The iPod has been successful because it packs a small but capacious hard drive into a tight, attractive package. But the first MP3 players used flash memory chips rather than hard drives, and many still do. For the past few days, I’ve been playing with the MuVo Slim from Creative Labs, and have been pleasantly surprised by its simplicity–and its size–plus some interesting features.

First the size. If you stack five or six credit cards on top of each other, you’ll have a very good idea of this player’s dimensions. If you’re like me and have a messy desk, the device is small enough that you’ll occasionally lose it among the clutter, as I did twice in one day.

But, for its size, it sounds great. I loaded a few Louis Armstrong and Led Zeppelin tunes on it in MP3 format and found sound quality (using a pair of Shure EC3 headphones) was excellent for the subway ride home.

The MuVo Slim even offers a few things that the iPod doesn’t. One is an FM radio, which was OK but not great. It tended to be staticky as I moved around, but so are most radios.

One nice feature that’s likely to start showing up on competing models is the ability to record music from the radio. Hear a song you like and don’t want to forget it? You can record it directly to the device. I think the record feature is a few too many clicks away on the control wheel, though, especially when you’re in a hurry to record something. Aside from recording radio, it has an internal microphone to record sound, like the tape recorders we all played with as kids. In both cases, it saves the sound as WAV files, which can be saved to a PC later.

More here.