(Pocket-lint) - The market may be awash with MP3 player memory sticks, however that doesn't seem to stop manufacturers churning them out like there's no tomorrow. Packard Bell's latest addition to its MP3 memory stick range is the Audio Key 256Mb. Sporting a retro black and white design and 256Mb of internal memory the company is hoping that is one will stand out from the crowd.

While the player may be chunkier than most MP3 sticks on the market, the lightweight (30g) device with its black and white retro styling and slightly rubberised feel to the casing makes for a good-looking unit. Down the centre is a medium sized Dot-Matrix LCD display (128x30dots) and that's enough for one line of song details, battery information et al. The Audio Key 256Mb is adorned with the usual controls: play, pause, stop, skip back and forward, volume and a hold key. There is also a menu key that gets you into the setup as well as other features of the player.

During use, the USB key is covered by a cap and its fitting is tight enough that you're unlikely to lose it when out and about- not as common as you might expect with this type of player. Power is provided by a single AAA battery that Packard Bell suggests will give 12 hours of continuous play. This has probably been achieved by the lack of a backlight on the LCD display, something that is slightly annoying, but then out of the two we would prefer more tunes.

Downloading tracks is simple albeit slow as unusually Packard Bell has opted for a USB1.1 socket rather than USB2.0. If you plan to change the track listing on a regular basis the wait could become annoying. Bar the grumbles with the transfer rate of songs, actually getting your songs on the player couldn't be easier. As with most USB MP3 memory stick players it's simply a case of plugging the device into a spare USB socket on your PC or Mac and transferring songs to the new removable drive.

Sound wise, the player was surprisingly good considering the headphones supplied in the box and the addition of six equaliser settings including an extra bass setting also helped.


For a memory stick player this is very good, the styling is there, as is the storage capabilities, battery life and sound quality. Other notable features we also liked were its ability to delete music files on the fly without a computer and a built in microphone, turning this player into a rudimentary digital voice recorder. Great for recording notes to yourself or for us journalists caught at an interview without your usual recorder. The only real downsides are the lack of a backlight and the choice of USB1.1 over USB2.0. If Packard Bell fixes those, then this will truly be a great entry-level player. For now it's just a very good start.

Writing by Stuart Miles.