Four arrows plus the center Play/Pause button stand out as a cross underneath the charming circular OLED display (the actual display is actually a 1-inch diagonal rectangle nested inside the 1-inch diameter circle). The up and down arrows are dedicated to volume control, while the right and left arrows serve both as forward/reverse and for menu navigation. A button labeled Mode/EQ allows you to apply the extensive set of EQ effects (Normal, Rock, Jazz, Classical, two User Settings, SRS, TruBass, and Wow). Holding for a bit longer sweeps you through the repeat and shuffle options.
The display itself is monochrome and legible; the playback screen is packed with relevant info, including a clock, scrolling songs titles, format, bit rate, and a tiny output level meter. The cool shimmering screensaver with clock is a nice digital touch. Pressing the Menu button opens up the minimal icon-based options such as Music, Setup, Game, Text, and Record Play. Record Play simply takes you directly to your recordings. Voice, line-in, and FM recordings (in up to 160Kbps MP3) are actually easy to make on this device. The only hiccup to navigation is that you need to learn that the Menu button, and not the Play button as would seem natural, is the select button.
Digging deeper, you can adjust playback speed of MP3s 150 percent down to 50 percent; adjust the record gain, use the player as a text viewer, and even play games (Blackjack and a strange game called Biorhythm).
Though the novelty and the smooth looks of the device appealed to our visual sense, audio quality is also quite good. The included olive-colored headphones are reasonable, but the player truly shined when we had our Shure E500s plugged in. The battery is rated to last 11 hours per charge, which is on the weak side. Battery life fared better in CNET Labs testing at 13 hours. The battery is charged via either the included AC adapter or USB. The USB port is uncommon (though the Kingston K-PEX that we just reviewed had the same tiny port), so you'll want to keep the bundled cable near. Incidentally, line-in recordings are done via USB with the included USB-to-1/8-inch-minijack cable. You also get a lanyard in the package.
All in all, we really dig the design of this player, though all the button pushing can get a little bit 1990s. It's most definitely a fresh conversation piece, and it has some good sound to back up the pretty face. However, the device's inflated price (you can get two 1GB Creative Zen V Plus's for the price of the 1GB A800) is likely to keep most of us wanting but not needing this museum piece. If you are interested in this player, it is being sold at a couple of places online, including Dynamism.com.