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Somewhat surprisingly, Best Buy's own Insignia brand of MP3 players has gained quite a bit of popularity among consumers lately. That's not to say that the devices aren't good (quite the opposite, actually), but in this image-conscious market, "cheap" electronics under generic brands usually don't turn heads. Yet that's exactly what the Insignia Pilot is doing, likely because of its laundry list of features and rock-bottom pricing: the 8GB tags in at just $160, while the 4GB version runs at a slightly less-impressive $130. The Pilot might not be the best-sounding player on the block, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a better value.
Compared with many other flash MP3 players, the Insignia Pilot is not the most compact device: it measures 4 inches by 1.9 inches by 0.4 inch, so it's not huge but a bit on the long side. It's also not overtly stylish, but with its black body wrapped in a brushed silver trim, the player isn't an eyesore, either. The face of the Pilot features an ample 2.4-inch color LCD screen on the left and a control pad on the right. The latter consists of a menu button and mechanical scroll ring with four-way clicking capability surrounding a Play/Pause key. A Power/Hold switch and the rather unique star-rating toggle line the top edge of the player, and the ports--headphone, line-in/secondary headphone, and standard mini USB--reside along the right spine. Best Buy has also built-in SD card expansion slot into the bottom of the player, which is handy for users who don't want to be limited to 8GB of memory.
The Insignia Pilot knows what it's doing as far as ease of use is concerned--the main menu is icon-driven and music is organized into the typical Creative step-down structure (artist, album, genre, playlist, and so on)--but the interface isn't particularly exciting. You can change the wallpaper color, but that's about it: no themes and no setting your own images as a background. The playback screen displays album art, at least, along with a plethora of information on the currently playing and upcoming songs. And you have the option to switch between screens to view larger album art or, in some cases, a short artist blurb. Another nice--if unusual--touch is the star toggle on the top edge of the player. Flick it in to the left to take away stars, to the right to add stars, or push it straight down to access a contextual menu for changing playback settings or for placing bookmarks.
Doubtless, a big draw of the Insignia Pilot is the breadth of the player's features--it's almost insane. The device supports JPEG photos, MPEG-4 and WMV videos, and an outstanding number of audio formats: MP3, WMA, WMA Lossless, WMA DRM, WMA Pro, OGG, WAV, and Audible. There's even Rhapsody DNA integration, so you can transfer Channels (basically, Internet radio) to the player for on-the-go access. And if you get sick of digital, you can switch over to the FM radio, which offers autoscan and up to 20 presets. There's also recording for voice and FM (both in WAV) along with line-in (saved as WMA). Last but certainly not least, is the Pilot's built-in stereo Bluetooth functionality, which allows it to stream audio to Bluetooth headphones--definitely a nice touch for wire haters.
Unfortunately, the Pilot isn't all that impressive when it comes to sound quality. Overall, the player sounds OK, but audio enthusiasts will find that music is lacking across ranges. Even with the Shure SE310, bass is not thumping and the mids seem deficient and don't come across as warm or buttery as we would like. High-end clarity and detail is decent, but sound doesn't sparkle. Video quality is similarly mediocre. Color saturation is good, and there is some noticeable pixelation during video playback, though it's not too distracting for short clips. On the plus side, photos look pretty good, and the rated battery life of 25 hours for audio is plenty decent. CNET Labs was able to get a more than respectable 24 hours of battery life out of the player (which is rated for 25 hours).