- Review Price: £160.00
Hard drive based MP3 players seem to come thick and fast these days. After having seen the top of the range 5GB players from Creative and iRivier, we now have a player from mpio. Now mpio isn’t a completely unknown brand when it come to MP3 players, but it’s not a name that springs to mind instantly.
The HD200 looks, to a degree, like an iPod that has ended up in the washing machine and shrunk. This is mainly due to the white and silver coloured casing, but unfortunately, that’s where the similarity ends. Size wise, the HD200 just about fits in the palm of your hand, making it just that little bit wider than the Creative Zen Micro. The HD200 doesn’t feel as comfortable in the hand as the Zen Micro, or the iRiver H10, but that’s not to say that it’s uncomfortable to hold either.
The front is dominated by a 1.8in greyscale LCD display which offers eight rows of text and symbols. There’s a blue backlight similar to that seen on the Zen Micro, but the display isn’t quite as detailed or easy to read as the one on the Zen Micro. There’s also a small hole for the integrated microphone just above the display.
The main controls can be found on the left hand side and consist of two buttons, a hold switch and a jog wheel. The play/stop button also powers the player on/off when held in for about two seconds. The second button acts as the repeat function as well as a short cut to the voice recorder.
The jog wheel allows you to skip forward and backwards between tracks and also fast forwards or rewinds the current track that is playing. Press the jog wheel inwards quickly and the navigation menu appear. Press and hold the button for about two seconds and the main menu opens – this gives you access to the FM radio, the equalizer, settings and the SRS features.
Strangely, the volume controls are located on the top of the player, which doesn’t feel very intuitive. The volume control is also the largest button on the player, but it’s still awkward to use due to its positioning. The left hand side houses the headphone socket as well as a tiny reset button, just in case.
You’ll find the power connector at the base of the unit. Next to the power input is a mini USB port and a line-in socket – both of these are hidden behind a sturdy plastic flap. The flap does make it slightly awkward to get to the USB port and line-in, but it does offer some protection for the sockets.
The build quality feels solid enough, but strangely, mpio has thought it necessary to fit an air vent around the back of the player to keep the hard disk cool. I have yet to see another hard drive based player with an air vent but a bit of extra cooling never hurt a hard disk.
The HD200 doesn’t have a removable battery, which is a shame. This could be a problem if you are away from a power socket for an extended period of time, like on a long haul flight – but this isn’t something that has hurt Apple’s sales. The rated battery life for the HD200 is 16 hours, but having used the HD200 for a couple of weeks I would say that you’re unlikely to see that kind of battery life in real world use. Saying that, I only used it to play high bit rate MP3s files, so WMA playback at a lower bit rate could produce better battery life.
Transferring music onto the HD200 couldn’t be easier as it is detected as a removable hard drive by Windows and you simply drag and drop the files across. It should also work with Mac OS 9.04 and later, although I did not have the opportunity to test this. The HD200 also comes with a plug-in for Media Player 10 so you can sync your playlists with the HD200, while the USB 2.0 interface makes files transfers quick and hassle free.
The only problem is that if you’re trying to sync MP3 files Media Player 10 converts them to WMA. The HD200 can play MP3, WMA, OGG and ASF files, which is quite an impressive range. For anyone that’s concerned with sound quality, the OGG support will be an attractive feature. We tried playing tracks encoded at different bit rates, with some encoded at variable bit rate and the HD200 had no problem playing them all back.
The only real gripe I had with the player is the way the navigation and menus work. The jog dial isn’t the easiest to use and it’s not quite clear – without reading the manual – that the record button also acts as a back button in the menus.
You can’t create playlists on the device and if you want to use the playlist or genre options in the menu, you have to enter the information manually. Standard Winamp playlists work fine, but this is not the easiest way of doing things.
The sound quality is however very impressive and the HD200 is almost on a par with the iRiver players – thought by the TrustedReviews staff to offer the best sound quality out there. The HD200 supports SRS 3D sound as well as SRS WOW which adds a very rich bass sound. There is a wide range of preset equalizer settings as well as a manual option. The only complaint is that the supplied headphones are far from impressive, but to be fair, that complaint could be levelled at almost every digital music player out there.
You don’t get much in terms of accessories in the box – there’s a charger, a USB 2.0 cable and a 3.5mm stereo cable for the direct encoding functionality. This is done via the line in connector at the bottom of the player and the player encodes in MP3.
The mpio HD200 is cheaper than both the Zen Micro and the iRiver H10. It equals both in terms of features, with the exception of screen quality. But the navigation is nowhere near as slick as either the Zen Micro or the H10, both of which use a touch sensitive slider. The HD200 is priced lower than its two competitors, but not enough to make it the better choice.
At £159.95 it is one of the cheapest 5GB hard drive players you can buy, but if you dig a bit deeper you can have the Zen Micro, which is smaller, has a better display, is easier to use and has a removable battery.
The mpio HD200 can playback an impressive range of music formats and it’s cheaper than its competitors, but ultimately, the navigation system lets it down. That said, if you’re really strapped for cash, or desperately need OGG support it might be worth considering.