Choosing A Portable Music Player
Looking For A Portable Music Player?
You can meaningfully separate portable music players (PMPs) into three rough categories – budget, mid-range and high-end – but that doesn’t necessarily help you choose which one you should opt for. It’s generally better to think about the main things you want it for: tunes during long gym sessions; entertainment during long commutes; audiophile-quality sound, or just impressing your friends.
So: here’s what you should think about buying if…
…You want a PMP for working out.
This is one of the most popular uses for a PMP: to keep you distracted while you’re at the gym or going for a run. If that will be your primary use for a PMP, then you need something compact, and that means either a budget option such as an iPod Shuffle (which is tiny) or a mid-range option such as a Sony NWZ-S738F Walkman or Apple iPod Nano. The latter will cost you more but also allow you to . The Apple iPod Nano has a handy pedometer too.
…You’re style-conscious about your accessories.
One of the reasons that iPods have sold so well is simply that they’re cool. They have a cachet or an “x-factor” that is undeniable. If you want envious looks from your friends and family, the best advice is to either: a) get an iPod (any iPod will do), or b) get a really beautiful PMP such as a Zune HD or Sony NWZ-S738F Walkman.
…You want video playback.
If you catch a train or bus to work, if you regularly fly, or if you just often have time to kill, you might find that music doesn’t cut it after a while. If so, then you’ll want a device on which you can watch a movie or an episode of Heroes for when you’re tired of listening to your tunes. You could opt for a mid-range player with a screen in the 1.8-to-2.2 inch range (the Apple iPod Nano is probably the king here), but for longer commutes and plane rides you’ll want a larger screen so you don’t strain your eyes.
Luckily, there’s a video-capable PMP with a large screen at just about every price point. A Zune HD with a jaw-dropping 3.3 inch OLED widescreen is the Cadillac option, and an Archos 5 Internet Media Tablet has an unbeatable 4.8 inch screen…but a Pro Ebiz gets you a perfectly acceptable 2.8 inch screen for just $50, and a Coby MP836 gets you a 3 inch screen for $105.
…You want the best bang-for-your-buck.
In the PMP world you often get the most technology for your money by going with a second-string brand. The SanDisk Sansa Clip+, Cowon D2+, Coby MP836, Pro Ebiz and Creative Zen X-Fi all have a lot to offer for their asking prices. Of course, they vary considerably in their feature sets so you’ll need to research them further (start by reading our reviews) to find out which one is for you. And if you really want an iPod Touch but can’t afford one? Look no further than the brilliant touchscreen Samsung P3.
…You don’t already own a lot of digital music.
When some people look at PMPs, they wonder how they’re ever going to choose which tracks in their 80GB music collection will make it onto a 4GB device. If you’re not one of those people then you should consider a PMP that allows you to listen to music you don’t own.
The most obvious way to listen to music you don’t own is by tuning in to a radio station. There’s no need to spend a lot on a PMP that offers an FM tuner as both the Sansa Clip+ and the Pro Ebiz have one.
Another option is the Slacker G2. The Slacker G2 is a brilliant device that allows you to listen to “virtual radio stations” that you either program yourself or select pre-programmed. The virtual radio stations come from the Slacker online music service and are regularly refreshed with new music. The Sony X Series Walkman also supports Slacker through an app.
Microsoft Zunes also allow you to listen to music you don’t own. A Zune Pass will cost you $15 per month but it allows you to browse for and download as much music as you want, plus you can keep 10 tracks per month forever.
…You’re an audiophile.
If it’s sound quality you’re after there’s no need to spend a lot of money on a PMP: a Sandisk Sansa Clip+ plus a great pair of in-ear headphones will leave you drooling with auditory pleasure. If on the other hand if you have the money and want more features, look at the Microsoft Zunes. They offer excellent sound AND (as noted above) they give you the ability to download as much new music as you want if you get a Zune Pass subscription.
…You love technology.
If shiny, beautiful, cutting-edge technology is what you live for then your path is clear: get a high-end PMP such as the Apple iPod Touch 3rd Generation, Sony X Series Walkman or Zune HD. All these devices are gorgeous to look and feature bleeding-edge screens, features and control systems. For true technology nuts it’s arguably the iPod Touch that has the edge out of these three, as only it offers an App Store with 100,000+ downloadable mini-applications to really geek out on. Want a left-field option? Choose a do-everything Archos 5 Internet Media Tablet.