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Auvi SA-100 MP3 Player

Very cheap - but what's the catch?

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Reg Review There's no doubt that Auvi's Flash-based MP3 player looks good. It's cheap too. But in the era of the iPod, are these qualities enough? Unfortunately, they aren't, and the US-based start-up's first product fails at the first hurdle as a result.

The SA-100 follows the established USB Flash drive-cum-music player rules. It connects directly into a free USB 1.1 port, appearing as a mounted volume, whether you're running Windows, the Mac OS or Linux. Just drag your MP3 and WMA files over to the disk icon and you're ready to go.

The SA-100 isn't generous with storage capacity: Auvi currently offers 64MB and 128MB versions, with a 256MB model on the way.

The oval device fits neatly in the palm of your hand and is decked out with a matt black finish. At one end is the USB connector, protected as per usual with a plug-on cap. At the other is a loop for a wrist strap. Not that Auvi supplies one with the player.

It doesn't even offer a battery, which would fit into a bulge on the rear of the player and provide playback power when the SA-100's disconnected from the USB chain. All 'name' MP3 players we've seen come with a battery, as do quite a few of the no-name jobs coming out of Taiwan and Korea these days. The SA-100 loses points for Auvi's parsimony.

It does, at least, bundle a USB extension cable and - we have to admit - a nice pair of in-the-ear phones, which performed remarkably well alongside our reference set of iPod earphones.

The phones plug into the player's standard 3.5mm jack fitted on one of its long sides. On the other side is a hold switch to guard against an inadvertent nudging of the controls. They're placed on the face of the device, alongside two USB activity LEDs.

Arranged in an oval, there are play/pause/stop, track skip/fast forward, rewind, volume up, volume down and EQ buttons, all coated in chrome-like paint.

Readers who have been paying attention, and know their MP3 players, will at this point wonder where the display panel is. Sorry, folks, there isn't one.

So there's no indication what track you're listening to, or what the EQ setting is. Now, you might say - and this is presumably how Auvi rationalises it - that you don't actually need to be told these things. You can hear what track you're listening to, and can easily skip forward if you want to hear another one.

Pressing the EQ button cycles through the settings, and you can hear the difference each makes. Do you really need to know the one you prefer is 'rock', 'jazz' or whatever?

Technically no, but we have to say not having the display made using the SA-100 less appealing and more tricky than devices with one. For a start, the player has a brief but noticeable lag before a track starts playing - enough, at least, for you to wonder whether it's actually playing anything. With no progress indicator, you don't know whether you've accidentally hit pause or knocked the volume right back

We also found some of the button connections unreliable. Skipping tracks didn't always seem to work. In any case, the playback order was odd, too, so despite being familiar with the album we ripped to MP3 and copied over to the player, skipping forward and back didn't always take us to the tracks we expected it to.

Each song was given a numerical filename, and the ID3 tags contained appropriate track number information, but the SA-100 still ran through the songs out of order.

The device's sound quality was OK, but not great, with a clear background hiss during quiet sections and between songs.

Of course, the SA-100 isn't the only LCD-free MP3 player. Creative Lab's original MuVo hasn't got one either, an error the company rectified with the MuVo NX. Auvi's player comes in at around $30 less than the Creative player, though the latter offers much better sound quality and is a nicer-looking unit. You pay's your money, you takes your choice, as they say.

We wouldn't be keen on forking out for either. The 64MB Auvi works out at 78 cents a megabyte, the 64MB MuVo at $1.25. Higher capacity units cost more, but offer more bytes for your buck: 62 cents for the 128MB SA-100 to 78 cents for the 128MB MuVo. The 128MB MuVo NX, with a LCD comes in at 86 cents per megabyte.

But who are we kidding? When a $249 4GB iPod Mini costs you a mere six cents a megabyte, is there any solid-state player that doesn't look like poor value. At that rate, the 64MB SA-100 should set you back just under four dollars.

Verdict

The SA-100's key advantage is its price, and it you're on a really tight budget, it may well appeal to you. But the loss of an LCD to keep the cost down is an economy too far for us. We'd rather wait for the company's upcoming SA-250, which will sport a display. Or even its $300 SA-1500 20GB hard drive-based player. ®

Auvi SA-100
Rating 20%
Pros — Nice looks
— Inexpensive
— Decent earphones
Cons — No LCD
— Battery not included
— Average sound quality
Price $50 (64MB), $80 (128MB)
More info The Auvi web site

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