Wearable electronics are nothing new, and with the as-yet-unobtainable 2G 2G iPod Shuffle shrinking even smaller and incorporating a built-in bag/belt clip, they're probably not going away anytime soon. MPIO's most recent wearable MP3 player, the FL400, takes a different tack, opting for a pendant-style design meant to be worn around the neck. Unfortunately, other than its tiny design, there's no compelling reason to buy the FL400: at $109 for the 1GB version ($129 for 2GB), it's not particularly cheap, and it doesn't bring anything new to the table.
The itty-bitty (1.8x1.0x0.5 inches; 0.9 ounce) black and silver FL400 isn't remarkable in design, but it's stylish enough--I like the way the metal wraps around the edge of the player and provides the controls. There are dedicated volume keys, a menu button, and standard playback controls (FF, RW, play/pause/power). A tiny monochrome screen occupies a rectangle on the front of the player; the light text on the dark background could stand to be brighter and sharper (those with poor eyesight are out of luck).
The poor display quality isn't helped by the FL400's clunky interface. The physical navigation is fairly straightforward: click Menu to get to the folder list or hold it to get to the top menu; use the track shuttle keys to scroll through menu options; and so on. But the onboard software is rather clunky. For example, the Radio selection doesn't take you to the FM tuner; instead, you use the Mode selection to switch between MP3 and radio modes. Also, there's no sorting by ID3 tags, so you can't search tracks by artist, album, and so on; and neither M3U files nor playlists transferred from Windows Media Player are supported. Instead, you must arrange all your music into folder tree and use drag-and-drop transfer to organize your songs. Some users prefer this utilitarian method, but I'm not one of them.
On the plus side, the FL400 offers a decent smattering of features. It supports MP3, OGG, and WMA files, including those purchased from online music stores (but not subscription tracks). There's also a voice recorder and a decent FM tuner with autoscanning and 20 preset slots. The player is compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems. Six preset EQs and a five-band custom EQ, along with several sound effects (Pure Studio, Concert Sound, Groove, and Dynamic Bass) let you tweak the sound to your liking.
The thing is, even with all of these sound effects turned off and with the EQ set to flat, songs sound overly processed. I can't quite put my finger on an exact problem--bass response seems decent (better through a set of Shure E4cs), and music is clear and detailed--but it doesn't really sound good. It may be passable for some. But that's only if you can get over the short battery life; the FL400 lasted a mere 9 hours in our tests.