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Speaking of the screen, it's a 1.8-inch, 128x160-pixel color LCD that can display up to 65,000 colors. It's not an active-matrix display, but it's suitably bright and colorful for its purpose. The rest of the player is entirely self-contained, with no memory card slot or accessible battery compartment. Headphones plug into one jack, while the AC adapter, the USB cable, and the line-in cable all take turns plugging into the other. A USB connection can recharge the player's battery, but you have to manually terminate its Windows link and hold a button for two seconds to start the charging process--a rather tiresome procedure.
The MP301's audio interface is good but not great. It doesn't take full advantage of its screen, showing only artist, song name, and elapsed time--no album name or art, bit rate, file type, or any other information. But all the usual playback features are present, including random play, repeat, and A-B loop selection. The MP301 has a customizable five-band equalizer with five presets and can even display synchronized song lyrics--but the process of setting up lyric files on your PC is complicated and not well documented. Playlists, alas, aren't supported.
The player's FM tuner has an autoscanning station-lock feature and room for up to 30 presets. An included Windows utility lets you manually enter station frequencies and their call letters, then copy those settings to the player for easier station navigation. This feature is especially useful because the MP301 had a hard time locking onto stations with its autoscan feature, despite strong signals and excellent overall reception.
The MP301 can record from its built-in microphone, its FM tuner, or a line-in source. Except with radio, you have a choice of quality settings for your recordings, though neither the manual nor the player get specific about how those settings translate into bit rates--they're simply called Low, Medium, and High. In all cases, recordings are encoded as MP3 files.
Other MP301 features include on-device file management, a choice of themes and wallpaper for the interface, and a soft-sided drawstring carrying case. Unfortunately, it's not the kind of case you'd want to take running or even to the gym. In fact, without a hold control of any kind, the MP301 makes for an awkward exercise partner--its buttons are too easy to push accidentally.
The player also includes three puzzle-style games including an Othello clone. All are somewhat difficult to play, owing to the controls.
The player ships with no desktop software except for the aforementioned utilities, which are all less than intuitive. Similarly, certain elements of the MP301's interface can be confusing. To access audio playback options, for instance, you can't just press the Menu button while viewing your song list--you have to start a song playing first.Fortunately, while the Truly MP301 may not have the simplistic controls or elegant interface of, say, an iPod, it's definitely one of the best-sounding audio players we've ever heard. Music comes through loud, clear, and full bodied, thanks in no small part to Truly's earphones--a surprisingly comfortable pair with padded buds and a shiny silver cord. We were also pleased with the quality of the MP301's recordings. Voice recordings in particular sounded superb, even at the Medium setting.
Loading songs, photos, and other files onto the MP301 is a drag-and-drop affair with file-transfer performance at 0.45MB per second, about what you'd expect from a USB 1.1 connection. The time it takes to switch between photos depends on the size of the file. Larger files took anywhere from 2 to 10 seconds, while tiny LGO files drew on the screen instantly. The battery life of 9.4 hours was also good for a device this size.