Funk and functionality often work at cross-purposes when combined in a single device, and the success of such a device can be divisive. The Mica, from the Norwegian company Asono, is easily the funkiest MP3 player around, and once you figure out its internal joystick-controlled logic, it's as easy to use as models less intent on aesthetic gymnastics. With an FM radio as well as line-in and voice recording, the Mica, available in black or white, offers functionality that's similar to that of other flash-based players. But at €132 (£89, exchange rate current at time of writing) for the 512MB version and €162 (£109) for the 1GB from Asono's online shop, the Mica is pricier than most. The 1GB Shuffle, by comparison, is £89.
Resembling a tiny modernist plastic pouch or a large pendant, the Mica is a creatively integrated two-piece player that combines the earphones into an around-the-neck design. Its minimalist, futuristic and decidedly Scandinavian look will attract attention from designers and fashionistas. At 23g, the Mica is as light as the iPod Shuffle, but at 38 by 38 by 14mm, it's about twice the size. The detachable bottom half houses the earphone connector and the USB jack (a USB cable comes with the player).
A tiny joystick on the front of the player controls all the major functions: power on and off, play and pause, volume up and down, and skip/next/last track. The navigational array is as easy to operate as the iPod Shuffle's. Three mode keys labelled with the tiny etched letters H, R and M on the flip side of the player access the settings and the mode features, including FM radio and audio recording. On the bottom is an aesthetically pleasing three-line, 25mm-wide backlit LCD -- a feature that the iPod Shuffle famously lacks. Moreover, the monochrome LCD can be set to one of seven vibrant colours or made to change randomly.
Minor extra features include OCHE3D sound effects, the ability to turn the display orientation 180 degrees and built-in karaoke functions that let the user sing over a song and adjust the variable playback speed from 40 per cent to 300 per cent. We weren't able to test the karaoke functions.
The earphones double as the necklace -- you adjust the length either by pulling on the earphone cords like shoelaces or by pulling the sliding joints where the cords cross behind the neck. In terms of style and function, the Mica's funkiness poses no serious operational or usage hurdles. Given its wearability, the Mica is perfect for strolling or stationary exercising. It flops around on the chest too much when you're running, however.