In digital photography, I've pretty much stuck with the CF-based Nikon Coolpix series of digital cameras, so I had scads of CF memory cards lying about. I also have an IBM Microdrive which I use when taking TIFFs using the Nikon. So I wanted an MP3 player able to handle not just Compact Flash, but also the Microdrive. The Microdrive is tricky because it both consumes much more power than solid-state CF cards, but also is slower to respond and larger, demanding the taller CF-II slot.
Until the i2go ego, there wasn't a mp3 player that could handle the Microdrive. I had owned and immediately given away the original, incredibly flawed, RCA Lyra because it simply stank so much I couldn't stand to own the thing. If RCA wants to send one of the new ones, I'd be pleased to check it out, but the shoddy original made me vow never to give RCA more MP3 player money.
The i2go ego (still sold some places, although I think the company that made it is defunct, look look here to see one) wasn't all bad. It played, and it acted as a pretty basic voice recorder, and it allowed for two CF cards to be inserted, at least if you bought a funny daughter board. But its build quality was such that it would spontaneously lose power if jostled. Also, it had the most annoying bug ever: the player would remember the card's contents from before, even if you changed said card's contents. It would try to play them too. It also -- at random --wouldn't notice songs that were on the card. It was very annoying, besides which it was enormous for an MP3 player.
I had been checking out the Nex II for a few months and with a long trip coming up, I decided I needed a MP3 player for the trip. I wanted to have a player that was smartly designed and able to run the microdrive. The Nex II seemed to fit the bill, so I ordered one (with a 256mb card included) for $239 (plus $15 shipping).
It arrived promptly 3 days after order from Frontier Labs' shop in Hong Kong; I've been using it for about a week now, and I have to say it's the best player I've ever owned. The display, an LCD (the letters are not blurry on the actual display) with a blue electro-luminescent backlight, is very readable, and the interface is super easy to use, with a rocker button on the right for track control above the volume buttons and the stop and the "fn" button on the left, under the headphone jack.
Conveniently, the Nex II also acts as a plain vanilla USB drive, so I can upload and download songs (or other files) under Linux with no problem. You can chose from two types of display while the song is playing (status or spectrographic display), which is fun. I stick with the status screen, which shows all pertinent information, including track length, quality in kbps, song title and time elapsed. The player has been able to handle any data rate I've thrown at it, and the specs says it can play WMA files, but I can't verify that. Also, I was able to pass the card to the camera and back with no problem, as neither the nikon nor the player are too controlling of the disk format.
Physically about the size of thick deck of playing cards, the Nex II allows you to change the color of the area around the LCD by sliding in thin colored pieces of glossy paper. You can buy more of these skins for $10, including the unfortunately named "mutant sperm" skin. It also comes with a snappy little neoprene case which has transparent portions covering the LCD and buttons so you can see what's up.
Despite all its good points, the Nex isn't perfect, it lacks some basic features, namely any sort of external power connector. You must always run it with 2 AA batteries. Mind you, it lasts 12 hours when using solid state CF and 5 when using a microdrive, so this is less inconvenient than it sounds. Also, the included headphones are not to my taste at all. The battery cover should be redesigned completely so the latches aren't as flimsy -- every time I change the batteries, I picture scotch tape in my future. Many would probably also like to see it be able to play Ogg Vorbis files, but that wasn't a deal breaker for me.
Another quirk of the Nex II is that to play Microdrives well, you need to load the 1.4(m) firmware available from the FrontierLabs website. It's odd that they didn't make this the default firmware, as the 1.4m firmware seems to work equally well with solid state cards and microdrives, while the firmware it ships with works poorly with microdrives.
So if you're looking for a decent mp3 player, you should check it out. The Nex II is an excellent value, and it sounds terrific.