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Auvi SA250 (256MB) review: Auvi SA250 (256MB)

Lots of features and a good price don't overcome this player's beefy size and performance issues.

James Kim
Account in memoriam for the editor.
James Kim
5 min read
Auvi SA250 (256MB)
Way back in 1998, $200 would get you an uninspiring 32MB Diamond Rio flash player equipped with a SmartMedia expansion slot and a parallel port. Today, you can get eight times the storage capacity plus a bunch of added useful features for about half the price. Auvi's 256MB SA250 proves that the MP3 player market has come a long way since those dark, early days. The plug-in style MP3/WMA player includes direct line-in encoding, a voice recorder, an FM tuner, and USB 2.0 connectivity, all for less than $100. If you're looking for a no-nonsense device that plays protected WMAs, and you don't mind its odd, submarine shape as well as a couple of recording glitches, the SA250 makes for a solid value.

The SA250 isn't going to win any awards for design. Actually. we take that back: it was indeed a 2004 CES Design and Engineering honoree. While it manages to pack multiple features into its hull-shaped body, you can plainly see that it's, well, plain. The black, plastic player feels comfortable in the hand, but its overall dimension of 4.0 by 1.2 by 0.9 inches is bulky for a flash player. The SA250 is long and slim, but it's deceptively thick. In fact, we had a difficult time finding a USB "driveway" on the back of our PC that was big enough to accommodate the plug-in device. And its girth prevented it from naturally plugging into a PowerBook laptop. Auvi mercifully includes a short, 3-foot USB extension cable in the package.


Auvi SA250 (256MB)

The Good

Solid value; decent battery life; USB plug-in design; voice, line-in, and FM recording; simple controls; plays protected WMA files.

The Bad

Plain look and bulky feel; difficult to plug in without USB extension cable; poor voice-record quality; no playlist compatibility; spotty recording performance.

The Bottom Line

The utilitarian, budget-class SA250 mostly gets the job done, but there are far better choices.

Still, it's an easy player to use once you figure out the secondary functions of some of its buttons. The prominent play/pause button sits to the right of the long, skinny, two-line LCD. During playback, the screen displays scrolling track information, file bit rate, EQ setting, battery life, time elapsed, and the repeat setting. It's a utilitarian and unspectacular display that's set back a bit from the face of the player, so a shadow is cast across the top of the screen. The blue backlight helps, but it could be brighter; the backlit screen lacks pop in a dark room.

The top of the SA250 includes a record button (also used to delete files), a line-in jack for recording from a variety of audio sources, a headphone jack, and a microphone. On the bottom of the device, you'll find track-forward and -reverse buttons, a selectable jog wheel that serves as both a volume and menu controller, and a Hold switch. Pushing in the jog wheel shuffles you through the player's various modes: MP3 player, FM tuner, voice recorder, and line-in recorder. A cap for the USB plug resides on the left side, while an open ring (presumably to attach the SA250 to a keychain or a lanyard) is built into the unit's right side; this ring adds unnecessary length to the SA250. The contoured yet protruding compartment on the back houses a AAA battery.

The entire package includes the player, a pair of average earbud headphones, a USB extension cable, a fitted pouch (which makes the player even bulkier), an armband, a stereo line-in cable, and a AAA battery.

What the SA250 lacks in style, it makes it up for in features. The player is compatible with MP3, WMA, and protected WMA files, meaning you can listen to tunes purchased from online stores such as Napster and MSN Music. It also includes an FM tuner with 20 user presets. Unfortunately, the SA250 doesn't have a station autoscan feature, and even worse, your presets are erased when you switch out the battery.

The SA250 has a plethora of recording options, including direct line-in recording, voice recording via the built-in microphone, and FM recording. Recordings for all modes are created in either MP3 (96Kbps, 112Kbps, 128Kbps, 160Kbps, 192Kbps, 256Kbps, and 320Kbps) or ADPCM (8kHz, 16kHz, or 32kHz). To record, simply press the Menu button to enter FM tuner, voice recording, or line-in recording mode, then press the record button. You can listen to your recorded files by entering either voice or line-in recording mode. In addition, you can record as many as 99 different files in each of the recording modes as long as you have enough storage. This sounds good on paper, but recording from a variety of sources often times became a chore (see below).

Standard repeat modes include Repeat One, Repeat All, and Repeat Shuffle. Unfortunately, the SA250 is not compatible with playlists, and what's more, there's no way to browse through your collection of songs. Many higher-end, flash-based players include a browseable track list, and most display the number of songs on the device. The SA250 displays only the number of the currently playing track. On the upside, the SA250 can be used as a driverless UMS device on Windows XP and Mac OS X systems.

Overall, the SA250's long list of features is overshadowed by several performance issues. Voice recordings are marred by occasional but annoying static that often makes recordings undecipherable. Getting farther away from the microphone helps reduce the static, but the microphone isn't sensitive enough to effectively capture sound from across the room. Also, we experienced spotty performance while recording FM radio content. This typically entailed a long delay between pressing the record button and the actual start of recording. Occasionally, the device would just freeze up and power down. We noted this happened often when trying to record at 320Kbps. When we were able to record an FM signal, it was filled with occasional static artifacts. Line-in recordings sounded good, but thanks to the aforementioned recording delay, we couldn't pinpoint the start of our recordings. We also noticed a severe hit in battery life when using the device as a recorder.

As a digital audio player, the Auvi SA250 fared much better. Sound quality is good and much deeper with the Rock EQ preset selected. The other EQ presets, Classic, Pop, and Jazz, don't really improve the sound quality. In our CNET Labs' tests, we eked out an impressive 17.6 hours from a single AAA battery--better even than the rated 15 hours. Transfer times hit 2MB per second, an average figure for a USB 2.0 device. As affordable as this device may be, many might consider spending the extra 50 clams for a smaller and much more reliable device such as JetAudio's iAudio U2 or spending less to get a more dependable and compact unit such as Creative's MuVo Micro.


Auvi SA250 (256MB)

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 8Performance 6