It's no surprise to see Kingston enter the MP3 market with its K-PEX portable media player. After all, fellow memory giants Lexar and, more prominently, SanDisk have been in the MP3 loop for a while now. The K-PEX, available in 1GB ($130) and 2GB ($180) capacities, offers tons of features at a decent price (and an awesome street price). Where the K-PEX falls short (mainly in build quality and video support), it makes it up in its ease of use.
The K-PEX, short for Kingston Personal Entertainment eXperience, looks like a miniature gaming device with controller buttons on either side of the bright and colorful 220x176 2-inch display. (In fact, it ships with two decent games.) It's used oriented horizontally rather than vertically. The unit's budget build quality actually adds to its charm, as it's still durable enough to bang around. While it's not small for a flash-based device (3.7 by 1.8 by 0.6 inches; 2.2 ounces), it seems small due to its gaming form factor; it makes the 20GB Archos Gmini 402 look not so mini. The K-PEX is certainly pocketable, though the placement of the headphone jack on top extends its width.
The K-PEX can do almost anything. It can play back MP3, protected WMA (but not subscription), OGG, and WAV audio files; it can play back video as well as photos with background music; it's a USB host, so you can offload images from a digital camera; it can be used as a text viewer; it has an FM tuner; it's a line-in and voice recorder; and finally, it plays games. The device even has a built-in mono speaker located on the back.
What it can't do is record video and record from FM. In addition, you must use the bundled software, which supports AVI, MPEG-1 and -2, and WMV, to transcode any video file so that it works on the player. Still, this UMS device packs a lot of power into a small space.
Bringing it all together is the intuitive K-PEX interface, which is anchored by the four tactile controller buttons on the left with the Select, Escape, and Play buttons prominently on the right side. A Menu button sits above the four-way, with Power down below. The colorful animated icon-driven main menu is made up of individual pages including Music, File Manager, Game, FM Radio, Record, Video, Text, Photo, USB Host, and Settings, and can be rifled through easily. Under some menu options such as Music, FM, Record, and Settings, more context-sensitive options, such as User EQ and play speed, spill below. Nearly anyone will be able to pick the K-PEX up and start using it.
You'll find more buttons, such as the dedicated volume buttons and the hold switch on the bottom, and the Mode, Repeat, and Record buttons on top. Since these buttons are mostly secondary, they don't get in the way, though they are useful when you learn their functions. For example, in music playback mode, hitting Mode will activate the EQ, which includes Jazz, Pop, Classic, Pop, 3D, and a five-band custom user EQ. Holding Mode switches between two cool audio-level graphics that pulsate to the beat. In addition, we rarely used the volume buttons, since you can also control volume using the Up and Down controllers.