When we first got word of AOL
(disclosure: AOL is our parent company's parent) and Haier's Linux-based WiFi and Bluetooth-enabled PMP
yesterday, we were a little confused. On the one hand, the shot that PC Magazine
snapped was of a device that looked pretty beat up; on the other, the feature set appeared to be impressive. Today we got a hands-on with the device, which managed to exceed our initial low expectations regarding the design of the player. The problem here is that the brushed stainless steel casing looks awful when photographed with a flash. In person it could actually be called attractive, although fingerprints on both the screen and the casing are still easily noticeable. For menu control there's a square, clickable trackpad which does a great job of menu navigation due to the fact that you don't have to move your thumb off the trackpad to select an option. The Linux based operating system has a nice and simple (albeit iPod inspired) design, which compliments the trackpad control system. In terms of specific features it has a QVGA LCD screen (which didn't appear particularly bright), built-in WiFi (with which you can buy music from online stores, stream internet radio, do background downloads, and search for similar songs), built-in Bluetooth for using wireless A2DP headphones, and USB 2.0 connectivity. The range of files that it'll play is also impressive, with PlaysForSure WMA files, AACPlus, AACPlus Enhanced, WAV, and MP3 all playable. On top of that you can play MPEG-4, WMV 7/8/9, H.264, and AVI video, as well as display JPG and PNG images. An AOL representative told us that they're expecting to ship the player for $249 sometime around the second quarter of this year, so hopefully we'll be able to give you an idea of other more specific features -- such as battery life -- as it nears a commercial release.