A sleek, solid music player that bears a striking resemblance to the ubiquitous , the MPIO HD300 (20GB, $280 list) boasts a stylish design, clever navigation, an FM radio, and several recording options. Sounds good--except the iPod does almost all of it better. If you want FM radio and recording features on your portable player, you should give the MPIO HD300 a close look, but if you care only about playing tunes, head straight for an iPod.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more. At first blush, the solid, stainless-steel MPIO looks like a silver version of the Apple iPod. Roughly the same size and weight (4.1 by 2.4 by 0.7 inches, 5.6 ounces) as the reigning MP3 champ, the HD300 features a mirrored face that's easily smudged by fingerprints; a square, 1.5-inch LCD; a diamond-shaped touch pad; and a tiny hole in the right-hand corner that acts as both the built-in mic and the Reset button. Sitting on the top end of the player is the headphone/line-in recording minijack, a hold slider, a mini USB port, and a DC power connector. We were impressed by the sturdy look and feel of the HD300--until we noticed that the two main screws holding together the case were coming loose. Quality control, anyone?
Navigating the MPIO HD300's menus is easy if you're familiar with the iPod; you just press Enter on the touch pad to select a menu item or Menu to backtrack. However, instead of an iPod-like scrollwheel, there's a 1.5-inch vertical indentation that you swipe with your fingertip. This touch-sensitive slider works well enough, but we had to swipe repeatedly to scroll through long lists of songs, and sometimes it was tricky to zero in on the exact title we wanted. Way to be different, MPIO, but let's face it: either a scrollwheel or a jog dial would have been much easier to use.
The HD300's 2-inch, eight-line LCD does a solid, if not eye-popping job. In playback mode, the display shows album, artist, and track info; time elapsed/remaining; and EQ mode. You also have the option of displaying track number/total tracks, as well as bit rate, sampling rate, and file type. Conspicuously absent, however, is a graphic equalizer, a seeming no-brainer, considering the screen size and resolution.
Also included in the package is a USB cable (which, unfortunately, won't charge the battery when plugged into a PC), an AC power cord, a line-in cable with minijacks on either end, a pair of earbuds, and a white plastic holster.
The HD300 plays a decent range of file formats, including MP3, unprotected WMA, OGG, WAV, ASF, and M3U playlist files. You can also juice the sound using one of the several EQ presets (such as Pop, Rock, Jazz, Classic, Vocal, and a user-defined setting) or a sonic effect, such as the simulated-surround SRS mode, the boomy TruBass, or WOW, which combines the two effects. We like the MPIO's autoresume feature, which picks up your music where you left off after powering off the player, but we wish there was a way to scan through a song using the touch pad, à la "scrubbing" on the iPod, especially given the iPod-like progress bar on the display.
The MPIO's FM radio does a decent job, complete with 20 presets and the ability to scan and set the presets automatically. The only problem is that the player suffers from an itchy trigger finger when it comes to picking stations. We tested the HD300 in the FM-rich airspace of Manhattan, and about a third of our player-picked presets gave us nothing but static, leaving behind several strong stations further down the dial.