Simple and colorful, these basic plug-in-style players are good, clean MP3 fun.
The four Mix Stick styles--Princess, That's So Raven, Tinkerbell, and Chrome--suggest a target audience of ages 5 to 12; we suspect most teens will have their eyes on iPods. There's no question that most of the styles were designed with girls in mind, though Chrome is fairly androgynous. Because it's a Disney product, it should come as no surprise to find Mickey Mouse-shaped controls--a cute touch. Kids will master them in no time, though the lack of a screen is unfortunate. As with players such as the iPod Shuffle, the only way to find a specific song is to cycle through the library.
Also like the Shuffle, the Disney Electronics Mix Stick was designed to be worn around the neck with an included lanyard. Similarly, it plugs directly into a USB port for battery charging and file transfers. Because it's such a wide device, however, it may not fit into some ports, and Disney doesn't supply an extension cable.
You'll need Windows Media Player 10 to copy DRM-protected WMAs to the player, but you can drag and drop MP3s and other files. As for Disney's Mix Clips--CD-length song collections, mostly from kids' TV shows, on MMC cards--there are currently three to choose from, all reasonably priced at $14.99. We got grooving to the Lizzie McGuire theme song on Disney Channel Hits one too many times. If you're a really cool uncle or aunt, you can add the Disney Electronics Jam Stand ($40), a set of speakers styled to match the Mix Stick. The speaker system doesn't sound that great, but it does recharge the MP3 player (battery life for the Mix Stick is about 8 hours) and flashes colorful lights as the music plays.
The Disney Electronics Mix Stick suffers from a handful of minor problems and one major one. Music sounds flat, which isn't a deal breaker; young ears aren't particularly discriminating. We also found file transfers to be quite slow, despite the USB 2.0 interface. Again, this is minor--with only 128MB to fill, waiting a few minutes is no big deal.
The only real problem with this otherwise nifty jukebox for Junior is the earbuds. They're standard size, meaning they're too large to fit comfortably in the ears of the Disney Electronics Mix Stick's intended audience. Our 6-year-old test subject quickly became frustrated because the 'buds kept falling out. Kids don't have Mickey Mouse-size ears, so Disney should have supplied more child-friendly headphones.