To call the iPod the “market leader” is an understatement. Ars Technica recently reported the iPod is so popular that beer sales on college campuses are decreasing as a result! Personally, I’ve never owned one (although I had a free one which I never used and eventually dumped on Craigslist), and I remain surprised that nobody can best them still. In fact, I must say I tend to jump at the opportunity to try other MP3 players when I get the chance. When the Super Talent “MP3_4-2GBK” arrived, I hoped from the start it would be impressive. And impressive it is, but it is unfortunately no David to Apple’s Goliath.
The Super Talent 2GB MEGA Screen MP3/FM/Recorder Player (Black), as it’s officially called, is unquestionably an iPod nano knockoff. It’s a bit smaller and shorter than the nano, although slightly thicker. It uses USB for both transferring MP3 files as well as for charging the unit (which I like a lot – all gadgets should do this!), although I was disappointed to see a proprietary USB adapter at the end (an annoyance in Japan!) and the battery life was overall slightly disappointing. Transferring files went fairly quickly, and no new drivers needed to be installed on my laptop, which was also a nice plus.
The Super Talent player is really pretty easy to use, although the 4-button ‘interface’ (plus cursor keys) did take a while to get used to. One button goes to instant FM playback, another to recording, next is stop, and last is play/pause. Some of the time these buttons have dual-purpose, and are used for navigation controls or playback controls at times. It’s definitely a few notches away from “iPod simplicity” but it’s easy once you get used to it. Below (and to the right) are a few screenshots (unfortunately a few are blurry, but you’ll get a good sense of it).
The feature set on the Super Talent is actually quite impressive. It’s built-in FM player includes auto-tuning, station bookmarks, and a recorder. The recorder can also be used in a ‘line-in’ mode to copy from an external device, and it even has a small microphone to do voice recordings as well. The photo player is neat, but I really didn’t find it useful as there was no JPEG support (the format used by, well, everyone). For music, there are multiple playback modes, playlist support, a nice screen with graphic equalizer and ID3 tag support (to show you the artist and title of the track you are listening to), and it even lets you set a quick A-B feature like most CD players.
The sound quality was quite impressive for its size, definitely better than the nano in my opinion (but I think the nano sounds utterly awful and isn’t suited for anything other than jogging with music). I used the Super Talent with my Shure e4c’s, and found the sound environment really wide. I tried the built-in sound equalizers (jazz, rock, etc), and they performed adequately – but I rarely use them when listening to music anyway. My favorite feature with the music player was the sleep mode, which is coincidentally the biggest missing feature on my real favorite music player from Sonos.
I would normally show some pictures directly next to an iPod nano, but since I don’t own one, I had to pick the other MP3 player in my collection: my Diamond Rio PMP300. Yes, while I’ve owned many, I don’t really use any MP3 player regularly right now, so my old “first-ever” MP3 player (or is it?). I thought this was a particularly fun comparison…
So, ultimately it comes down to the most important question – is the Super Talent MP3 player a viable iPod nano competitor? Well, probably not. And not for any particularly good reason, but there’s just no way anyone can take them on without a much more comprehensive effort. It’s more than just the player, the design, the form factor. It’s more than the ads. It’s the whole experience, and Super Talent doesn’t offer one.
But, for $89.61 (at the time of writing), it is one heck of an ultra-portable MP3 player with 2 gigs of storage! Also, the fact that it supports MP3 and WMA (Windows Media Audio) formats is huge in my opinion. For anyone who already has a collection of MP3/WMA files and wants a really good way to take them around, frankly this blows away the nano’s value proposition in my eyes.