BoomGear's boomless MP-900
At first blush, BoomGear's $180 MP-900 MP3 player seems to have a lot going for it. Its memory is expandable, it features FM and line-in recording, and its design vaguely resembles that of iRiver's popular line of flash-based models. Beneath the surface, however, lie some irritating and perplexing performance issues.
Measuring 1.41 by 3.74 by 0.69 inches and weighing just 1.13 ounces, the MP-900 is petite and light. The blue backlight is a bit dark, and while you can adjust the contrast, you can't control the brightness. Also, we noticed that the unit's silver facing is overly prone to scratching. Unfortunately, the MP-900 doesn't ship with a protective carrying case.
A small joystick on the right side of the BoomGear MP-900 controls fast-forward, rewind, and volume functions. A quick press of the joystick calls up the music folders; push and hold to reach the menu options, which are relatively slim. As for system options, you can switch the backlighting (between red, green, yellow, and off) and the contrast; adjust the sleep and power-off times; and change the language between English, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese. During MP3 playback, you can adjust the equalizer, the speed (normal, fast, or slow, with the last two producing some comical effects), the play mode (the usual shuffle and repeat options, plus a Scan mode that plays the first 10 seconds of each song), and the ID3 tag information. The player comes with 256MB of onboard memory, but it features a handy Secure Digital expansion slot for adding as much as an extra 256MB of memory.
EQ selections include four presets--Flat, Classic, Pop, and Rock--and a five-band user-defined mode. As you listen to music, you can toggle through these choices by pressing the Function button. The FM radio includes an autoscan function, which runs a search, then saves the first 20 stations it finds. Unfortunately, the MP-900 was never able to locate more than 3 stations during any of our tests, though there are many more than that in the Chicago area. More troubling is that the device defaults to mono rather than stereo mode when you're listening to the radio. You have to press the Function button to switch to stereo mode, and there's no way to set this as the default.
You can record directly from the FM radio or an external source, such as a portable CD player, but you can't adjust the settings. Bit rates are fixed at 128Kbps, and all recordings are saved in the ENC format, not MP3 or even WAV. You can, however, use the included MP3 Player Mate V software to convert encoded files to MP3. More disturbing is the fact that test recordings we made from an external CD player came back with heavy treble distortion.
You transfer MP3 or unprotected WMA files (alas, no DRM support) to the BoomGear MP-900 through Windows Explorer or Player Mate. Music sounded decent with the supplied earbuds, but the quality improved with a pair of full-size Koss UR-40 headphones. At 6mW per channel at 16 ohms, the volume gets loud, though not earsplittingly so, with the larger headphones. Battery life was less than stellar, as we reached only 8.7 hours of playback from a single AAA cell. We're accustomed to getting at least 12 hours from similar players. With a transfer speed of 0.44MB per second, this USB 1.1 model is a tad on the slow side.