In a market filled with Nano clones and wannabes, it's refreshing to see something different--even if that something is a clunky MP3 player with only 256MB of storage and no advanced features. Peapod Toys' SweetPea3 can get away with it because it's aimed specifically at young children. Yes, the design is chunky and the interface nonstandard, but it's also splashproof, not a choking hazard, and easy for children to get the hang of. At $89.95, the SweetPea3 is a solid option for getting your toddlers an early start on digital music.
The SweetPea3 doesn't look anything like your standard MP3 player, and that's just as well because it's not trying to be to the most stylishly compact competitor on the block. Rather, it looks like a baby monitor, with a circular handle shaped out of its top end and a large speaker built into the front. Above that, there are three buttons: two marked with opposing triangles on either side of one marked with a square. The limit to three controls is meant to make the main operation of the device as simple and straightforward as possible, and it does the trick. The square starts and stops playback and also acts as a power key if held down. The two triangles serve to move backward and forward through a playlist. Other physical characteristics include a standard mini USB port on the left edge and a power input and headphone jack on the right. The SweetPea3 does not include headphones; however, USB and power cables are included in the box.
As one might expect, features are light in this MP3 player. No photo or video support here: the SweetPea3 has a simple grayscale LCD that displays whether music is started or stopped, the playlist number, the track number, the volume level, and a battery meter. Now, if you want to adjust anything besides the track, a little effort is required. This makes it difficult for young ones to change certain things without the help of a parent, which is a good thing. Volume, for example, is adjusted in the internal menu, which serves to protect children's ears (very important). To get to the inner menu, you must hold down the two triangle keys for at least five seconds. Once in, this is where you may set the volume, change the playlist, and set an auto-off time (for conserving the battery if music is stopped).
The SweetPea3 comes preloaded with two playlists, and you may add a third with MP3 and WMA tracks of your choosing. (We found that the SweetPea3 works well with Windows Media Player, though that's not your only option.) Playlist number one includes 11 children-friendly tunes (courtesy of Susie Tallman & Friends), such as "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain" and "The Itsy Bitsy Spider," while playlist number 2 includes a story called The Little Red Hen. Our test subjects, a four year-old boy and not-quite-two-year-old girl, definitely enjoyed these inclusions. The older child preferred listening through headphones, while the girl liked to carry around the SweetPea3 by the handle and listen through the speakers. Both children had no trouble operating the device. However, although the age range on the box is ages zero through eight, the player is probably too "babyish" for most children over five. An exception is developmentally disabled adults--Peapod Toys has received many testimonials from parents of autistic adults, for example.
With a player like the SweetPea3, usability takes precedence over sound quality. In this case, we just want audio to be clear and easy to understand, and the player succeeds in this regard. The battery life of 40 hours from a single AA battery is more than adequate, and thank goodness for that: every time you replace it, you'll need a screw driver. As we forewarned, any "advanced" functionality takes effort.