Boomgear MP-700 (256MB)
So many flash-based players, so little to distinguish one from another--the 256MB BoomGear MP-700 doesn't do much to separate itself from the pack. Although this $149 device is a solid performer with a variety of recording options, you can easily find more stylish offerings (with memory expansion) for a few dollars extra.
There's not much to say about MP-700's silver, tube-shape design. It's nothing spectacular, but it isn't gaudy, either. The four control buttons are small but responsive and feel as if they can withstand constant use. The menus are easy to understand and simple to navigate--press the menu/fast-forward/rewind button to access the list, then press the button to the left or right to highlight a selection. The Hold switch, however, is tough to maneuver--you have to dig your thumbnail into the crevice to slide it over. Another slide switch extends and retracts a USB plug, which allows you to use the MP-700 as a direct plug-in player, though it's easier to connect with the supplied USB cable. The player also comes with a neck strap and a carrying case, but at 3.46 by 0.94 inches and 1.27 ounces, it's small enough to slip into a pocket or a purse.
The MP-700's LCD is small, although this isn't a problem when reading song information, which is displayed in fairly large text. The menu text, however, is tiny and will lead to eyestrain if you're not careful. You get a choice of seven backlight colors: green, red, blue, magenta, yellow, cyan, and white; or there's a random setting that toggles between the colors.
You can transfer music to the player through Windows Explorer or via the included Live Music_H Explorer software, which is essentially a souped-up file manager that enables you to drag and drop songs from your music folder to the player. The CD-ROM also includes a text-to-speech program that converts any written words (in English, Japanese, Korean, or Chinese) to an audio file that you can play on the MP-700. Installing this on your PC, however, requires 424MB of disk space.
The MP-700 supports MP3 and unprotected WMA files, and you can move folders of music files to the device or create them with the bundled software. Thus, if you group all of your jazz recordings into a folder called Jazz, those songs will appear in that folder on the player. You can also make playlists on the player itself by creating bookmarks. In addition, the MP-700 comes with five predefined EQ settings (Normal, Rock, Pop, Classic, and Jazz), but there's no user-defined setting.
A full suite of recording features tops off the MP-700's feature set. Line-in recording takes music from an audio source, such as a CD player, and saves it as an MP3 file; you can set the player to encode tracks at up to 128Kbps. The line-in port, however, is smaller than standard, so you'll have to use the cable that comes with the device. The player also offers direct FM recording, but these files are saved in WAV format in the Voice folder, not as MP3 files in the Encoding folder. The FM radio had a difficult time maintaining stereo broadcasts of high-powered stations in the Chicago area, and unlike BoomGear's MP-900, there's no automatic preset feature, so you'll have to enter your presets manually. A built-in mic handles the MP-700's voice recordings, which are encoded as WAV files at 32Kbps.
The BoomGear MP-700 performed well in our tests. Music sounded good through the supplied ear buds. Despite the lack of a user-defined EQ setting, we were able to get decent highs and lows from a variety of music genres. And although the MP-700 boasts an output of just 5mW per channel at 16 ohms, music was surprisingly loud on a pair of full-size Koss UR-40 headphones. Battery life was slightly better than average at 12.9 hours, as was the player's transfer speed of 0.69MB over USB 1.1.