Oregon Scientific MP210 (256MB)
Founded in 1989, Oregon Scientific is a marketing subsidiary of IDT International Limited, a Hong Kong-based company that manufactures and distributes technology products throughout the world. Although you may not recognize the brand name, Oregon Scientific offers a broad line of portable MP3 players, including the 256MB MP210 ($100), an ultrathin, card-size model featuring a see-through, illuminated display. The unit has a respectable feature set, including an FM tuner, support for DRM-protected WMA files, and voice-recording capabilities, but the display's hit-and-miss legibility and tiny controls are big drawbacks.
Measuring approximately 3.5 by 2.1 by 0.2 inches (HWD), the ultrathin Oregon Scientific MP210 is roughly the same size as a stack of eight credit cards. The device fit comfortably in a shirt pocket and even proved unobtrusive in a track-pants pocket during a jog. The see-through display is a clever marketing ploy, but its legibility is spotty. For instance, if you hold the player up against a bright blue sky, the small screen (approximately 1.6 by 1.9 inches) looks vivid and is easy enough to read, but against a dark background or in moderate to low light, such as you often encounter indoors, it's hard to make out the characters. Also, because all of the MP210's controls are mounted on the device's narrow side panels, the buttons are rather small and not very ergonomic. On one side panel, the unit has volume-up and -down buttons and a hold switch. On the other, it has menu and record buttons plus a three-way rocker switch that's used to skip forward and backward and to start and pause playback. The sleek silver earbud headphones double as a lanyard, enabling the player to be worn necklace-style. A soft fabric bag is supplied for stowing the player and the 'phones.
When we connected the MP210 to our Windows XP system, it was automatically recognized as a removable disc, enabling drag-and-drop file transfer to the player. However, to transfer WMA DRM files, such as those purchased from Napster or Wal-Mart Music Downloads, you have to use either Windows Media Player 10.0 or Musicmatch Jukebox (supplied on the included CD-ROM). Unfortunately, the device won't recognize playlists transferred from either of these programs. It's worth noting that you can use the MP210 to store and transport virtually any type of file, such as JPEGs and Word documents. Just keep in mind the scarcity of memory--the MP210 doesn't accept memory-expansion cards. If you want more memory, spring for the 512MB MP210 ($130) instead.
The MP210 has three basic modes: music (file playback), FM tuning, and voice recording. You change modes by pressing the Mode button, then using the three-way rocker switch to locate and select the desired option. The device has a station-scan function and can store 30 FM presets. Unlike some competing models, such as the Cowon iAudio 5, the MP210 can't record FM broadcasts. EQ presets include Normal, Rock, Jazz, Classical, and Pop.