Founded in 1989, Oregon Scientific is a marketing subsidiary of IDT International Limited, a Hong Kong-based company that manufactures and distributes technology products throughout the world. Although you may not recognise the brand name, Oregon Scientific offers a broad line of portable MP3 players, including the 256MB MP210 (available online for around £95), an ultrathin, card-size model featuring a see-through, illuminated display.
The unit has a respectable feature set, including an FM tuner, support for DRM-protected WMA files and voice-recording capability, but the display's hit-and-miss legibility and tiny controls are significant drawbacks.
Measuring approximately 53 by 91 by 8mm, the ultrathin Oregon Scientific MP210 is roughly the same size as a stack of eight credit cards. The device fit comfortably in a shirt pocket and even proved unobtrusive in a tracksuit-trouser pocket while we were out jogging. The see-through display is a clever marketing ploy, but its legibility is spotty. For instance, if you hold the player up against a bright blue sky, the small screen (approximately 40 by 48mm) looks vivid and is easy enough to read, but against a dark background or in moderate to low light, such as you often encounter indoors, it's hard to make out the characters.
Because all of the MP210's controls are mounted on the device's narrow side panels, the buttons are small and not very ergonomic. On one side panel, the unit has volume-up and -down buttons and a hold switch. On the other, it has menu and record buttons plus a three-way rocker switch that's used to skip forward and backward and to start and pause playback. The sleek silver earbud headphones double as a lanyard, enabling the player to be worn like a necklace. A soft fabric bag for storing the player and the 'phones is included.
When we connected the MP210 to our Windows XP system, it was automatically recognised as a removable disc, enabling drag-and-drop file transfer to the player. However, to transfer WMA DRM files, such as those purchased from Napster, you have to use either Windows Media Player 10.0 or Musicmatch Jukebox (supplied on the included CD-ROM). Unfortunately, the device won't recognise playlists transferred from either of these programs. It's worth noting that you can use the MP210 to store and transport virtually any type of file, such as JPEGs and Word documents. Just keep in mind the scarcity of memory -- the MP210 doesn't accept memory-expansion cards.
The MP210 has three basic modes: music (file playback), FM tuning and voice recording. You change modes by pressing the Mode button, then using the three-way rocker switch to locate and select the desired option. The device has a station-scan function and can store 30 FM presets. Unlike the admittedly much more expensive Cowon iAudio 5, the MP210 can't record FM broadcasts. Equaliser presets include Normal, Rock, Jazz, Classical and Pop.
Souped up by its USB 2.0 connectivity, the MP210 fared well in our file-transfer tests. Tracks cruised from our PC into the player at a decent 1.69MB per second. Depleting in only 9.3 hours, the built-in rechargeable battery exhibited below-average drain performance. That said, the battery fully recharged in approximately 45 minutes, but you have to do so via USB -- no AC power adaptor is included with the player.
In terms of sound quality, the Oregon Scientific MP210 performed competitively. The included earbud headphones can't output much bass, but they're smoother and less brash-sounding than some low-end 'buds. The Rock equaliser preset added a little sheen to dull-sounding tracks, such as an MP3 of Kate Bush's Army Dreamers.
The player has adequate juice on tap to drive the earbuds to uncomfortably loud levels. True audio buffs should upgrade to better headphones, such as Sony's MDR-EX71SL. Subbing in our AKG K 100 test headphones improved the depth of the soundstage, the texture of the vocals and the presence of the bass. Overall, sound quality was on a par with that of most other MP3 players we've tested. The built-in mic successfully captured voices from a couple of metres away.
In a nutshell, the Oregon Scientific MP210 is an otherwise unremarkable MP3 player that relies on impressive styling to stand out from a crowded field of competitors. Although its ultrathin profile is a plus, the see-through display's poor performance is a major problem.
Edited by Jasmine France
Additional editing by Nick Hide