Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
Designed for the road
Though portable, the MP4000 was clearly designed for use in the car. It comes with all of the attachments that you need for listening on the road: a power adapter that plugs into your cigarette lighter, an adapter for playing audio through your car's cassette desk, and even suction-cup mounts for attaching the unit to your windshield. When mounted above the dash, the MP4000 is commonly mistaken for a radar detector. The bright red LED display on front edge of the player is easy to read while driving. The MP4000 stores the music on a tiny (we mean tiny--about the size of a matchbook) 340MB IBM Microdrive; that's enough memory to store more than five hours of CD-quality music.
However, while the MP4000 works pretty well in the car, it's a bit problematic when you take it for a stroll. The screen is very small, and the player is quite bulky, measuring 2.75 by 1.25 by 4.5 inches. When mobile, the MP4000 runs on two AA batteries, but the Microdrive needs so much power that the unit ran out of juice in about two hours. Replacing the Microdrive with a standard CompactFlash card would extend the playing time, but a 256MB card costs more than this whole package. If you want to plug the player into a wall outlet, though, you'll need to buy a separate AC adapter, as the MP4000 doesn't come with one. The included ear bud-style headphones gave off some background hiss. If you're not a fan of ear buds, there's a built-in monaural speaker, but it's better suited for listening to voice recordings than music.
Overall, we found the MP4000 a bit difficult to use. The buttons are well laid out, but the screen was so small that it was easy to get confused. We had no trouble connecting the player to our computer via the USB port to transfer files, since the unit shows up as a drive in Windows Explorer (the player is not Mac compatible). However, we found the MediaManager software, which allows you to sync up with a Web-based portal to download music and news, quite confusing. It also kept telling us that we needed to update to a newer version, though we had the latest version available on the Web site.
Dictation to go
With everything else that the MP4000 can do, folks won't want to get out of their cars. You can listen to e-mails and create voice responses as well as simply rock to the music. The inclusion of text-to-speech software allows you to download your e-mails as voice messages so that you can listen to them on the go. You then use the built-in microphone to create voice replies. Then, the next time that you connect the MP4000 to your PC, you can send off those replies as audio attachments. The text-to-speech feature worked well enough, converting text files and Microsoft Word documents automatically into audio. Unfortunately though, the MP4000 lacks an external microphone jack, and the built-in mike produced a lot of static. It's great for listening to long e-mails while on the go, but once you factor in the time it takes to sync up the unit and send out the replies, this is a cumbersome and unworkable extra.
Priced at $499, the MP4000 isn't a bad deal considering all the accessories you get, not to mention the included Microdrive. It offers an easy way to add an MP3 player to your car. The voice e-mail feature, however, is a bit too ahead of its time.