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MSI Mega Player 536 review: MSI Mega Player 536


The MSI Mega Player 536 is a sleek portable audio player with a fetching iPod-like styling complete with flat, touch-sensitive buttons. It includes an integrated SD/MMC memory-card slot, an FM tuner, and high-quality line-in recording capabilities--all for a competitive price of $199 for the 8GB version (a 4GB version is available for $149). Unfortunately, a quirky interface, limited file-format support, a subpar display, and so-so battery life drag the player down considerably.

5.3

MSI Mega Player 536

The Good

The MSI Mega Player 536 has a sleek design and low price tag, and it supports protected WMA files purchased from online music stores. This MP3 player also offers good sound and high quality line-in and voice recording.

The Bad

The MSI Mega Player 536 doesn't play subscription WMA files, and it offers very limited video and image-file-format support, as well as limited ID3-tag support that's dependant on Windows Media Player. The player also has a quirky interface, a subpar display, and mediocre battery life.

The Bottom Line

Attractive and feature packed, the MSI Mega Player 536 has a lot of potential on paper, but its many shortcomings make it difficult to recommend. Go for a Samsung YEPP YH-820MC instead.
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The sturdy, sleek design of our test model inspired confidence. Measuring 3.7 by 2.3 by 0.6 inches, weighing 3.4 ounces, and decked out in smooth white (the 4GB version is gray), the Mega Player 536 is roughly the size of an iPod but a bit lighter. The device's main controls are six flat, touch-sensitive buttons that reside on the lower portion of the front panel and are arranged in a rectangle. You use the buttons to navigate menu levels and lists, skip and scan through tracks, and adjust the volume. Unfortunately, the ultrasensitive keys occasionally registered commands that we didn't intend to enter. The left panel hosts a repeat A-B button and the SD/MMC card slot. On the right side, you'll find an on/off/hold switch as well as USB 2.0 and power adapter jacks, which reside behind a hinged rubber door. Headphone and line-in minijacks are located on the top panel. The unit's 1.8-inch, 128x160-pixel color display has a vertical, portrait orientation rather than the wide-screen view you see with the 5G iPod's larger 2.5-inch screen. MSI includes a power adapter, a line-in audio cable, a USB cable, a USB host cable, earbuds, and a driver/user guide CD-ROM with the player.

The MSI Mega Player 536's interface is somewhat confusing until you get the hang of it. The main menu has six icons (music, multimedia, file browser, record, radio, and settings) that you select to access the device's main features. Although holding down the menu button pops up a page that provides access to additional features, you wouldn't know it without reading the user guide. The music menu allows navigating tracks by the directories in which they're stored on the device's hard drive or on an inserted memory card. The music menu also has artist and album options, but oddly, you can navigate tracks by those categories only if you've synced the player using Windows Media Player. If, for example, you simply drag and drop your tracks from Windows Explorer to the player, the artist and album menu options will not contain any entries. You can fire up photos and videos from the multimedia menu.

The Mega Player 536's audio support spans MP3, WMA, and WMA DRM files, although only WMA DRM 9--not WMA DRM 10--is supported. In practice, the unit was able to play WMA DRM files we'd owned for quite a while as well as a few we purchased from MSN Music during the testing period. It wasn't able to play Janus DRM tracks we downloaded as part of a Yahoo Music Unlimited subscription. Like all non-Apple portables, the Mega Player 536 can't play protected AAC files purchased from iTunes. Photo support is limited to JPEGs, while video support covers only M-JPEGs (moving JPEG), placing the unit on the fringes of video playback capability--not a huge deal, considering the price.

The MSI Mega Player 536 comes preconfigured with five empty playlists. You can add any track that's stored on the player to any one of the five playlists, but unfortunately, you can't create new playlists or import them from your PC. The player has five EQ presets (Normal, Classic, Pop, Rock. and Jazz) as well as SRS Wow effects such as TruBass, brightness, and a sound-field expander. You can also easily configure the Mega Player 536 to display photo slide shows with musical accompaniment, and the unit allows you to program 15 FM radio presets and has an autoprogramming function. You can record to the Mega Player 536's hard drive from the radio, via the line input, or through the built-in microphone. Recorded audio files are saved as MP3 or WAV at quality levels ranging all the way up to 192Kbps and 48kHz, respectively. Finally, the player offers direct photo transfer from digital cameras that are compatible with the USB 2.0 on-the-go specification.

In cursory testing, a fully charged battery delivered a lackluster six hours of playback, with the vast majority of that time devoted to music playback and only around 10 minutes spent viewing photos and videos. If you frequently view photos and videos with the player, expect considerably shorter battery life. It takes around five hours to fully charge the battery.

In terms of audio playback performance, the Mega Player 536 is a winner. Music consistently sounded clean and crisp, and the EQ and SRS Wow effects did a nice job of tweaking the sound without making it too unnatural. A recording we made through the device's line-in sounded good, although setting the recording level was a guessing game. The built-in microphone did a fine job of recording our voice from several feet away. Both still images and video looked grainy on the display, which is inferior to active-matrix-type displays. The 536's image and video playback capabilities are definitely the weakest performance link.

In the final analysis, the MSI Mega Player 536 has too many issues to earn much of a recommendation. If you're looking for a feature-packed microdrive MP3 player, check out the Samsung YEPP YH-820MC or the Creative Zen Micro Photo instead.

5.3

MSI Mega Player 536

Score Breakdown

Design 3Features 8Performance 5