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Gateway has entered the portable-MP3-player arena with the $129 DMP-200, a 128MB flash-based unit that plugs directly into the USB port on your Mac or PC. The DMP-200 is small and svelte, measuring 3.3 by 0.5 by 1.4 inches and weighing just 1.5 ounces with the battery installed. Joggers will like the rounded edges, but they'll also wish for a bounce-free way to carry the player, which must either sit in a pocket or hang from the flimsy neck strap.
The large Play/Stop key on the front is convenient, but a larger screen and a joystick or a jog dial would have made navigation easier. On the upside, the buttons are firm to the touch, and the plastic loop to which the neck strap attaches is well constructed. We also appreciate the included 5-foot USB extension cord, which can reach ports awkwardly placed on a computer's rear panel.For a direct-connect player, the DMP-200 has a decent feature set, including voice recording in the VOC format, data storage, an impressive 10-band graphic equalizer, repeat and random playback, and even support for four languages. Our voice memos sounded clear enough, and the bundled software can translate them into mono 8kHz WAV files for e-mailing or archiving. The Logo Editor enables you to change the power-up image to a series of your own drawings or a converted photo.
Like other plug-in units, the DMP-200 lacks an expansion slot. The player shows up as a removable drive in Windows 2000, Windows XP, Mac OS X, and Linux, so file transfer is drag-and-drop--no software necessary. But that simplicity has a price: songs play back in alphabetical order. The only way to create a different sequence is to rename your files; placing a number at the beginning of each filename is one approach.
Sound quality is good, with a signal-to-noise ratio of 87dB and an output of 6mW per channel. Audiophiles and those who prefer excessive volume levels should look for higher ratings, but these specs suffice for most people, especially considering the excellent equalizer. One performance foible is the high-frequency whine that leaks out of the headphones as the device automatically powers down.
Files transferred to the player at 0.61MB per second--quick for USB 1.1. At that rate, it takes just less than four minutes to fill the 128MB of internal flash memory. The unit runs for about nine hours on an alkaline AAA battery.
We'd be more enthusiastic about the DMP-200 if it cost less; $129 should get you an armband or a carrying case. For the same street price, you could buy a Rio Fuse or Creative's Nomad MuVo NX. The latter delivers all the Gateway's features, plus a jog dial and an armband.