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Which is Best?
iPod's Nano's, iRivers, iAudio, RCA Lyra, Creative's Zen Nano, Sandisk,
Phillips, Sony Walkman.. there are so many MP3 players to choose from; which is
best... and best for the money? There are hard drive models and flash drive.
While hard drive models can hold thousands of songs, they have moving parts
which will eventually fail, and are more vulnerable to shock and damage from
being dropped. Flash drives are much tough and should last many times longer.
And since a 2 GB model can hold 500 songs, there's plenty of space for most
What to look for
- Capacity - each gigabyte of storage capacity will store about 250
songs; any photos or video you store will reduce the capacity for songs -
they all share the same storage area. 2 GB is a good standard, but you may
be able to get 4 GB or more.
- Software - You will want software to convert your CDs into the
audio playback format the player can handle. You can also organize your
music collection according to artist, album, genre, and a variety of other
categories, as well as create playlists to suit any mood or occasion. All
come with software to help you shuttle content between your PC and the
player via a Universal Serial Bus (USB) connection. All players work with a
Windows PC, and some support the Macintosh platform.
- Player upgradability - On most models, the firmware--the built-in
operating instructions--can be upgraded so the player does not become
obsolete. Upgrades can add or enhance features, fix bugs, and add support
for evolving audio and video formats and operating systems. This is
particularly important for models with video playback due to the evolving
nature of video formats.
- Display - Most MP3 players have a display screen that allows you
to view the song title, track number, amount of memory remaining, battery
life indicator, and other functions. Models with color displays also let you
store and view pictures from your digital camera, and in some cases, video
Some displays present a list of tracks from which you can easily make a
selection, while others show only one track at a time, requiring you to
advance through individual tracks to find the desired one. On some of the
models you can access the player's function controls via a wired or infrared
remote control. Most players have built-in management of songs that can be
accessed via album, artist, or genre. Individual playlists of songs usually
get created on a computer and transferred to the player, though many let you
manage the music on the player, allowing you to edit playlists and delete
- Photos - Virtually all players with color screens can play JPEGs,
the default photo format of most digital cameras. Some can handle TIFFs,
BMPs, and lesser-known formats as well. Many let you view your pics in
slideshow fashion, complete with fade-outs, scrolls, and other transitions,
as well as in conjunction with music.
- Video - A growing number of hard-drive players with color
displays can also store and playback video. The video is in a format that
compresses about 3 hours of video into 1 gigabyte of hard-disk space.
Popular content sources include CinemaNow and iTunes, which lets you
download music videos, TV-show episodes, and short films for $2 apiece. But
iTunes only works with iPods, and CinemaNow only supports players that can
handle copy-protected Windows formats. Virtually all video players come with
software that converts non-protected movies into a format the player can
As for the viewing experience itself, MP3-player screens are relatively
tiny--even when compared with portable DVD players--and are hard to see in
outdoor light. Players with the largest screens, up to 3 inches wide, are
easier to watch for longer periods and often come with built-in speakers.
But they can weigh as much a pound and are often too bulky to stuff into a
- Sound quality and features - Expect some type of equalizer, which
allows you to adjust the tone in various ways. A custom setting via separate
bass and treble controls or adjustable equalizers gives you the most control
over the tone. Some players have presets, such as "rock" or "jazz," as well
as channel balance control.
- Controls - Volume, track play/pause, and forward/reverse controls
are standard. Most portable MP3 players let you set a play mode so you can
repeat one or all music tracks, or play tracks in a random order, also
referred to as "shuffle" mode. An A-B repeat feature allows you to set
bookmarks and repeat a section of the music track.
- Extra features - In addition to playing music, most MP3 players
can function as external hard drives, allowing you to shuttle files from one
PC to another. Some players can act as a USB host, which allows you to
transfer images, data, or music directly from a memory card reader, digital
camera, or another MP3 player without the need of a computer. A few of
these, however, won't let you play or view the files you transfer. Some
allow you to view text files, photos, and videos on their display screens.
Other convenient features include an FM radio tuner, a built-in microphone
or line input for recording, as well as adapters or a line output for
patching the player into your car's audio system
Consumer Reports put the
Samsung YP-T8Z (1 GB), the
Cowon iAudio 5 (1 GB) and the
Apple iPod Nano (2 GB) at the top of their list
of recommendation. Oddly, they give the Nano higher ratings in 2 of the 3
key categories, and yet despite its greater capacity, Consumer Reports lists it
We agree with their top 3, but would generally put the Nano at the top
because in addition to its larger capacity, it so dominates the marketplace that
there are many, many aftermarket accessories available to adapt the Nano to your
Our top pick is the 2 BG Nano in either white or black. For the money,
reliability and features, it can't be beat!
Where to Buy and Pricing
Apple 30 GB iPod with Video Playback Black: