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To paraphrase Winston Churchill: MP3 video player combos with small screens are fantastically annoying. Watching an episode of Lost on a screen barely larger than a postage stamp isn't much fun at all, and may drive you to violence.
That said, the Meizu miniPlayer is far from disastrous. Although it rather shamelessly imitates the casing of the old iPod nano, you can't blame it for having aspirations. Compared to some of the monstrosities we've tested in the past, this player at least has its wits about it.
Around the same size as a credit card, and very slightly thicker than the old nano, the Meizu includes video playback, an FM tuner, MP3 player, some games and a calendar. Those of the old school may resent its homage to Apple's 'impossibly' thin original, but are they right to point the bony finger of plagiarism, or is the Meizu a hot young Avril Lavigne to Apple's ageing Spice Girl?
See: Apple, nano. Initially this MP3 player was thought to be the fantastical invention of bored photoshoppers dreaming of a widescreen iPod. It turns out that the Meizu is, in fact, real -- although there are a couple of major differences between this and the original nano.
Powering-on the Meizu is a dark art. You have to hold down the power button for at least two seconds. Failing to do this will make the screen briefly flash white, giving the uninitiated the impression that either the hold switch is enabled or that the player is broken (it's not, it's just very reluctant to turn on). This issue should have been addressed early on by the designers.
The scrolling interface on the Meizu isn't as easy to use as the nano's -- the touch-strip on the right of the screen is a linear scrolling system (the Click Wheel, being a circle, is infinite). This means the Meizu can only scroll a finite distance before you have to lift your finger off the pad, move it down, and scroll some more. It also has a tendency to misinterpret finger placement, and occasionally, to flit about -- just missing the track you want to play each time. It sometimes makes you feel like a drunk trying to put his key in the front door.
Overall, the Meizu feels solid and well built. It weighs less than 60g, and has a 61mm (2.4-inch) screen that displays song info, synchronised lyrics, AVI video, photo slide shows, screensavers and Flash games.
The unpredictability of the scrolling interface is to some extent redeemed by a reasonably intuitive menu structure that makes it easy to switch from, say, video playback to MP3 playback. However, it's confusing to work out whether you should use the 'enter' key or the 'forward' key to select an option. The interface switches between the two conventions depending on context. You'll get used to it eventually, but it's not ideal.
The Meizu will play back MP3, MP2, OGG and WAV files, to name a few audio formats. The player mounts as a generic USB device and transferring tracks is a simple drag-and-drop operation. There's also a built-in microphone that will capture nine hours of voice.
The device is also supposed to handle XviD video, but this is rather more mysterious. Try as we might we couldn't encode an XviD format AVI that would successfully play on the Meizu. We're guessing that there is some way to pull it off, but we eventually became bored of tweaking the minutiae of settings available under the DivX codec in the hope of making it work.
Sound quality is more than passable. Listening to Ed Harcourt's low-fi extravaganza, Apple of My Eye, the Meizu shone like a beacon of truth. Nirvana's Lithium didn't have quite the same chutzpah as the same track on our flat-response studio reference system, but it was fun none the less.
The miniPlayer can play some kind of AVI file. We know this because there's one demo movie on the player that displays beautifully. How many times you can watch this before you tire of the repetition will vary.
Meizu claims you'll get 20 hours of playback from the lithium-ion rechargeable battery.
If you're looking for a non-Apple player with decent credentials, and aren't averse to the tantalising prospect of figuring out what video encoding methods to use, the Meizu is a plausible alternative to iPod zombiedom.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Elizabeth Griffin