Selecting the right MP3 or media player? – version 1

 

Selecting the right MP3 or media player?- version 1

Having used a cheap media player for a long time, for both music and audio books, on my way to work – I’ve done some research and tested some devices for both me and my girlfriend.

A media player must in my opinion a least have these features:

  • Play music in MP3 and others formats
    • Including protected content (DRM)
    • Remember the last song played
    • Support for play lists
    • Clear sound, including multiple settings for Rock, Pop, speech and so on
  • Clear display
  • Simple software for Windows Vista
  • Good battery life
  • Large capacity (more than 2 GB)
  • Small enough for the pocket
  • Picture viewer
    • At least Jpeg support

Other demands for features (nice to have):

  • FM Radio
    • At least 10 FM stations in clear quality
  • Video playback
    • Clear playback on display
    • Preferably standard format like WMV or MPEG

Devices:

Having used the Danish site HifiPriser.dk to establish what device where available I narrowed it down to these:

  • Apple Ipod Classic
    • Disk based player
    • From 30 to 160 Gb
    • Apple media format
    • 2" screen 320 * 240 Pixels
  • Apple Ipod nano
    • Memory based
    • Apple media format
    • 2" screen 320 * 240 Pixels
  • Apple Ipod touch
    • Memory based player
    • 2 to 8 GB memory
    • Apple media format
    • 2" screen 320 * 480 Pixels
  • Creative ZEN
    • Memory based player
    • 2 to 32 GB memory
    • WAV, WMA, Audible, ADPCM, ACC and MP3 format
    • FM Radio
    • 320 * 240 pixel 2½"

Software:

1st of all I’ve been testing and installing Apple iTunes for a number of years, and I’m not impressed – the basic problem is the missing integration to the Microsoft platform (I’m not a iMac owner as you might have guessed). Using other software for the iPods is something of a drag, since new firmwares for iPods disables some of these alternative software packages. And most of the alternatives short lived, or unsupported/freeware which in most cases equals instability. To play video on a Ipod video conversion is required, since the only format supported is Quicktime, everything has to be converted – and this is quite slow on even a new PC (might work faster on a Mac).

2nd I installed the Creative Zen software on Windows Vista, and was impressed by the UI integration and the ease of access to both device and tasks. no doubt that Creative looked at the Windows Media Center user interface when they designed the device user interface of the Zen series. The latest software downloaded from Creativelabs.com proved to be nicely integrated with the Explorer interface of Windows. Video conversion is really simple, and runs in the background if needed, a complete movie from DivX takes about 10-15 min in conversion time (90 mins. equals approx. 360 Gb – best quality in WMA format). Jpeg pictures can automatically be resized saving memory space on the device.

Price:

Not knowing the exact prices in $ or € (yes we still use Dkk. in Denmark), I looked at the local prices at found out that the Creative Zen was in fact very cheap in the 8 GB edition (approx Dkk. 1000,-).

The iPod Touch is still way to expensive, compared to the features (approx. Dkk. 2000,- for 8 GB) – remember that you get a bigger screen and WiFi access when buying this device.

Features:

The iPods all support USB connection, and the touch supports WiFi – a nice feature. The Zen support USB and SD HC Memory card, enabling support for much more memory (be aware that music and movies on SD HC cards does not integrate into the general user interface, but access is only through file access).

iPod Classic and Touch both have Video Out option, but having a low resolution output is actually not of any use.

Both iPod and Zen supports Remote Controls, using extra hardware.

Device User interface:

Using the devices proved to be very different, the iPod Touch interface is easy and most of the early errors has been removed, I actually liked it. The normal iPod interface is also easy to use, except for a few things done the Apple way. The Zen interface is hugely inspired by the Windows Media Center user interface, it is easy for even novices to find an album or a song. Even adding up to 8 markers in different songs makes it easy to return to an album, or continue the audio books you listening to.

Conclusion:

iTunes is partly the iPod killer for me, the complete lack of Windows integration and missing features like CD ripping (used to be there), really kills these otherwise quite MP3 devices. Besides the ability to only play Apples own audio and Video formats really annoys me.

When looking at the devices alone, the iPod Classic with lets say 160 Gb harddrive is really nice, a robust case, nice looking screen, easy access using the "wheel".

The Zen is smaller than he iPod Classic and Touch and is for a MP3 device quite easy use with the access buttons on the side, a big and bright screen which that is truly clear to look at. Having put music, pictures and 2 movies on it, and switching between these is really easy.

So if you can live with iTunes, the iPods are a sure success – just remember the downsides in regards to audio and video conversion.

Personally I bought a Creative Zen 8 GB edition for my girlfriend, copied all our baby pictures to it, copied 2 audio books and a lot of music, and still had only used 2-3 GB of space. Showed her how to operate it, and left her alone with it. Huge success she really likes the features, and the feel of it.

Please remember if you by a MP3 or mediaplayer:

Go by a rubber skin for your MP3 player, this protects the device when in the pocket and other places, for these types of devices this is very important otherwise it will get scratched within weeks.

Caution:

Do not by cheap MP3 players from China or Korea – these players use different Video formats not supported by "standard" software – and might not be supported 1 year after purchase. Pay a little more and get a fully supported device capable of playing music and video in the feature. Go for well known devices.

Only in Denmark:

TDC and Yousee has launched completely free music (1 mill songs) for all private customers – click here to access.