The Truly MP301 may be the cutest audio player to hit the market since the iPod Mini. Except it's not just an audio player--it's also a digital photo viewer, an FM radio tuner and recorder, a poor man's Game Boy, and even an e-book reader. All these features are packed into a device so tiny and adorable, you might be willing to overlook its shortcomings--namely, just 256MB of storage, no expansion slot, and some decidedly awkward controls. Still, this $200 player is quite versatile; did we mention that it's cute?
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more. The sturdy Truly MP301 weighs a scant 1.6 ounces and measures 2.5 by 1.9 by 0.5 inches--small enough for you to slip into any pocket and barely know it's there. It looks exactly like a miniature PDA, except that its controls are located on either side instead of below the screen. This is problematic on two fronts. First, the labels for these controls are imprinted on the back of the player, so until you memorize the locations and functions of the five buttons and two rockers, plan on flipping the unit over a lot. Second, with buttons spanning both sides, it's very difficult to hold the player without accidentally pressing one. The controls themselves aren't difficult to master, thanks in part to an icon-based onscreen interface, but Truly should have stayed with the PDA motif and placed at least some of the buttons below the screen.
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 Truly MP301 plays MP3 and unsecured WMA files. It can also display slide shows of BMP and JPEG files, as well as photos converted to Truly's proprietary LGO format (which is optimized for the screen). If you try to transfer an image larger than 640x480, however, the MP301 won't show them, so you might as well convert them using the included desktop utility and save space; the average LGO file is about 45K. We really liked the fact that you can view photos and listen to music simultaneously. You can also view standard text files on the device, though the screen's limited resolution and large font limit the value of doing so. Only eight lines of text, with two to four words per line, will fit on a page. The MP301 also functions as a data drive, with no drivers required, save for Windows 98 systems.
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.