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MP3 players fulfill many roles for the people who use them. For some, a portable audio device is true to form as an essential commuter companion; others turn their players into home audio systems by attaching them to speakers. But one of the most popular uses for an MP3 player is as a workout motivator, which is why companies have packed fitness-friendly extras into the devices over the years. The most recent example is found in the Haier America Trainer, a 2GB player with a surfeit of features aimed at getting you in shape. At $60, the Trainer is a solid investment for gym rats who want to get the absolute most out of an MP3 player.
Like any good fitness-friendly MP3 player, the Trainer is supersmall, light, and durable. It also features a built-in belt clip so you can attach it to your clothes during workouts. The unit is constructed of sweat-resistant plastic that's decked out in muted blue, gray, and black. A small, monochrome LCD on the front is flanked by a navigation button, dedicated volume controls, playback keys (play/pause and track forward/reverse), and a heart rate sensor. Around the edges of the device, you'll find a power/hold switch, a standard USB port, a menu button, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
With its plethora of buttons, the Trainer is not the most straightforward device, but most users will require just a bit of practice before getting the hang of it. For example, the navigation key moves among the top menu options, while the menu button pulls up contextual menus for some of those options. Also, the volume and track shuttle controls are used for different functions within the menus. Thankfully, getting music onto the player is not as tricky: simply plug it in to any system running Mac or Windows and drag and drop tracks or album/artist folders. You may also elect to use a jukebox, such as Windows Media Player or Rhapsody, but be forewarned that the Trainer does not accept playlists--kind of a glaring oversight for a workout player, if you ask us. On the plus side, the unit supports subscription WMA files and MP3s.
Other features found on the Trainer are almost exclusively of a fitness-oriented nature. There's a built-in pedometer, a heart rate monitor, and a stopwatch. The player lets you input your height, weight, and sex for calorie-tracking purposes, and Haier even includes a handy tracking app that's very easy to use. Even the integrated FM radio (with autoscan and presets) can be useful for those who like to tune into the TVs at the gym. And what's great is that the pedometer and stopwatch can run in the background while you do other things, such as browse music or check your pulse.
However, without the accuracy of the pedometer, many of the fitness features won't be useful and, unfortunately, we had some mixed results in testing. First, you have to set your stride by starting and stopping the pedometer for a given distance (100, 200, 400 meters, and so on)--we counted our steps over the distance to test the accuracy, and it took a few tries for the pedometer to get it right. After that, we went on a 4-mile walk to see if the player could correctly measure the distance; it got pretty close. The real issue came when we hooked the player up to the software program and were told that we actually ran half of that distance, which means the calories burned were likely overestimated. Still, at least the pedometer tracked the distance fairly accurately, and people with different strides may get better results on the running versus walking.
We also put the Trainer's audio capabilities to the test and were pretty appalled by the sound quality offered through the included headphones. However, swapping in our favorite pair made a huge difference. Music actually sounded clean, clear, and warm, with decent bass response. It's perhaps a step below the Sansa Clip in this area, but we're not terribly concerned with getting stellar audio quality from a player that leans so heavily toward fitness applications. The FM tuner works well for the most part, though it wouldn't pick up a couple standard Bay Area stations. We're curious to find out about battery life in testing, as Haier doesn't list a rated number anywhere in the documentation.
All in all, we think it's very nice to have such an array of workout-worthy extras in a small, inexpensive player that offers solid sound quality. We wish the Trainer had playlist support and a more accurate pedometer, but for now it's one of the only players on the market with that latter feature, so we're willing to overlook the shortcomings.