Recent collaborations by electronics giant Philips and sportswear giant Nike have resulted in a line of fitness-friendly MP3 players--no surprise there. But the companies' latest effort, the MP3Run, stands out from the pack because the experience of using it is much like that of running on a treadmill--except you're outside. While you're running, you can press a button to temporarily silence the music while a synthesized female voice tells you how far you've run and at what pace. Needless to say, that's a pretty nifty feature if you're a serious or casual runner who wants to gauge your performance.
Though cosmetically very similar to other sweat-resistant models in the Philips-Nike line, what makes the 2.5-ounce MP3Run (a.k.a. the PSA260) different is that it comes with a separate Bluetooth module that attaches to the top of your shoe. Despite some early speculation, the Bluetooth element doesn't interface with wireless headphones. Rather, it's there to wirelessly transmit to the player how far and fast you've run. When you're through with your run, you connect the player to your PC to upload your time and distance to the Training section of Nike's running site, where a detailed training log, complete with graphs of your runs, allows you to track your progress.
We were a little skeptical about Philips and Nike's claims that the wireless speed-and-distance sensor acted as a highly accurate pedometer no matter what the terrain or the variations in your stride, but after a week with the player, we can say that the sensor came very close to the true distances we ran. It does a good job out of the box, and with a little calibration (which you can set automatically or manually), it does even better.
Setup was relatively hassle-free. The Windows-only player comes with both Philips Media Manager for transferring music and customized playlists onto the device and Musicmatch Jukebox for managing your music and ripping CDs to MP3 or WMA files. If you have existing MP3s, you simply point the Philips Media Manager to a designated folder on your hard drive, and your music is automatically loaded into the program. The MP3Run supports playback of MP3 and WMA files, though not protected WMA files from download services such as Napster. The firmware is upgradable, however, so additional file formats will most likely be supported in the future.
If there's a downside to the player, it's that it doesn't play quite loud enough. Sound quality was generally good through the included earbud-style "sport" headphones, which fit securely and comfortably thanks to the ear-wrap-armature design. But in noisier environments, we definitely had an urge to crank up the volume--and couldn't. Compared to the volume of the Rio Cali we usually run with, the MP3Run's just wasn't up to par.