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With an eye-catching, shiny, silver body, this ultralight--2.78 ounces with the AAA battery installed--and supercompact, 3.87-by-1.94-by-0.86-inch player has a fairly chic design. Another plus: The three buttons on the unit's face and the two volume-control keys on the side are sturdy, as is the extrawide jog dial that's used for song navigation. The one minor design drawback is the small display; it's not backlit, so don't expect to see track info in the dark.
Because the RealOne software puts files onto the 64MB Secure Digital (SD) card using the included USB card reader, there's no connection port on the player--only a headphone jack. The SD card slides into a secret slot on the unit that's hidden by a slick, swiveling cover. This is the kind of thoughtful craftsmanship that we've come to expect from Panasonic's portable-audio division.
However, we were disappointed that the company included only an iridescent lanyard for toting the player around your neck like a pendant, which makes you look a little silly when the headphones are attached. We would have preferred some sort of belt clip, and we found ourselves slipping the unit in a pocket rather than going the neck route.
The SV-SD50 has everything that you need to navigate and play MP3, WMA, and AAC files. The inclusion of AAC support is a great idea since that format sounds better at smaller file sizes. Plus, RealOne can rip CDs to AAC files on its own.
In terms of software, RealOne works great for transferring files and organizing your music library, but it steals file associations by default; therefore, every format from MP3 to AVI plays with RealOne rather than the app that you normally use. With jukebox software, there's usually a custom install that you can select so that your files don't get hijacked, but this isn't the case with RealOne. You'll need to go into the program's Preferences menu and unselect each associated file type in order to play back media with your preferred software.
The display tells you everything that you need to know: song number and title, EQ setting (Normal, Bass Boost 1, Bass Boost 2, or Train), repeat/shuffle, and battery level. However, you really don't get much in way of bells and whistles. An FM radio and/or voice-recording capabilities would have been nice inclusions.
As noted, files transfer to the included 64MB SD card via a USB card reader. We're used to having a direct link to the player, but we can see why Panasonic went with this more expensive solution--leaving out a port on the unit saves precious space.
The SV-SD50 plays just loud enough and puts out deep bass, especially when one of the two levels of bass boost is activated. High frequencies were crisp and clear through our , with very little distortion or hiss. The included earbuds don't sound as good as our nice headphones, but they're OK.
Due to some limited copyright protection, it takes almost eight minutes to fill a freshly formatted SD card with music since files get stamped and transcoded while they transfer to the SD50. This stamping ensures that you cannot upload your tunes to another computer. File-transfer speed averages out to 0.13MB per second--a bit slow but because you're dealing with only 64MB of music, it's no big deal.
On a more positive note, battery life is impressive: 31 hours from a single AAA cell. That's way above average for a flash-based MP3 player.