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Transcend T.sonic 840
Wednesday, 5/21/2008
The Transcend T.sonic in white and black

While major companies like Creative, Sony, and Apple seem to soak up the lion’s share of buzz over new MP3 players, many smaller manufacturers still put out quirky players that may be worthy of a slice of the fanfare. Transcend’s flash-based T.sonic 840 resembles many other players in the compact market, but manages to stand out with a smooth buttonless face that relocates all the player’s controls to its edges including a few other smart refinements.

The rectangular player comes with 2GB of storage in white, or 4GB in black. Both players sport the same subdued look complete with rounded edges. Given its pint-sized dimensions and storage capacity, the T.sonic climbs into the ring with other players including the likes of Apple’s iPod Nano and Creative’s Zen V. On size, Transcend’s player ends up slightly fatter and wider than the slivery Nano, but makes up for its chunkier figure by delivering a larger screen (1.8 inches to the Nano’s 1.5), and more battery life (30 hours to the Nano’s 24). Except for a slightly taller stature, the 840 is much closer in size and weight to the Zen V , but still manages to squeeze in a larger screen and double the battery life.

Without placing buttons on the face of the player where users can see what they’re pushing, Transcend took the gamble that memory and the feel of the buttons would guide fingertips to the right controls. That said, there isn’t much to memorize. The left side of the player features only a record button and up and down rocker buttons for controlling music volume. The right side has a lock button, play/pause button, and three-way (clickable) wheel for fast-forwarding through songs and navigating menus. The linear arrangement probably won’t throw anyone for a loop: Remember that the very first portable audio players – tape decks like Sony’s Walkman – made this a common arrangement for music controls over 20 years ago. 

One puzzling aspect of the 840’s design is the unused chunk of real estate on the front of the player where controls would typically go. Like a vestigial organ, the 840 retains a square of blank space that would seemingly be perfect for an extended screen. One possibility could be shared components or elements of design with Transcend’s very similar, traditional-design T.sonic 820.

An FM radio isn’t uncommon on digital audio players, but the 840 has a tuner that it can record directly from, making it an easy way to archive radio programs for later, or even snag that first play of a new song off the airwaves. It can record voice with a built-in mic, but also manages to step that mundane feature up-a-notch with voice activation detection. Turning it on will automatically trim the silence out of your recordings, meaning you won’t have to skim through gaps in audio when you go back to listen.

Outside of its unconventional layout and other dressed-up features, the player’s specs look very much like others in its class. It plays MP3, WMA and WAV audio files, plays videos using the odd MTV format, and displays BMP and JPEG image files. Music collections are sorted using a familiar folder-based system, rather than with ID3 tags.

The market for players like the T.sonic 840 may be crowded, but a handful of reworked or improved features on the player keep it fresh and make it a welcome addition to the pack. The 2GB 840 has a price of around $96 USD while the 4GB version will set you back $129 USD. More information can be found on Transcend’s Web site.

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