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.
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.