Speaking of playlists, we were incredibly impressed with the A3's audio skills. The bundled earbuds were (unsurprisingly) horrific, but after plugging in a set of Westone UM1s, our ears were treated to crisp sound from a variety of file formats. Yep, this unit did indeed play nice with the whole gamut of supported codecs and formats, which aside from its LCD, is likely its second biggest selling point. Sadly, you won't find compatibility with DRM-infested files, but hey, we 'spose you can't always have your cake and eat it too. From APE to WAV and (almost) everything in between, this thing had no qualms interacting with a wide array of music files. With everything set to default, the sound quality rivaled that of its main competitors, but after tweaking the 10-band equalizer and having a bit of fun with the built-in BBE effects, we found ourselves actually preferring the A3. Oddly enough, the BBE enhancements actually improved our enjoyment of the tracks we chose to sample, though we admittedly expected 'em to be more gimmicky than anything else. This unit actually comes with stereo speakers atop its frame, and while they aren't nearly loud enjoy to enjoy on a blustery day, they definitely get the point across in a pinch.
Of course, chances are that you're not really
looking to the A3 just for its audio abilities, and we're pleased to say that it handles video just as admirably. We tossed just about every format we could find on here simply to see what would happen, and while larger files did require a bit of a wait (a few seconds, usually) before starting up, we experienced no jitters, skips, artifacts or other slowdowns during playback, and the fast-forward / rewind functions weren't hampered with extraordinary amounts of lag. Specifically, an episode of Conan
that was captured via an HTPC's OTA tuner and encoded with DivX looked stunning on the (again, marvelous) display, and our eyes never felt strained after peering at an episode for any length of time.
As expected, the screen fared just as well when viewing still images. Slideshows were crisp and didn't look overly compressed, but it should be noted that flipping through a number of untouched 5-megapixel images did cause the music to skip on almost every transition.
If you're looking seriously at the A3, chances are you're at least remotely interested in the unit's ability to double as a portable DVR, of sorts. We used the included composite adapter to record footage from a camcorder and had no issues capturing both audio and video. Unlike viewing slideshows with music spinning in the background, this process didn't seem to bog down the device and introduce skips. Recording video, as well as voice notes and FM radio, was extremely simple -- no complex setup was required, and that's just the way we like it. As for outputting video, we were able to beam the aforementioned Conan
episode back to an HDTV (yeah, it does HD input / output) via the bundled component cables and check things out on the big screen. Sure, there were some minor artifacts and noticeable compression flaws, but overall, we were quite stoked about how things appeared. If you're looking for a device to tag along on your next vacation and serve up videos to the television waiting in the room, we certainly can't say the A3 would be a bad choice.