Samsung's tiny YEPP wonder
If you're not worried about being trendy, you have a lot of options where flash-based MP3 players are concerned. Among the best-of-the-non-Apple-rest is the Samsung YEPP YP-MT6, available in 256MB ($99), 512MB ($130), and 1GB ($180) versions. This boxy little flash player features FM radio, voice memo, and line-in recording, as well as FM station presets. These tidy extras make the MT6 even more of a bargain compared to less endowed flash players, especially the featureless Apple iPod Shuffle.
Vaguely resembling a prop microwave oven from Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, this keychain-sided rectangular player, available in black (256MB), blue (512MB), or silver (1GB), measures a pocket-friendly 1.0 by 2.4 by 0.9 inches and weighs 2.2 ounces with its AA battery installed. It looks nearly identical to the olderand the YEPP YP-T6. All boast similar features in a cute and tiny form factor, but the MT6 has better sound quality, thanks to an 89dB signal-to-noise ratio, and a much better rated battery life of 42 hours.
The four-line, powder-blue backlit screen is eminently readable and displays EQ mode, play mode, the battery meter, scrolling track info, the play-progress bar, the elapsed time, and the number of the track playing (out of how many are stored). Most pleasing is the preview; the next track is always shown on the bottom line, making it easy to skip past a song you don't like. Next to the screen is the multifunctional five-way skip/volume/menu access toggle. In addition to the mic, up top are buttons for record, play, and the A-B multipurpose function used primarily to set FM station presets or to loop playback selections. On the underside is the hold switch. The USB 2.0 and audio input connections are on one end, while the other houses a headphone jack and a lanyard loop. Overall, it looks and feels like the lighter Cowon iAudio U2. While it may not have a photo-friendly color screen like the equally miniscule YEPP YP-T7 series, the MT6 flaunts useful extra features.
Since it supports DRM-protected WMA files, the MT6 is compatible with all the major online music stores (except, of course, Apple's iTunes and Sony Connect), but it won't ever be work with subscription-based services. Those looking for an OGG-compatible player will be happy with the MT6. Samsung supplies its own software, but the MT6 plays equally well with Windows Media Player 10.0. Neither program, however, offers the Shuffle's handy autofill function; you'll have to laboriously transfer tracks yourself. You can also rip CDs or any other audio source directly to the player using a supplied minijack-to-even-smaller-minijack cable, with encoding choices ranging from 32Kbps to 128Kbps. But without a PC and a CDDB connection, there's no way of attaching names to the ripped MP3s--or any recorded voice or FM radio file--besides the MT6's automatic sequential alphanumeric assignments. Equally unfortunate is that these recorded files get mixed in with your music. For instance, we couldn't figure out how to segregate our voice memos from our random music playback. And those accustomed to a music library broken down by artist, album, track, and so on will have to get used to old-school folder-tree navigation.
The problem with having so many functions, however, is remembering how to access and use them. Through only a combination of trial and error and instruction manual consultation can you record voice and FM radio, establish station presets, and toggle the varying radio modes. And the menu system, compared to that of the larger, color-screen YP-T7, can be confusing; it may be difficult to figure out where you are in, say, the settings menu.
Fortunately, the MT6 excels at being a plain old flash MP3/WMA player. Buried in its menu choices are an impressive array of EQ modes and sound controls, including SRS Wow 3D aural enhancement and a dedicated bass booster for whomp-challenged earbuds, though the unit isn't the loudest on the market. Experimentation is likely to make even the sorriest set of tinny earbuds or $10 no-name headphones sound at least acceptable, if not great. And a single AA supplies a monstrous 48 hours of listening, based on CNET Labs' drain tests (by the way, transfer times over USB 2.0 were a subpar 1.9MB per second). Not even the Sony NW-E400 series can match that battery life. FM reception is strong and clear for the most powerful stations, and voice memo recordings are crisp and full bodied. Simply solid, the Samsung YEPP YP-MT6 is a far more flexible, better-sounding, and (with discounting) cheaper player than the Apple iPod Shuffle.