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Oregon Scientific MP120 review: Oregon Scientific MP120

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Compact enough for a magician to palm, the rugged, rubberized MP120 looks ready to take a beating--on land or otherwise. Its black, membrane-style control panel consists of six extremely stiff buttons. Plan on memorizing the functions of each, as the tiny, embossed labels are also black, making them difficult to identify except under the brightest lights. Thankfully, the controls aren't difficult to remember, though they're hard to press. And you may need glasses to make out the sharp but tiny text on the MP120's minuscule LCD. Its bright blue backlight improves readability considerably, but we still found ourselves squinting most of the time.

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5.6

Oregon Scientific MP120

The Good

Inexpensive; waterproof; built-in belt clip; doubles as FM radio; floats.

The Bad

Poor-sounding earbuds; tiny LCD; doesn't support DRM WMA; stiff controls; earbud connector must be unscrewed for charging and file transfers.

The Bottom Line

Oregon Scientific's waterproof MP3 player lets you carry a tune in the pool, but the anemic earbuds drown the fun.
Get wet with Oregon Scientific's MP120
Living the life aquatic? For anyone who spends a lot of time frolicking in the surf or swimming laps in the pool, a waterproof MP3 player/FM radio might be just the ticket. Oregon Scientific's MP120 promises to keep the tunes coming at depths of up to one meter, or about 3.3 feet. This player even floats, so it's less likely to end up at the bottom of the sea. However, before you start dancing with the fishes, be prepared for awkward controls, a lack of DRM WMA support, and poor sound from the included earbuds.

Oregon Scientific's earbuds don't plug into the MP120's headphone jack in the traditional sense; rather, they screw onto the bottom of the player to form a waterproof seal. While it's possible to tighten the connector's oversize screw with a thumbnail, you may end up needing a coin or a screwdriver to loosen it. Why should you bother? Because the MP120's USB 2.0 port also resides beneath the connector, which must be removed before you can use the former.

This is a hassle not only for file transfers but also for charging the player. There's no AC adapter; the MP120's internal battery recharges via its USB connection. That means you'll have to remove and reconnect the earbuds on a regular basis--a chore that gets old quickly. Oregon says the player runs for 10 hours between charges; in our tests, it came close, lasting 9.3 hours, which is on the measly side for a flash player.

The MP120 can be purchased with 128MB, 256MB, or 512MB of storage. Our review unit, priced at $110, came with 256MB, but the 512MB model costs just $20 more--by far, the better buy. All three models support MP3 and WMA files but not DRM WMA. Thus, don't plan on using them to play tunes purchased from your favorite online music store. You can, however, listen to your favorite FM stations. As a radio, the MP120 can save up to 30 presets, and it automatically scans for stations the first time you switch to FM mode. Like most flash-based MP3 players these days, the MP120 requires no special drivers, meaning you can plug it into any PC so that it doubles as a removable storage device. Songs and files alike can be dragged and dropped to the player. In CNET Labs' tests, the MP120 managed a data-transfer rate of only 1.51MB per second--definitely on the slow side for a USB 2.0 interface.

We took the Oregon Scientific MP120 to the local lap pool, clipped it to the bathing suit, and took it for a swim. Although it operated perfectly while immersed, the earbuds seriously diminished the experience. They sounded tinny, flat, and weak, and their rubber, pluglike tips didn't create a waterproof seal in our ear canals. Thus, as we submerged and surfaced, audio alternated between muffled and loud. One could argue that sound quality isn't a crucial consideration when you're getting wet and wild, but we found the frequent tonal changes distracting.

If you plan to hit the gym before hitting the pool, you can remove the rubber tips from the earbuds and enjoy slightly improved audio, but the larger-than-average 'buds get uncomfortable in a hurry. Better you should plug in your favorite headphones, as we did. Sound quality went from mediocre to stellar. Of course, without the waterproof connector, the MP120 becomes an ordinary MP3 player, unable to safely get wet.

Given the MP120's reasonable price and watertight design, we're willing to overlook the stiff buttons and the lack of DRM support. Even the screw-on earbud connector is an understandable concession. But the AM-quality audio that dribbles from those earbuds makes the Oregon Scientific MP120 hard to recommend.

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5.6

Oregon Scientific MP120

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 7Performance 5