The FP3 (for "Fisher-Price 3") certainly isn't the first kid-friendly MP3 player. The honor for that goes to Disney Electronics and its colorful series of Mix Sticks. However, the FP3 is quite a bit more appropriate for those 3 years and up. I know first-hand, since my 3-year-old did most of the testing.
The blue-and-white disc-shaped device (also available in pink and white) has a diameter of about 3.5 inches, and it's nearly an inch thick. Each side features a tactile and rubbery grip--ideal for small hands. A blue backlit monochrome 1.4-inch LCD sits nested among five big buttons--Play/Pause on the bottom, and Skip Forward and Reverse on either side of the square display. The two buttons above the display take you either to the story or the music section. These buttons physically pop (and audibly click) as you press them and overall are very easy to operate.
Once you power up (the slider switch is on the back) and get past the intro screen with firmware version and all, the screen displays two icons--one for stories and the other for music-- with arrows pointing to the appropriate buttons above. When you click either button, the first story or song will appear with the title, author, and reader plus a cute low-bit graphic. The FP3 comes preloaded with two stories (Bramble Beaver's Bright Idea by Marci Ridlock, and Uncle Filberts Saves the Day, also by Marci Ridlock) and six songs, including "Ickily Boo" from Songs of the Alphabet.
My daughter not only took to the content, she was able to use the device effectively out of the box. Just like me, she bypassed the manual. Though the graphics (such as a beaver or a boy on a swing) don't change as the story or song progresses, she was definitely entertained during a weekend road trip.
There are two ways to update the content on the player. First, you can load the FP3 software (fearing piracy, FP requires that you enter the serial number for install) onto a Windows machine and purchase songs or stories a la carte, just like you would with iTunes. The variety of titles is decent and includes works by or about Dr. Seuss, Clifford, and Curious George. There are also more than 50 albums broken down by ages 3 to 5 and 6 to 8. You can get a preview of the store here (though you must use the software to actually buy). Fisher-Price must have taken notes from iTunes, because songs cost 99 cents each, albums cost $9.99, and stories cost $1.99.
If Junior gets bored with those selections (my daughter listed lack of Dora the Explorer as a con), you can always rip your own CDs using the software. However, both purchased songs or stories and ripped CDs come in a proprietary format, meaning you can't use them on a standard MP3 player once your kid grows up (but what 9-year-old wants to listen to those songs anyway?) Two cool features: the player supports playlists as well as customizable icons.
The device can hold about two hours of content (or about 50 songs) and can be expanded via an SD card (not included). The card slot is located under the right hand grip, which is secured with a screw. That's where you'll also find the battery compartment, which holds two AAA batteries. We found battery life to be OK at about 10 hours. You'll find the standard mini USB 1.1 port on the bottom of the device; transfer time is predictably slow.
Probably the most important feature for me as a parent is the device's volume limits (the Disney player lacked this feature). At maximum volume, I consider the device safe for kid ears. Volume is controlled via two buttons on either side of the headphone port. The included adjustable headphones are toylike, but they are comfortable, though we wish the foam earpads didn't come off so easily. The package also comes with a neck lanyard that easily rips away when pressure is placed upon the device.
Overall, the FP3 makes an excellent, though pricey, introduction to digital audio for young children. Though you can get a nice 512MB MP3 player for the same price, the FP3 is durable, intuitive, and safe. Plus, you won't have to share your iPod with your kid--unless of course they want to watch video.