December 20, 2006


More Tech Talk: Here are my thoughts on MP3 players

For months I've been considering the options when it comes to purchasing a portable MP3 player; here is a rundown based on what I have researched...There are basically two categories of MP3 players: 1) less expensive-flash based players that are limited by quantity of memory and thus the number of songs, that use far less battery power and transfer songs much faster; and 2) more expensive hard-drive based players that offer huge storage capacity and large screens that can play video.

When it comes to the first category – flash-based players -- There are two strong contenders: The Ipod Nano, which there is now an 8GB version available, and the Sansa (who was first to have an 8GB player available) which is manufactured by SanDisk, considered to be the leaders in flash memory. Personally I like the Sansa, it has a pretty rugged titanium back cover, and is a lot cheaper than an equivalent Ipod nano. If only it could play video it would be the perfect little player. The Sansa is getting very positive reviews, but the safest bet is the Ipod nano.

Of the hard-drive players: there are three options I would consider.

Option1: Zune -- Great hardware meets Idiotic Software. From what I hear and read (I'm too poor to actually own one) The Zune itself is a beautiful piece of technology; it's got a 3-inch screen, plays video and audio, and it can connect wirelessly to other Zunes for music transfer. However; the Zune is not compatible with Microsoft's own Plays-for-sure concept, so other non-Microsoft subscription services aren't compatible with the Zune; instead you are forced to use the new service called Zune Marketplace. Zune also automatically encrypts music with DMR so that even if an MP3 wasn't previously protected, it will be thanks to the Zune. The good news is that the stupidity of the software of the Zune can be fixed theoretically either by hacked firmware, or if Microsoft learns from it's mistakes and changes it's restrictive concept for the Zune.

If you really want to get a good lowdown on the Zune you need to listen to Episode 76 of TWiT (This Week in Technology), a great podcast from Leo Laporte. I have become a TWiT junkie. I've was a listener of Leo Leporte way back when he hosted The Screen Saver on TechTV; before TechTV's parent company was bought and it was merged into the video game network G4, which was the end of TechTV.

Option 2: Toshiba's Gigabeat. The Zune isn't as novel as you might think; it's actually based on the Gigabeat by Toshiba. The Gigabeat when it first came out was hailed as the “Ipod Killer” but from what I hear, just as with the Zune, there has been little impact on Ipod sales. At the moment the Gigabeat is available in up to 60 GB, with a 2.5 inch screen, it plays video so you can download your favorite shows, and it's very affordable when you compare specs with the Ipod. It lets you interface with MS MediaPlayer (unlike the Zune strangely) for transfering music. It's rumored there will be cool accessories for the Gigabeat like the Zune will have and the Ipod has currently. My main concern is that since Toshiba has it's hands full making Zune's for MS, it's conceivable that the Gigabeat will be left behind.

Option 3: Ipod. The Ipod is the bread and butter for Apple. It's the standard by which other MP3 players try to measure up to. It's more expensive than third-party systems, but it offers tons of cool accessories, like car FM transmitters/chargers. It is set up to work with Itunes, just as the Zune is set up to work only with MediaPlayer, but the difference is that the

My recommendation: Get an Ipod. Sure it's more expensive for your bang per buck. But in the end you can be sure Apple will always stand behind the Ipod, and the Ipod will be the industry standard.