Transcend's T.sonic 610 and FM-less 612
Transcend's flash-based T.sonic 610 (256MB and 512MB, $118; 1GB, $153) packs music and a decent set of features into a convenient package at a reasonable price. In fact, you can find the 512MB T.sonic on the street for a little less than the featureless iPod Shuffle, and you get the bonuses of a bright multiline display, an FM radio, voice and FM recording, and MP3/WMA playback; the company also sells an FM radioless model, called the T.sonic 612, in 512MB and 1GB capacities. Plus, the player is plenty compact and boasts a usable metallic design. It's a shame that the overall performance was only mediocre and that Transcend overlooked DRM support, a feature we've come to expect in modern MP3 players.
Measuring 2.7 by 1.3 by 0.6 inches and weighing less than an ounce, the Transcend T.sonic 610/612 series is smaller than it looks in photographs; it's about the size of a Creative MuVo TX FM. In contrast, the iPod Shuffle measures 3.3 by 1 by 0.3 inches and weighs 0.8 ounce. Physically, all variations of the T.sonic look the same, except that the 256MB version has a green ring around the controller, the 512MB version has an orange ring, and the 1GB has a blue ring. Despite its minuscule 128x64-pixel OLED screen, it is particularly nice and easy on the eyes, with four lines of bright text and icons--blue for the ID3 tag info and yellow for the system status.
The Transcend T.sonic 610/612 series is controlled by a simple four-way circular joypad (for menu navigation and volume/playback controls), plus two soft buttons under the display: Play/Pause and Menu. To assist in navigation, especially for casual users, the T.sonic shows the current function of the soft buttons at the bottom corners of the display, much like you see in mobile phones. The only slightly confusing function is holding down the Menu button while in playback mode for switching between submenus to navigate folders and adjust settings.
The Transcend T.sonic 610/612 series plays music in MP3 and Windows Media Audio (WMA) compressed audio formats, as well as records and plays back in uncompressed ADPCM (WAV) mono audio. Unfortunately, it does not support purchased music with DRM protection. The 610 also plays FM radio with 20 presets and records from FM. You can punch up the playback with built-in EQ settings (Normal, Pop, Jazz, Classical, and Rock) or choose your own custom five-band user EQ.
Loading music on the Transcend T.sonic 610/612 series is a straightforward process. You can sync from jukeboxes such as Windows Media Player 10.0 or access the memory as a removable disk to drag and drop music files, as well as upload recordings. You are welcome to organize your music in as many folders as you like for transferring to the player, then navigate through them during playback to choose folders or files to play. However, you don't have the option to browse by album/artist menus, which many users have become accustomed to.
The Transcend T.sonic 610/612 series records voice and FM to uncompressed but lower-bit-rate WAV files, which are stored in separate directories. You can play these files back in recording mode only, and they are ignored during music playback; simply press the dedicated Rec button to record.
The Transcend T.sonic 610/612 series provides three recording levels: Low, Normal, and High at 8KHz, 16KHz, and 32KHz, respectively; mono for voice to fit 16, 32, and 64 hours, respectively in 1GB; and stereo for FM radio to fit 8, 16, and 32 hours, respectively in 1GB. It also has a helpful quiet/noisy environment setting for voice recording. Overall, recording quality was good, while playback of MP3s and WMAs was satisfactory though not stunning. Transfers over USB 2.0 were a bit sluggish at 1.64MB per second, and we were able to muster only about 12 hours of life per charge of its built-in rechargeable battery, a couple hours short of the rated battery life.