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Appeared on: Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Apacer Steno AB320 MP3 Player Review

1. Introduction

Apacer has a good reputation with flash products, including memory devices and MP3 players. The AB320 is the latest of a series of MP3 players offered by Apacer with a stylish, colourful and above all, compact and portable. Apacer kindly offered us the opportunity to put the 512MB AB320 MP3 player through its paces and in this review, we reveal what you can expect from such a tiny device.

- Features/Package

Apacer describes the AB320 MP3 Player as a Stylish Treasure design "...elements were based on the graceful lines of a seashell, one of the most beautiful and pure objects found on earth. The smooth layers and wave-like contours give the AB 320 a natural, organic style as well as a comfortable, pleasing feel when held next to the body or in your hands.

The AB320 is a stylish MP3 player for users that not only demand great MP3 functionality, but also tasteful design. It is easy to use, with a large LCM display that clearly shows sound tracks and functions. The ocean blue backlight adds a nice feel to the player and allows the displayed information to be easily seen in bright sunlight and at night..."

The AB320 is a portable audio device offering high capacity storage for your music, photos and data, while combining the functions of an MP3 player, a USB hard drive, FM radio and voice/FM recorder into one easy-to-use device.

• Playback MP3 /WMA /WAV format files
• Loop phrases with A-B repeat—ideal for language study
• Store data files such as photos and text
• Record voice with the built-in microphone
• FM radio with 20 preset channels
• Record FM broadcasts

Very lightweight at only 37 grams, the device provides maximum portability with a host of powerful play and record features. Below are the product specifications as found on Apacer's website:

USB Interface
Compatible with USB 2.0
Support format
MP3, WMA, WAV format support
Screen display
128x64 Full Dot Matrix with blue LED backlight
Digital FM tuner
Supports world-wide FM broadcast frequencies 76MHz ~ 108MHz and 20 station presets.
Memory capacity
128MB/ 256MB/ 512MB/1GB
Audio output
3.5mm earphone jack
Power source
AAA (x1) 1.5 volt alkaline battery
Battery life
Over 12 hours of playing time.
29g without battery
(L) 62.5 x (W) 44.3 x (H) 23 mm
OS support
Supports Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP/Mac OS 10.X.
Driver included for Windows 98.

The AB320 retail package that arrived at our labs contained:

2. Using the device

The Apacer Steno AB320 is a very small MP3 device. Below we can see the front, left and right side views along with an explanation of the various functions:

We also present several photos below, showing the AB320 player in all its glory:

On the back, we find the product brand name, the "Audio Steno AB320". Opening the back cover reveals the compartment where the AAA battery is installed:

To start the device, you have to press the "Play/Pause" button for more than 3 seconds, after which a welcome screen appears with the Apacer logo and we can immediately start using the player's capabilities. The LCD screen is backlit in a blue colour with black for the foreground characters. Its resolution is 128x64 pixels, which is a medium resolution, especially under little light. The LCD display's layout can be seen below:

By pressing the <> button, we enter "Mode Selection", where the user will find several important settings for playback mode, select the playback folder, enter the FM Radio mode, start recording from the MIC and set various other settings such as screen brightness, equalizer, play mode, power saving, screen saver, etc.

When the device is connected via the mini-USB with a host PC, the USB/PC icon appears on the display to indicate that the device is in USB connection mode. The AB320 is recognized as a flash memory device and the user can use drag & drop to transfer his/her favorite MP3/WMA/WAV files for playback, as well as data files.

3. Flashing with new firmware

The Apacer Steno AB320 supports firmware updates. Access the Apacer website, locate the newest firmware release and after downloading, run to install the firmware.

Installing the firmware is simple. After running the Firmware Update software, just press the "Start" button:

Before flashing with the new firmware, we looked at several details for the player as reported by the software:

Note that after flashing with the new firmware, all data will have been destroyed, so backup first :-)

Firmware updating takes less than a minute. Our AB320 player had already been installed with the latest firmware version (001.002.044):

4. Perfromance tests

In order to test the reading/writing performance of the Apacer Steno, we used two well known benchmarking applications, HD Tach and Sisoft Sandra 2005 SR1. All tests were conducted under the WinXP x64 environment with an ASUS P5GD2 Premium motherboard (USB2.0 compatible).

HD Tach Results

Sisoft Sandra 2005 SR2 Results

Sisoft Sandra has two series of tests.

· Read Test: Buffered, Random, Sequential
· Write Test: Buffered, Random, Sequential
· Seek Test

The "Drive Index" mark is a composite figure representing an overall performance rating based on the average of the read, write, and seek tests, and file and cache size. The Drive Index is intended to represent drive performance under typical use in a PC. A larger number means better performance. The weighting of the results is not equal, it represents the distribution of different files sizes as used on these devices (obtained through field research).

The AB320 showed a rather slow performance with "only" 3033 Kb/s, while other flash drives can do up to 8MB/s..

The Combined Index factor is rather low, with only 982 operation/min, while the endurance factor the highest compared with the other flash devices.

5. Playback impressions

For our playback tests, we used almost all possible formats of MP3, MP3Pro and WMA files. The AB320 didn't have any problem recognising all the tested files and playing them back perfectly. That's a big plus for the device. The device can show ID3 tags (rotating) or the filename (if ID3 tag doesn't exist). By pressing the > < buttons, the user can skip to the next or previous track, while the current folder is also displayed. Here we met with a small problem, there being no way to jump directly from one folder to another, having instead to traverse all files before proceeding to the next folder. A workaround is to enter the device menu, select the desired folder (from the folder menu) and press the "Play/Pause" button. The AB320 can also display lyrics if present, from *.lrc/ Lyric3/ Lyric3 V1.1 files. Lastly, the device has an A-B repeat function, where you can mark the beginning and end of a portion of a track which is then repeated.

The device can also be used as a recording device (either using the MIC or from the FM radio). In both cases, the saved files produced are .WAV files. The FM radio function can be accessed directly by pressing the AB/FM button. By pressing the AB/FM button for 3 seconds, the device will auto search for and then save 20 stations as presets. Of course, you can search manually for your favorite stations. Notice that the device doesn't display RDS information...

6. Conclusion

The Apacer Steno AB320 is overall a good proposal for all those who need a portable, lightweight and nicely designed MP3 player. The device won't have any problems playing back all your MP3/WMA files, or picking up your favourite radio station with its built-in FM tuner and can also be used to record either with the built-in microphone or directly from the FM tuner. The AAA battery will provide around 12 hours playing time. FM sensitivity is adequate but not great, while for the recording functions, the built-in microphone is also of average quality so don't expect crystal clear sound. Perhaps an external line-in jack would have helped here.

The reading/writing performance when connected with the PC wasn't as good as we had hoped, since the device only managed 3.2MB/s and 2.9MB/s reading and writing performance respectively. Other flash devices can reach up to 8MB/sec.

There are some minor drawbacks that should be solved by Apacer since the player is firmware upgradable :-)

- The Good

- The Bad

- Like To Be Fixed

Retail Package
Design/Build Quality
Value For Money

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