Packard Bell AudioKey

1 Jul 2004

Product: MP3 player
Price: €109

As technology usually goes there’s a massive gulf of understanding between those that make the technology and those that have to use it. Often manufacturers in their rush to get the product to market first before their competitors think it’s a great idea to put something out there with all the bells and whistles without thinking about making it easy for people to use. The video recorder was a classical mistake – most people today still don’t know how to programme one.

MP3 players, in my experience, are an epic journey of frustration and annoyance. Often MP3 players have to come with power leads, proprietary software that you have to load onto your PC and more often than not, tend to be bulky. Lately, following in the mould of Apple’s iPod, most MP3 players tend to sport an obvious white headset that seems to scream “Mug me!”

Thankfully Packard Bell’s AudioKey devices suffer from none of these ailments. A three-in-one device, the product segues neatly between being a nifty small MP3 player for the most hardened jogger, regional commuter or urban warrior, to being a very discreet dictaphone ideal for a solicitor or a USB storage device for a businessperson or IT worker constantly on the move.

Literally the same size as highlighter pen, you simply flip off the lid and snap it into your PC and it instantly becomes a removable storage drive that you can just drag and drop files into. If your PC happens to sport Windows 2000 or Windows XP software there’s no need to upload any software.

My experience of getting the AudioKey up and running was swifter than any device I’ve ever had to review. After ripping it out of its packet, I snapped it into the USB port at the back of my laptop and within seconds was enjoying the melodies of up and coming New Zealander, Bic Runga.

The MP3 player comes in two flavours: the 128MB version that costs €109 and the 256MB version that costs €159. Although both sizes are nowhere near the 20GB and 40GB storage boasted by the iPod and Creative Labs Zen player, each is capable of storing between 50 and 100 songs at a time. Because of the 1MB transfer speed afforded by the USB connector, swapping files such as MP3s and photos is simple and effortless.

Because the AudioKey is in reality a glorified USB storage key, workers can use it as an alternative storage device for not only photos and MP3 files but all kinds of other essential files they may need to carry about their person, such as PowerPoint, Word and Excel files.

The device is ideal for anyone who wants to dip lightly into the world of MP3-based music and at the same time have a serious component for recording notes and carrying essential documents discreetly.

By John Kennedy