Most personal media players at least try to look attractive. Laser's MP32 is different, in that it's got a design that looks like it fell out of a cheap Chinese factory, and the chances are very high that it did. A 3.5-inch LCD screen sits beside a five-way selector that also doubles as a channel and volume changer, above slender Home and Menu buttons. Along the top of the unit are the power button, a lock switch, fast forward and rewind buttons, record and a standard SD card slot. Just next to the SD card slot is what at first glance appears to be the nib of a PDA stylus. It's not; instead this is the unit's integrated antenna. It's pretty small, and it's worth noting that even Laser doesn't believe in it very much, as it provides an extra tiny external antenna in the box, along with a cable to convert it to a standard coaxial antenna connection as well.
On the straight PMP front, the MP32 supports photo, music, video and radio playback. To be frank, if that's all it did, we wouldn't even give it a second glance. Where the MP32 stands out is the inclusion of DVB-T support, making it a portable digital TV as well. If the PMP side of the MP32 doesn't appeal to you, Laser also sells a cheaper non-PMP variant, the C30 for AU$149.95, and a more costly touchscreen model, the ST35 for AU$229.95. The SD card slot will take SDHC cards for recording TV programs, turning the MP32 into a pseudo-PVR as well.
Is it fair to test a portable TV in an indoor environment? If your plans for a portable TV included a lot of indoor viewing, we'd suggest steering clear of the MP32, as the supplied antenna — even the plug-in model — struggled in our indoor tests in a couple of Sydney locations. Moving outdoors we weren't expecting things to get much better, as the antenna combo is almost pathetically small, although well in keeping with the kinds of antenna offerings seen on many USB TV tuners. However, we were surprised when we stepped outside and scanned for channels which revealed a new swathe of channels and improved reception immensely. That's obviously going to be a highly variable thing, and if you already know you're in a digital TV blackspot, then any portable digital TV isn't going to work for you.
The MP32 isn't just a passive watching platform, though. Recording of programs is very easy, and with standard MPG files they're also extremely portable to other devices or out to a PC for later watching. With TV out capabilities, you could even use the MP32 as a rudimentary PVR box for a larger display TV.
The MP32's display screen has good viewing angles and fair brightness, but its in-built volume is very weak. If you tried to listen to it in a public place sans headphones you'd struggle a little.
There are some catches. The MP32 doesn't support any of the HD channels, and annoyingly it won't throw up a warning when you do channel hop to them. You just get a black screen. The controls do work, but they're clicky and slow to respond. The battery life is only rated for 2.5 hours, which means you're not likely to make it through an entire movie on commercial TV, unless it's been cut down considerably.
Still, at a cheap asking price of AU$199.95, the MP32 is a cool little gadget, even if it doesn't much look like one. The lure of digital TV in your pocket — as long as you're outside — is quite strong.