MP3 players have become the indispensable portable media device of an entire generation, so much so that it is difficult to imagine a time when music, videos, and movies could not be taken with you while on the go. Apple started the trend with their unbelievably popular iPod series of MP3 players, but today a host of manufacturers have caught up and there is a huge range of choices available to the consumer.
The iPod series from Apple is so ubiquitous that it almost defines the MP3 market itself. The iPod was the first MP3 player to make a big splash, and with good reason. It's worth considering the advantages and shortcomings of iPods before going further with your buying decision. The interface is intuitive and easy to use, the device itself is attractive, compact, and ultra-portable, and Apple's iTunes Store is a ready-made source of abundant and affordable content. iPods also have a plenty of accessories to extend their use, from boom boxes and clock radios with iPod slots to iPod cases that come in many colors and fabrics. However, iPods typically are more expensive than comparable MP3 players by other manufacturers, they come with fewer accessories standard, and the copyright protection on iTunes content does not allow for sharing with other devices.
The iPod may have been the first MP3 player to become a part of the popular culture, but other manufacturers have been quick to develop their own technology and address some of the iPod's shortcomings. Many other brands offer an AC charger, radio tuner, and satellite radio compatibility as standard features. And content on these MP3 players can usually be shared freely on your other devices.
Multimedia Options – MP3 players can do much more than just play music. More advanced models can play videos, movies, games, and more. Obviously, increased functionality comes with an increase in price, but an MP3 player with strong multimedia support offers the most convenient package available, since you are able to store your favorite music, videos, and movies all in one place. Although the screen on a typical MP3 player is too small for extended video viewing, it can be a nice bonus for certain users.
Storage Capacity – If you are just storing music files, an MP3 player with smaller storage is fine, but if you plan on having a lot of videos and movies, you will need one of the larger units. Many MP3 players can double as external storage devices, allowing you to shuttle data between PCs. There are hard-drive MP3 players and Flash-based models. Usually hard-drive players run from 20GB on up, and large players such as the 160GB Apple iPod Classic can hold about 40,000 songs. Flash-based players range in capacity from 512MB to 64GB. Following is a rough guideline for storage space for music files:
512MB 8 hours of playing time
2GB 30+ hours of playing time
20GB 300+ hours of playing time
40GB 650+ hours of playing time
Battery Life – Battery life is very important, since most people require a lot of use from their MP3 player between charges. Ten to fifteen hours is standard, but twenty hours and beyond is not uncommon and does not require a significant additional expenditure. Flash-memory players tend to have longer playback times than hard-disk players. Playing videos can run down a battery in just a few hours. Most hard-drive-based players come with nonremovable lithium ion batteries, while flash-memory players are split between those using AA or AAA batteries and those with an internal rechargeable cell.
Wireless Capability – The latest technology to be cropping up in MP3 players is wireless connectivity. Some players have Wi-Fi network which allow users to access online stores for wireless music purchasing and downloads. Also some offer built-in Bluetooth, meaning it can be paired with a compatible pair of wireless headphones for a cord-free listening experience. Wireless functionality is still in the up-and-coming stages, so the execution may not be perfect on many devices quite yet.
Headphones – While many players can produce near audio-CD quality music out of their headphone jacks, the headphones they come with can degrade the quality. Some people don't care about which headphones they use, but they probably haven't tried on a high-end model; the difference will blow you away. If you're particular about sound quality, it would be worth buying a decent pair of headphones – your ears will appreciate it.
Apple makes several versions of the iPod. The tiny iPod Shuffle is the entry-level model: the current version only plays music and offers 4GB of storage. The iPod Nano is the smallest one that offers video playback, yet the newest version still offers 16GB of storage. The iPod Classic offers a hard drive with additional storage, while the iPod Touch includes a touch-sensitive screen and a web browser that can accommodate wireless downloads.
SanDisk is the number two manufacturer of MP3 players, behind Apple, and their devices are easily upgraded with a number of different card-based expansions. Samsung has brought its tremendous reputation in electronics to the world of MP3 players, and they have several well-received models at a number of different levels of price and performance. Sony revived the Walkman brand for its line of MP3 players, which have proven as popular in the '00s as they were in the '80s. Creative Labs and Archos were two of the first MP3 manufactures, and they have a substantial number of offerings at different price points.