The impeccably designed Asono Mica
Funk and functionality often work at cross-purposes when combined in a single device, and the success of such a device can be divisive. The Mica, from the Norwegian company Asono, is easily the funkiest MP3 player around, and once you figure out its internal joystick-controlled logic, it's as easy to use as models less intent on aesthetic gymnastics. With an FM radio as well as line-in and voice recording, the Mica, available in black or white, offers functionality that's similar to that of other flash-based players, but at $159 for the 512MB version and $199 for the 1GB, the Mica is a bit pricier. (We computed the prices based on current Euro-to-dollar conversion rates.)
Resembling a tiny modernist plastic pouch or a large pendant, the Mica is a creatively integrated two-piece player that combines the earphones into an around-the-neck design. Its minimalist, futuristic, and decidedly Scandinavian look will attract attention from designers and fashionistas. At 0.8 ounce, the Mica is as light as the iPod Shuffle, but at 1.5 by 1.5 by 0.63 inches, it's about twice the size. The detachable bottom half houses the earphone connector and the USB jack (a USB cable comes with the player). The USB connection also charges the battery, from which CNET Labs coaxed only 10 hours per charge--a subpar figure. The Mica's performance suffered further from the excessively slow USB 1.1 transfer speed of 0.8MB per second.
A tiny joystick on the front of the player controls all the major functions: power on and off, play and pause, volume up and down, and skip/next/last track. The navigational array is as easy to operate as the iPod Shuffle's. Three mode keys labeled with the tiny etched letters H, R, and M on the flip side of the player access the settings and the mode features, including FM radio and audio recording. On the bottom is an aesthetically pleasing three-line, 1-inch-wide backlit LCD--a feature that the iPod Shuffle famously lacks. Moreover, the monochrome LCD can be set to one of seven vibrant colors or made to change randomly.