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.