Jens of Sweden (JOS) burst onto the MP3 scene in 2003 with no fanfare and a stable of tiny, envy-enducing flash players. Now the company has upped the ante with the gorgeous MP-400 in 256MB, 512MB, and 1GB versions. While we admire the bright, head-turning OLED display and the snazzy design, we were frustrated by its hard-to-use controls and so-so recording capabilities. Music lovers with patience and no need to record will warm to the bite-size MP-400, but audiophiles looking to record from another audio source should try elsewhere. The MP-400 isn't easily available in the U.S. market, but JOS has assured us that its international e-commerce site will be up in January. However, prices had better be lower than $300 for the 256MB version, as converted from the Swedish kronor. The charming silver-and-white Jens of Sweden MP-400 is certainly an eye-catcher; we heard oohs and ahhs whenever the player was in sight. Measuring just 2.5 by 1 by 0.6 inches and weighing a mere 1.2 ounces, the MP-400 is scarcely larger than a bite-size Halloween candy bar. The sleek white-plastic front looks cool and elegant, and we liked the feel of the solid, aluminum (but easily scratched) body. Simply put, this is one of the best-looking MP3 players we've laid eyes on, and it comes in six additional "Scandinavian" colors. Appreciators of bling will want to check out the Excentrique version, which is encased in 24-carat gold and costs about $1,100.
We were even more impressed--at first glance, anyway--by the MP-400's vivid, two-color OLED screen. With its bright, sharp images, the display is a pleasure to look at. But once the initial excitement of the OLED wore off, we noticed just how small the actual display is. At just 93x63 pixels and with a viewable area of only 0.9 inch diagonally, the screen is literally smaller than a postage stamp. We can put up with small displays if the real estate is used wisely, but the MP-400 wastes valuable space on, for instance, large symbols designating the sound effect, repeat, and playback modes; we'd much rather see separate track, artist, and album info. Browsing for music is also difficult. If you're looking in a subdirectory, for example, you can see only the first eight characters of a track; make that five characters if you append your music files with track numbers.
The MP-400's minimalist controls and IO ports give the player a clean, uncluttered look. The headphone and line-in jacks occupy one end of the player, while the mini-USB port sits on the bottom of the player, and a "hold" slider lives in the back. We especially like the unusual five-way navigational pad and its independent Select button--much better than some of the hard-to-press joysticks we've tested, although those with big fingers may disagree. Behind the five-way keypad is a blue light that flashes when the OLED goes to sleep--pretty cool.
While we like the look and feel of the controls, the actual functionality takes getting used to. For example, we had a terrible time finding the settings menu; when we finally broke down and thumbed through the manual, we learned that the Select button on the five-way navigational keypad takes you to the player's settings--not exactly intuitive. And when we browsed through our music with the five-way keypad and came to a song we wanted to hear, we naturally pressed the Select button. But no, you must hit Play or you'll bounce back a level in the directory. Meanwhile, to cycle through the various sound-effect modes while playing a song, you press Record--a button we typically don't press unless we're going to, you know, record something. We eventually got the hang of the controls (with quite a bit of help from the manual), but it took some work, deep breaths, and patience.
The player comes with a minijack-to-minijack connector for the line-in jack, a mini USB-to-USB cord, and an earbud-lanyard combo, which is great for commuting or exercising without a clutter of wires hanging from your chest.
The MP-400 plays MP3s and unprotected WMAs, with OGG support coming in a firmware upgrade, according to Jens of Sweden. You can set up a playlist on the fly, shuffle your music, or use one of several repeat modes, including A-B repeat. Want to tweak the sound? You can apply an SRS surround effect or a bass-boosting mode, as well as turn on the equalizer, which comes with Flat, Rock, Jazz, Classical, and Pop modes, in addition to a user-defined setting.
The player's FM tuner sports 16 presets, which isn't bad, although other players in this class have 20 or more; the device will scan for stations and lock in your presets automatically if you so choose. If you love what you're hearing, you can record the station directly to MP3 at bit rates ranging from 32Kbps to 128Kbps. Other recording options include voice memos recorded in WAV format from 32Kbps to 96Kbps and line-in recording to MP3 from 96Kbps to 160Kbps. Missing from the list is FM transmission, a feature that owners of the MP-300 will miss.
We were pleased with the number of settings you can tweak. Contrast, sleep mode, the amount of time before the battery-sapping OLED goes dark (from 10 seconds to always on), the blue LED behind the navigational keypad, the scrolling speed for track titles--all are up for grabs.We were pleased with the Jens of Sweden MP-400's sound quality; our tunes came through clear and crisp, with plenty of room on the high and low ends (20Hz to 20KHz, respectively) and barely perceptible hiss. That said, we wish the sound output was a bit higher than this model's 10mW per channel; you can certainly crank the MP-400's volume but not to the ear-splitting levels we normally expect.
We were satisfied with voice recording through the built-in mic, but we ran into trouble with in-line recordings. We tested with the analog audio outputs on our DVD player and with the minijack on our 5GB iPod; while other flash MP3 players recorded music from these sources without a hitch, the input volume was too loud for the MP-400, making for noticeable clipping on the recordings. The clipping faded when we turned down the audio source, but that led to more hiss when we turned up the playback volume to compensate. While any recording device will start clipping if the input audio is loud enough, the MP-400 should be able to handle the moderate sound levels of an iPod.
CNET Labs was able to squeeze 18.2 hours out of the MP-400's built-in lithium polymer battery, short of the JOS-rated 20 hours. Transfer times were a decent but not spectacular 1.92MB per second over USB 2.0.