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Touch-sensitive interfaces are often a cause of much debate in my circle of technology-obsessed friends and colleagues. Some like their immediacy, elegance and infinite flexibility; some hate the lack of feedback and the fact they can't physically feel the controls. But when it comes to MP3 players, there's no doubt that if done well, they sell - the rip-roaring success of Apple's iPod has proved that. The trouble is it's a difficult trick to pull off, and for that reason, most major manufacturers have given up and gone back to plain old buttons.
Little-known Chinese firm Meizu still thinks that the clickwheel nut can be cracked, however. And if its latest flash player - the Mini Player SL - is anything to go by, its confidence would appear to be not without foundation. Let's get one thing straight before we go anywhere, however - this is no copycat rip-off. Meizu has taken a completely different tack with its control. Instead of a touch-sensitive ring, here you have a large, cross-shaped four-way clickable button with a touch-sensitive surface.
Amazingly, it's just as instantly usable as Apple's system and in a matter of moments you'll be happily swiping your thumb up and down the pad to whizz through long track lists and to adjust the volume as well as dragging your finger across it to select and play tracks and change settings. It's a very well-thought out control system, and one that's notable for its reliability. Unlike the rather quirky scroll groove found on the iAudio 7, this works reliably, and in exactly the way you expect it to - it's a touch more sensitive than the nano's control, and requires a little more care to select tracks accurately, but that small trade-off pays dividends when it comes to navigating long track lists. The Mini eats these for breakfast...then asks for an extra banana.
The Mini is not only well designed from a usability point of view, but physically and aesthetically it's impressive too - it bears all the hallmarks of considered design. The matt-finish aluminium back and sharp-edged glass frontage can't quite match the panache of Apple's accomplished curves, anodised finish and crisp detailing, but it still results in one of the more stylish flash players I've come across in the last year. There are slick style touches: the hold switch on the top edge of the device borrows its design directly from Apple's iPods with its simple lines and red indicator to show it's on, and the flush-mounted headphone and mini-USB sockets on the right edge just add to the sense of class.
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