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Creative MuVo Micro N200 MP3 player

Can it muffle the Shuffle?

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Review The N200 is Creative's most diminutive MuVo yet - hence the 'Micro' in the title. The feat has been achieved by ditching the MuVo family's integrated USB connector in favour of a slimline, D-shaped port of the kind you find on digital cameras and the like. Yes, you now need a cable, something not required by other MuVos, but you get a much more compact player.

Creative MuVo Micro N200It's shorter than Apple's iPod Shuffle, but wider and thicker. Ditto older MuVos and even the V200. It's heavier than the Apple player too - 34g to 22g - but when you're down to this level, a few grams here or there make little difference. Like the Apple device, and other MuVos before it, the N200 is eminently pocketable, but unlike its rival, Creative bundles an armband and a belt holster, though a neck lanyard would be more useful - particularly since the N200 has a loop on the back to connect one to.

The Shuffle may lack the N200's tiny display, but it does have a better controller. The MuVo family is still in the jog-dial era, and I found the N200's to be rather spongy - it was too easy to push the wheel in, the equivalent of a mouse click, when I was actually trying to flick it up or down.

Equally fiddly is the power/play/pause, which is recessed into the body of the player, making it hard to push if you don't possess small fingers. Does Creative believe only little kids want to play these toys?

Unlike other MuVos, the N200 is a single-part device, so the AAA battery from which it takes its power fits snugly into a bay on the back of the machine. Creative claims an alkaline cell will give you 15 hours' playback, more than the Shuffle's 12 hours and easy replaced when it had run down.

On the base of the player, behind a rubber cover, is the aforementioned USB socket. Next to it is the 2.5mm line-in port. Creative bundles a 2.5-to-3.5mm cable, allowing you to connect the N200 to other audio/video kit and record their output direct to MP3. Encoding is limited to 96, 128 or 160Kbps.

It's a slightly tricky system to use. You set the record level with the volume keys, though you can't adjust them once you've started encoding. And I found that while the music coming through the earphones sounded fine, it was too high for the encoder, causing the recorded sound to be clipped. You can get it right with some experimentation, but there are better ways of getting audio onto the device. That said, once you've got the record level right, the N200 is good at spotting the gap between tracks and creating a new file at each break.

Speaking of noise, there's an audible whine when the screen's backlight is on. Fortunately, you can keep the backlight off, and in any case this wasn't a problem I noticed with the N200's sibling, the V200.

MuVo V200, N200 and Apple iPod ShufflePlayback of WMA and MP3 files, by contrast, is almost flawless, and unlike many other comparable players, the N200 fully supports DRM-protected WMAs from music download services. If the sound's not quite right for you, there's the usual EQ pre-sets and a custom equaliser to help you adjust the sound to your taste. Rolling the cursor over each pre-set is enough to trigger it, so you can rapidly sample each one with any given song.

FM playback is similarly fine - well, within the limits of any analog radio of this size that uses the earphones as an antenna. In short, the sound is a little hissy and it's easy to move just off-station as you're travelling around. You can record radio programming, though the files are saved in WAV format rather than MP3. Ditto whatever you record off the player's built-in microphone.

Like past MuVos, the N200 works with Creative's own Windows-only jukebox software, but since it also operates as a generic USB storage device, you can drag and drop compatible music files too - good news if you're a Linux or Mac OS X user (use Chris Shull's free WinFSCleanser to zap all those invisible Mac meta files that just confuse the MuVo).

Verdict

Creative's Flash players just keep getting better. The N200 looks good, sounds great and if its controls are a little too fiddly, it's nonetheless sufficiently compact for the smallest of pockets. It doesn't have the iconic look of Apple's iPod Shuffle - and with it quite the same level of 'must have'-ability. It's a little more expensive, too. But it's the clear winner on features. ®

 

Creative MuVo Micro N200
 
Rating 80%
 
Pros Compact size; display; looks good; great sound quality.
 
Cons Fiddly controls; weak line-in recorder; no integrated USB jack.
 
Price £90/$120 (512MB), £130/$170 (1GB)
 
More info The MuVo Micro N200 site

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