Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Apacer Audio Steno AU840
- Attractive design, two headphone ports, excellent FM Radio, cheap price
- Pixelated images and video, proprietary video transcode software, odd design choices
The Apacer Audio Steno AU840 isn't the worst media player we have ever reviewed, but it certainly doesn't compare with the higher end units on the market.
Price$ 140.00 (AUD)
The Apacer Audio Steno AU840 is a 4GB compact multimedia player with a 2.2in screen that has been designed to play a wide range of media types. While it supports video, audio, images, text and radio, it doesn't really play any of them well and the design and interface are cumbersome, unreliable and proprietary.
There are a wide range of media players on the market and most of the well known brands tend to be considered in the mid to high end of the market. This unit definitely sits comfortable at the low end, with pricing to match its position. It has a wide range of features to make it appear like an attractive purchase, but its design is frustrating and does take some patience to use.
The AU840 supports MP3 and WMA music files up to 320bps. Files sounded reasonable, but were massively hampered by the included headphones. We used a set of high end headphones and sound was vastly improved, but it still lacked a fair amount of bass and a lot of the audio separation between instruments in the music was lost. The AU840 also has a built in speaker but it is really not worth using at all; at the highest volume, it isn't very loud and it can only output mono sound. Unfortunately, it does so by playing only the right stereo track. In a song like Peal Jam's "Do the Evolution", where half the instruments are in the left track, the song ends up sounding weird and alien.
With a 2.2in TFT display, video playback tends to look a little pixelated. We attempted to run clips from The Matrix and Jurassic Park at 640x480 resolution, none of which worked when dropped directly onto the device. Unfortunately, Apacer uses a proprietary piece of software called AVI Converter 2.0 that changes the resolution and format of all clips into 220x176 resolution .avi files. Having to use a piece of software is annoying and time consuming to begin with, but to make matters worse, the software is slow and in our experience, crashed quite often. The transcoding works quite well but due to the limited resolution of the screen and its small size, the 220x176 resolution files tend to look pixelated.
We loaded the same JPEG image to the AU840 in resolutions ranging from 3008x2000 down to 640x480. All were supported by the device with the higher resolutions taking more time to render on screen. While it is admirable that it supports a wide range of resolutions, images still tended to look a little pixelated. The colours were good and the contrast across the image was adequate but the pixelation tended to hamper the units usability as an image viewer.
The text reader function supports .txt files and, not surprisingly, doesn't work as well as it should. While it displays the text at a font size that is easy to read, it takes a couple of seconds to move to the next page which quickly becomes frustrating.
The FM Radio works without any problems. Obviously the sound quality is hampered by the same mediocre headphones but it was able to hold a signal without any static and with 30 preset channels, your favourite channels are only one click away. Using the recorder, you can record voice or directly from the radio. The radio recordings were accurate to the source material and voice recordings were also quite good.
The most illogical element of the design is clearly the on/off switch which succeeds in turning the unit off but doesn't actually turn it on. Once it is in the 'on' position, the 'play' button needs to be held down for a few seconds to activate the device. It would have made more sense for 'on' to actually turn the device on. The instruction booklet does very little instructing so you are left to work out how to use the interface based purely on logic. Unfortunately, that doesn't get you very far as the buttons do different things in different modes. In the end you will find yourself mashing the buttons to get the device to do something.
It does a few things right though, especially when it comes to the dual headphone ports. We like the idea of sharing the media experiences and in that regard the AU840 would be very useful.
This isn't the worst media player we have ever reviewed, but it certainly doesn't compare with the higher end units on the market. While the cheap price is attractive we would advise that you save up just a few pennies more.
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