We were even more impressed--at first glance, anyway--by the MP-400's vivid, two-color OLED screen. With its bright, sharp images, the display is a pleasure to look at. But once the initial excitement of the OLED wore off, we noticed just how small the actual display is. At just 93x63 pixels and with a viewable area of only 0.9 inch diagonally, the screen is literally smaller than a postage stamp. We can put up with small displays if the real estate is used wisely, but the MP-400 wastes valuable space on, for instance, large symbols designating the sound effect, repeat, and playback modes; we'd much rather see separate track, artist, and album info. Browsing for music is also difficult. If you're looking in a subdirectory, for example, you can see only the first eight characters of a track; make that five characters if you append your music files with track numbers.
The MP-400's minimalist controls and IO ports give the player a clean, uncluttered look. The headphone and line-in jacks occupy one end of the player, while the mini-USB port sits on the bottom of the player, and a "hold" slider lives in the back. We especially like the unusual five-way navigational pad and its independent Select button--much better than some of the hard-to-press joysticks we've tested, although those with big fingers may disagree. Behind the five-way keypad is a blue light that flashes when the OLED goes to sleep--pretty cool.
While we like the look and feel of the controls, the actual functionality takes getting used to. For example, we had a terrible time finding the settings menu; when we finally broke down and thumbed through the manual, we learned that the Select button on the five-way navigational keypad takes you to the player's settings--not exactly intuitive. And when we browsed through our music with the five-way keypad and came to a song we wanted to hear, we naturally pressed the Select button. But no, you must hit Play or you'll bounce back a level in the directory. Meanwhile, to cycle through the various sound-effect modes while playing a song, you press Record--a button we typically don't press unless we're going to, you know, record something. We eventually got the hang of the controls (with quite a bit of help from the manual), but it took some work, deep breaths, and patience.
The player comes with a minijack-to-minijack connector for the line-in jack, a mini USB-to-USB cord, and an earbud-lanyard combo, which is great for commuting or exercising without a clutter of wires hanging from your chest.