The inexorable march of technological titchiness sometimes seems to have gone too far, as text-message virgins and the large-fingered generally observe when attempting to work their microscopic audio players.

So here's a (comparatively) novel solution to the conflicting pressures of miniaturisation and usability: the SlideKey from Zicplay, as the name might suggest, features a sliding front-plate that can glide away from the main body of the player, rather like many current mobile phones. This allows the company to incorporate five buttons – forward, back, a general 'mode' key and the volume controls – in a hidden compartment without crowding the exterior with fiddly controls.

And it's not just in this respect that the SlideKey's design is unorthodox. With its abbreviated lozenge shape, the player has the immediate look of a USB storage key, leading one to expect a direct link from the flat end of the device's body – but no. You need to check the other end, where a cable port is protected by a neat cap.

The fact that it could easily masquerade as a mundane storage device (when the Oled screen is unlit, at any rate) reflects the SlideKey's somewhat utilitarian appearance, but it's not totally unappealing for all that; it's also compact and sturdy, and would make an ideal travel accessory, although you should probably remember a spare battery or two.

As well as the usual MP3 and WMA playback functions, the SlideKey can make voice recordings and remember phone numbers. The model we tested can hold around 50 MP3s; 512MB and 1GB flavours are available too.

If we have one grumble, it's that the concealed controls, designed to reduce awkward cramping, are actually quite tricky to use. Well, the rewind button is, anyway – it's slightly too close to the sliding panel.

Zicplay SlideKey: Specs

  • Digital audio player
  • 256MB flash memory
  • supports MP3 and WMA
  • voice recording
  • line-in
  • USB
  • 7 backlight colours
  • uses 1x AAA battery (supplied
  • lasts for about 12 hours of continuous playback)
  • 95x32x21mm
  • 35g
  • Digital audio player
  • 256MB flash memory
  • supports MP3 and WMA
  • voice recording
  • line-in
  • USB
  • 7 backlight colours
  • uses 1x AAA battery (supplied
  • lasts for about 12 hours of continuous playback)
  • 95x32x21mm
  • 35g

OUR VERDICT

Most of the products in the low-capacity MP3 player market are much of a muchness, but you could do a lot worse than this. The Zicplay SlideKey is a nicely designed, neat and portable device with a gimmick that works. What's that all about?

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