it. A control stick lets you select options laid out in a circle, while four other buttons fill in the corners. Using the controls can be frustrating, since they occasionally do double duty and sometimes don't work as you'd expect, depending on what menu you're in. For example, pressing and holding the control stick calls up Settings if you're playing a song or movie but does something different if you're in the file directory.
The MPIO One's onscreen interface is bright and cheery, with colorful animated graphics marking the different areas. We wish it were easier to navigate, though. We'd prefer a hierarchical menu, like the iPod has, where the menus relate in a simple, structured way. Instead, the MPIO One asks you to press and hold the Function button to jump to a list of different areas or press and hold the control stick to access settings. We were often frustrated with not being able to get to the right section because we couldn't remember which button to press. The music-playback screen is orderly but too crowded with information. How could it not be at that size?
The MPIO One's top holds a proprietary USB port, which connects with the included USB 2.0 cable. The player charges only through the USB connection from an active computer, so it's inconvenient for travelers. Plus, if you lose the cable, you can't simply substitute any other USB cable. The top also holds the microphone/line-in and headphone ports. The bottom has a hold switch and a reset button.
Weighing only 1.2 ounces and measuring just 1.2 by 2.2 by 0.5 inches, the MPIO One is so light and small that you'll forget you're carrying it. We like that it comes with a belt clip and a neck lanyard, so you don't need to purchase extra accessories to carry it easily.The MPIO One is at its best a music player, since it can handle MP3, WMA, WMA DRM (though not subscriptions), and OGG files, and it works with both Windows and Macintosh PCs. Windows users can load it from Windows Media Player, but we found it easier to simply drag and drop tracks. You can dump your songs into the Music folder or create subfolders to better organize them.
As a video player, the MPIO One leaves more to be desired, namely a larger screen. Even the Cowon iAudio U3's 1.3-inch screen looks big compared with the MPIO's 1.04-incher. The screen is more like a technical exercise--proving that the company can make such a small video device--than an attempt at creating something usable. We also find the box a little deceptive when it comes to video. It advertises MPEG-4, WMV, DivX, and AVI, but the MPIO plays only MPEG-4 videos. The other formats are convertible using the included Windows transcoder software. We had mixed results with the transcoder, as it handled some WMV and AVI files just fine, while choking on others for no apparent reason. Curiously, the transcoder also won't covert MPEG-4 files to the correct resolution. If you have an MPEG-4 file you'd like to load and it doesn't happen to have a 96x64-pixel resolution, you'll have to find another program to convert it. The player comes with Windows software only, so Macintosh users will need to find another way to downsize and convert their videos.
The MPIO One displays JPEG photos, and here, loading is easier, since you don't need to put them in any special resolution. They'll all display as indistinct smudges, with most detail lost, so being able to show them isn't much of a plus. Still, if we were looking at the MPIO One as purely an MP3 player, it is nice to have the extra photo and video features.
You get FM radio with the MPIO One, and while the reception usually has a little static, it's not so bad that it interferes with your listening. You can store up to 30 favorite stations and record WMA tracks from the FM radio. If you feel confident braving the controls, you can even set timed recordings.