The MSI Mega Player 536 is a sleek portable audio player with a fetching iPod-like styling complete with flat, touch-sensitive buttons. It includes an integrated SD/MMC memory-card slot, an FM tuner, and high-quality line-in recording capabilities--all for a competitive price of $199 for the 8GB version (a 4GB version is available for $149). Unfortunately, a quirky interface, limited file-format support, a subpar display, and so-so battery life drag the player down considerably.
The sturdy, sleek design of our test model inspired confidence. Measuring 3.7 by 2.3 by 0.6 inches, weighing 3.4 ounces, and decked out in smooth white (the 4GB version is gray), the Mega Player 536 is roughly the size of an iPod but a bit lighter. The device's main controls are six flat, touch-sensitive buttons that reside on the lower portion of the front panel and are arranged in a rectangle. You use the buttons to navigate menu levels and lists, skip and scan through tracks, and adjust the volume. Unfortunately, the ultrasensitive keys occasionally registered commands that we didn't intend to enter. The left panel hosts a repeat A-B button and the SD/MMC card slot. On the right side, you'll find an on/off/hold switch as well as USB 2.0 and power adapter jacks, which reside behind a hinged rubber door. Headphone and line-in minijacks are located on the top panel. The unit's 1.8-inch, 128x160-pixel color display has a vertical, portrait orientation rather than the wide-screen view you see with the 5G iPod's larger 2.5-inch screen. MSI includes a power adapter, a line-in audio cable, a USB cable, a USB host cable, earbuds, and a driver/user guide CD-ROM with the player.
The MSI Mega Player 536's interface is somewhat confusing until you get the hang of it. The main menu has six icons (music, multimedia, file browser, record, radio, and settings) that you select to access the device's main features. Although holding down the menu button pops up a page that provides access to additional features, you wouldn't know it without reading the user guide. The music menu allows navigating tracks by the directories in which they're stored on the device's hard drive or on an inserted memory card. The music menu also has artist and album options, but oddly, you can navigate tracks by those categories only if you've synced the player using Windows Media Player. If, for example, you simply drag and drop your tracks from Windows Explorer to the player, the artist and album menu options will not contain any entries. You can fire up photos and videos from the multimedia menu.
The Mega Player 536's audio support spans MP3, WMA, and WMA DRM files, although only WMA DRM 9--not WMA DRM 10--is supported. In practice, the unit was able to play WMA DRM files we'd owned for quite a while as well as a few we purchased from MSN Music during the testing period. It wasn't able to play Janus DRM tracks we downloaded as part of a Yahoo Music Unlimited subscription. Like all non-Apple portables, the Mega Player 536 can't play protected AAC files purchased from iTunes. Photo support is limited to JPEGs, while video support covers only M-JPEGs (moving JPEG), placing the unit on the fringes of video playback capability--not a huge deal, considering the price.