By Melissa J. Perenson WHAT'S HOT: Though $275 may seem high for a CD player, when you consider that the Sony MPD-AP20U also pulls duty as a highly portable 24X/10X/24X CD-RW drive and a DVD-ROM reader, it's a bargain. (The maximum CD-RW speed--which is comparable to that of competing portable players--requires a USB 2.0 port; USB 1.1 write speeds are limited to 4X.) Connection to a PC or Mac is easy, as you get both a USB 2.0 port and a USB 2.0 docking cradle that connects to the underside of the player. DVD-ROM playback is handled via the USB connection to your PC.
The tubular, in-line remote control sits gracefully between the unit and the earpiece headphones, and it has a single control at the base for moving forward or backward, switching between play and stop, and changing the volume. The remote's display is uncluttered, and easy to read even though it's only one line across.
WHAT'S NOT: The player has no control buttons--so if you lose the remote, you can't operate the device as a stand-alone CD player. Also, the lithium polymer battery pack is fixed; you can't swap it out with an extra battery if you're on a long journey. The unit also lacks an FM radio tuner.
WHAT ELSE: The player has a Memory Stick slot for use with media up to 128MB on each side (Sony's newer 256MB Memory Stick Pro media won't work with older devices); you can use the slot to transfer content from a Memory Stick to CD-R/RW media, though only via a PC. You can also play back MP3 and .wav files stored on Memory Stick media.
The copious software bundle includes B's Recorder Gold and Clip (CD-mastering and packet-writing software), Musicmatch Jukebox, CyberLink PowerDVD (a software DVD player), ArcSoft's PhotoBase and PhotoStudio (for digital imaging), and Dantz's Retrospect Express (for performing backups). Our hands-on tests showed that the MPD-AP20U's 8-minute buffer provided adequate antiskip protection, as did the buffers of other players on the market.
UPSHOT: A CD player on steroids, the versatile MPD-AP20U is a compelling buy for anyone wanting to combine music, video, and data in a single, portable device. Photograph by Rick Rizner