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.
Souped up by its USB 2.0 connectivity, the MP210 fared well in our file-transfer tests. Tracks cruised from our PC into the player at a decent 1.69MB per second. Depleting in only 9.3 hours, the built-in rechargeable battery exhibited below-average drain performance. That said, the battery fully recharged in approximately 45 minutes, but you have to do so via USB--no AC power adapter is included with the player.
In terms of sound quality, the Oregon Scientific MP210 performed competitively. The included earbud headphones can't output much bass, but they're smoother and less brash-sounding than some low-end 'buds. The Rock EQ preset did a good job adding a little sheen to dull-sounding tracks, such as an MP3 of Kate Bush's "Army Dreamers." The player has adequate juice on tap to drive the 'buds to uncomfortably loud levels. True audio buffs should upgrade to better 'phones, such as Sony's MDR-EX71SL. Subbing in our AKG K 100 test headphones improved the depth of the soundstage, the texture of the vocals, and the presence of the bass. Overall, sound quality was on a par with that of most other MP3 players we've tested. The built-in mic successfully captured voices from several feet away.
In a nutshell, the Oregon Scientific MP210 is an otherwise unremarkable MP3 player that relies on whiz-bang styling to stand out from a crowded field of competitors. Although its ultrathin profile is a plus, the see-through display's poor performance is a major downer. Oregon Scientific also offers an MP200 line of players, which doesn't have FM or voice-recording capabilities but is otherwise identical to the MP210.