Meizu Mini Player

It gets to a certain point where you start to get a little bit sick and tired of hearing about the iPod and the branding behind the Apple inspired product so I went out in search for a viable alternative that offers the simplicity of the iPod whilst retaining the cool simple look. Whilst it’s no hard drive behemoth music-storing device, the Meizu Mini Player is a flash based mp3 player that will also show your photos and play back videos.

Available in 2, 4 and 8GB capacities and black or white flavours, the Mini Player boasts a decent sized 2.4-inch LCD display capable of 260k colours with a resolution of 320 x 240 allowing for smooth and sharp video playback with impressive colour reproduction for such a small screen. A touch sensitive slide panel has been designed to mimic the scroll wheel found on the iPod allowing for quick and easy scrolling through the menus and your media collection. The usual equaliser settings and file format support can also be found with mp3, wav, ogg, jpg, gif, bmp and avi compatibility and of course there’s always room for the extra ‘gimmick’ features with a calculator and a couple of basic games but uninspiring games.

Something that isn’t found by default on the iPod is the ability to record audio using the built in mic or access to FM radio stations without having to buy extra accessories. The Meizu does well in this area with good quality audio recording from the tiny microphone situated around the side of the Meizu. I was able to place the Mini Player on the desk and simply record a few sentences I was reading from this review and using the high quality setting, the 2GB model allows for about 30 minutes of voice recording in what I think is exceptional sound quality. The only issue I found with the placement of the microphone is that its near to the headphone jack and if you are to touch or move the Mini Player or press any of the buttons, because the microphone is so sensitive it would pick up the prodding noise.

I had serious doubts as to whether the FM tuner would work well if at all but I was surprised to find that after a few seconds of running through the auto tuning process I was able to listen to various radio channels in crystal clear quality without any interference or distortion. However, although the auto tuning did find some channels and automatically added them to a preset list, I was disappointed to find that none of my usual favourite stations were picked up.

With an iPod-esque design using a white front and silver back. Meizu have chosen to use flash memory with this product thus achieving a thin design that is gorgeous to hold and feels next to nothing when it’s in your pocket. The solid build quality and cool looks does have some drawbacks with scratching issues just like the iPod does. So much in fact that it comes shipped with screen protectors attached and applied already. You have to be careful not to think of this as the packaging film that comes on so many products these days as I did because it’s easily mistaken for that and once it has been removed it won’t go back on easily.

As for the user experience, the touch-sensitive strip to the side of this media device works in a number of ways. It has the push buttons on each of the four sides as well as being able to run your finger up and down the strip to control the position in the menu or adjusting the playback volume. Tapping the strip will act as an enter button on certain menus as well as incremental volume adjustments. These functions on the touch strip are fantastic from a usability point and really add value to the user experience on the Meizu Mini Player.

Although I am genuinely trying to get away from the iPod in this product, the similarities are uncanny with the menu system working and appearing nearly the exact same as the iPod, but of course with a few minor differences. A coloured background and more control over the menu appearance and settings are one of the key differences that set the Meizu Mini Player apart from the iPod but similarities such as the menu clicking noise are exactly identical. The video player offers the usual playback control functions whilst playing your videos. Software that ships on the supplied CD allows you to convert your videos to correct format appropriate for the Meizu, which can then be dragged and dropped on to the flash drive.

Photo viewing was a different experience altogether with slow response time and sometimes photos not being displayed at all. I think this was due in part to the fact that the processor chip inside was unable to handle the 3MB JPEG files because once I had them resized to a more reasonable resolution for such a small screen, response time was more brisk.With no real software back end to support the file transfer process either on a Windows or Mac machine, you can simply do the less sophisticated drag and drop in to a folder transfer. Using the supplied USB cable connected to a USB 2.0 port it took 23 seconds to transfer 14 tracks totalling 101.6MB from my hard drive to the device itself. I found this to be a little bit slow in terms of how responsiveness it is to the transfer of files and would liked to have seen some sort of file management system in place that supports the whole Meizu design philosophy.

The Mini Player battery is rated to last up to 36 hours of play back time, which I thought was quite ambitious. Testing showed that this was the case falling short of the 36 hour playback time, however still managing to achieve an impressive 32 hours of run time playing track after track. Listening to my current crop of albums includes the new albums from Maroon 5 and Linkin Park as well as the old favourites such as Fratellis and Jack Johnson. After spending a good few days listening to these tracks using the supplied ‘white earbud’ headphones, it was apparent to me throughout the time that the bass response was very good.

Meizu have created a superb alternative to the ‘IT’ names that exist on the market today coming from Apple, Creative, Archos and iRiver. The Meizu is the closest ‘carbon copy’ of the iPod design in terms of its looks and menu system with a surprisingly good result but lacks that all important software back end to support the media management and transfer process.That is perhaps the only thing that lets this device down in that it doesn’t have its own simple to use and fast file transfer software, instead relying on a less sophisticated system of ‘drag and drop’ to organise your collection.

Audio playback using the included headphones offers clear audio with a responsiveness that you can ‘feel’ and video playback on the nicely proportioned screen offers fine video reproduction that is pleasing to the eye enough to watch short video clips on. With it being LCD it will still suffer from outdoor issues. I took the Mini Player out in the back garden earlier today and with the sun out it was difficult to see what was on the screen.

The Meizu represents a good value ‘do-it-all’ device that I can see appealing to many people who are looking for an escape from the iPod generation, if only the iPod didn’t have such a God-like grip on online and high street retailers.

2007-06-07 Onwah Tsang

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