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2008-11-05My review: Alba MP31GD11BLK 1Gb MP3 player with SD card slot

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In a nutshell: it feels rather as if Alba have tacked on the SD card slot as an afterthought, and reducing navigation to just a joystick has had some impact on usability. Overall a good player, though.

We'll start with the plus points... this player has decent sound quality, permits directory navigation, shows track titles, offers a truly random shuffle mode that operates on a per-directory basis if you want, runs off one AAA battery, is expandable using SD cards, and is generally very configurable. There's apparently also a voice recorder, and you can even set a timer for automatic shutdown. Cards fit snugly with no room for movement.

Using SD cards with it may not suit all users. When playing from the in-built memory, the player stores the current track and your position within it. When playing from a card, it doesn't store either. Switch the player off and back on again and it'll go back to reading the in-built memory.

Fortunately you don't have to use the eleven-click menu route to switch to the SD card, though information on the shortcut for this is somewhat buried in the manual. Holding down the mode button (the up position on the joystick) for a second or two performs the same action. However, cramming all of the volume and navigation into five inputs means that you can only browse directories or change to shuffle mode whilst a track is playing. (Starting from power on, left and right are for skipping tracks, up is menu, down gets you the volume slider, and select starts music playback. There's also a separate 'hold' slider, so that the easily-knocked joystick will be okay if the player's in your top pocket.)

I do wonder how much regular use the joystick is likely to survive (how much more would a version with five separate buttons cost to make, honestly?), the battery cover is a separate piece rather than hinged and the plastic is a shiny type that probably won't wear particularly well, but in general it doesn't feel too fragile. If you're careful to use the built-in memory for things you want to retain position information for, such as audiobooks, this is a nifty little player and one I can certainly recommend.

Currently prevailing online retail price is about fifteen quid plus shipping, or thirty-five for a 4Gb model from Amazon including shipping.


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