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.