April 27, 2009


B.O.B. asked me on Saturday what I thought about iPods vs. other MP3 players. He's looking for a portable music player and wanted to know if it was better to own an iPod vs another sort of MP3 player.

I didn't feel I could answer him easily because I really like my iPod(s) and all of the other MP3-playing devices I've had have been more clunky to use. However, I don't think it's a fair comparison in my case, because I have little experience with a high-end non-iPod MP3 player.

Here are some non iPod MP3 devices I've dealt with.

Sandisk 256MB MP3/WMA Player: I got these from Woot! for the kids one year. They were refurbished and really cheap. This was the beginning of the relentless joke Maggie makes every time I buy something from Woot! One of the players was hopelessly broken. The one that worked had a very cheap and flimsy feel; the switches always felt like they were going to break. They rattled. The screen was tiny and hard to read. It was not a good buy (and Sandisk essentially said "go away" when I contacted them about the broken one.)

Olympus WS-320M voice recorder: I bought this to record important meetings and such, but also because iPods don't play Windows Media files. Windows Media is the only way our library serves up its digital download audio books. As a voice recorder, I like the 320M well-enough. As an MP3-player it's so-so. The sound is decent, but it has clunky switches like the Sandisk, which means it sometimes turns on in my pocket and runs down the battery. I use rechargeables, but it's a bummer to not have the battery when you need it. And when it switches modes it forgets where you were in the book. That's a minor concern for music but an annoying obstacle to a pleasant audio book experience.

Samsung Upstage: I hate my phone. Playing music is one of the things it does. It even plays WMA files. But it's even worse at keeping your place in an audio book. And it requires an adapter to listen to the music through headphones. So, bleh.

None of the above are high-end MP3 players meant to compete with iPod. Well, the Sandisk was supposed to be an iPod Shuffle-killer. Perhaps that's why one of them committed seppuku.

Maggie has a high-end Sansa Sandisk player that I got her a couple of Christmases ago. She also has an iPod Shuffle that I got her. I don't think she uses either of them.

I have an iPod 5th Generation (60 GB hard drive) and an iPod Touch (2nd Generation, 8GB flash memory). The 5G holds all my music and everything. Tons of podcasts and such. The Touch holds 8GB which is plenty for everyday use. My favorite podcasts and all my most recent album purchases.

What I like about the iPods is that I barely have to think about what music to put on them. The 5G has all of my music. I set the Touch up with smart playlists that contain all my favorite music plus anything I've recently added to my library that I haven't given a thorough-enough listen to.

I'm sure you can figure out how to do something similar with other high-end players, but I was already using iTunes to manage my library, so iPods made sense for easy syncing.

I didn't feel like I could give B.O.B. complete and fair advice because of my lack of experience with other players. Honestly, I love my iPods. Perhaps someone here who loves some other MP3 player will weigh in with his or her own reasons. If you are such a person, please do.

Posted by James at April 27, 2009 8:47 AM
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Patti actually asked me yesterday "Did you ever get an answer to your mp3 question?" Aftre thinking about it no I hadn't. Not directly anyway. Everytime I ask the question I get the answer about how much that person loves their iPOD. So I guess that IS the answer.

I have more or less decided to pick up am iPOD (classic, I guess). I'm looking to be able to put all the cds I own on it so I don't want to go with a lower capacity player. I'd still be interested in hearing about what others think about other options since I haven't bought anything yet.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at April 27, 2009 10:32 AM

I have really low expectations from a music device, since I hardly listen to music. I like my sandisk thingy. I use it when I'm running on the treadmill sometimes, and if the stereo system in the car weren't broken, I would use it there, too. It allows me to create playlists, which is good for running b/c some songs are better to run to. It's true, I don't use the ipod shuffle. I don't know what to do with it.

Posted by: Maggie at April 27, 2009 10:48 AM

L has a Creative Zen. It doesn't do video, but it has held up pretty well for a few years. I have a 30GB iPod video that has served me well. The battery seems to be holding less of a charge these days, but it still does what I need it to do. Maya has a new iPod Nano. It's lower capacity, but she loves it. Josh has a Sansa clip. It's flimsy and feels like it could fall apart at any moment, but so far it is getting the job done.

I have had low to mid-end devices that weren't iPods and had mixed results with them. My Rio devices were crap. They busted pretty easily. The creative have been pretty good. The Sansa is so-so. I think this is one of those cases where you get what you pay for.

Posted by: briwei at April 27, 2009 11:01 AM

I've never used anything besides iPod/Phone. I don't think I would. L has an old Nano we gave him, Sar and I both have touches, and just got iPhones. The iPhone has everything else I didn't really and truly need, but can't live without now.

I rely mostly on the Touch for music. 1058 songs, nearly 4 GB, 2.8 days of music.

Zero complaints about Apple service. I had been having trouble getting my touch to connect to wireless internet; the guy at the Apple Store checked it for 2 minutes, threw it in a drawer and gave me a new one. No questions.

Posted by: Bull at April 27, 2009 12:42 PM

Sandisk no longer makes the Sansa model I have, which was very small and simple. It has been adequate for my needs, so I'm glad I didn't spend more. However, I doubt that it will measure up compared to an iPod. This particular model is sturdy enough for my purposes and the sound is okay when competing with the subway. But if you are used to high-end things, the buttons are going to feel flimsy and the sound is going to seem hissy.

In other words, I'm happy with my Sansa, but I'm sure I'd hate it if I used an iPod for a while and then had to switch back to the Sansa.

Posted by: Julie at April 27, 2009 6:00 PM

My requirements for an MP3 player --

It has to be an ordinary USB mass storage device that doesn't require any special drivers or software to use. I want to drag files to it just like I do with any other USB storage device. I prefer my MP3 player to connect to my PC in MSC mode as opposed to "fake file structure" MTP mode--special proprietary mode designed to make your MP3 player dependent on Windows Media Player (v10) and rendering it useless on machines that don't happen to have WMPv10 installed. Finally, I'd prefer that it doesn't support DRM, because I'm not going to let anyone "manage" my "digital rights". If I bought it, it's mine, and anybody who thinks I don't have a right to make archival copies, burn it to disk, or play it on any device I darn well please can lips my donkey.

And this is why I use SanDisk products (aka Sansa). And they are fine little MP3 players. Given how cheap they are, I can't imagine bothering to buy one refurbished. I had a Sansa 1 Gb YP-7 player that lasted well over a year. It got banged up, wet, and knocked around but worked just fine... until it went through the clothes dryer in my pants pocket. The heat melted the button contacts and that was the end of that.

My wife has had a Sansa M260 (4GB) player forever and she loves it. My daughter's 2GB M250 Sansa helped her get to sleep every night until the day I tossed it to her and she failed to catch it--it hit the floor hard and cracked the case and broke the power switch. Boy did I feel stupid. Being the good Dad I am, I gave her my better Sansa Clip 4 Gb to use.

Having landed a big photo job and having a little money in my pocket some time later, I went out and picked up a Sansa Fuze 8Gb--which I gather is trying to compete with iPod. I find that a little amusing because I've liked my sansa players precisely because they are not ipods.

The M250 and M260 series Sansas are probably the flimsiest. They've got a thin plastic case and are shaped like a semicylinder about 3 inches long. As long as you don't bang them around they're fine. The big plus of these players is the cost--they are dirt cheap. And they run on AA batteries... you don't need any special batteries for them. Of course, you'll eat through batteries if you listen a lot.

The YP-7 and the Sansa clip are much more compact and much more robust. If you don't cook them in the clothes dryer they'll easily survive the occasionally thump or fall from your desktop. These types of players contain a rechargeable batter--whenever the player is plugged into your computer, it's charging.

The Fuze is (like many MP3 players) a little too fancy for its own good, but it gets the job done. And at 8 Gb its big enough to hold all my music, which is the only reason I bought it. I simply wanted something bigger than 4 Gb, and would gladly give up the bigger color screen and the ability to play video if I could have gotten something a little more compact--the Fuze is physically a little bigger than I want--almost as big as an iPod. My only other complaint is that the Fuze doesn't have a standard USB peripheral connector on it (probably because they tried too hard to make it "slim" so it would look like an iPod)--it's still a USB device, but now if I want to hook it up to a computer, I have to use the cable that came with it, instead of any old ordinary USB peripheral cable--an item I've found to be ubiquitous in my lines of work.

But $99 for a solidly built 8Gb MP3 player that doesn't require iTunes or some other special software for me to use it? I'll take it.

As James can attest, there is little to no useful customer service from SanDisk--devices this inexpensive you are expected to replace when you break them. Googling around can usually find answers for you if you have questions tho. But each SanDisk player I've used has supported the basic MP3 player functionality, plus the ability to create playlists, delete songs from the player menu, take voice recordings with a built in mic, and a timed shutdown.

That last one is my favorite. I queue up some Lewis Black to listen to when I go to bed, and set the player to shut off in 30 minutes. When I wake up in the morning, the battery is almost fully charged.

If you are still looking, B.O.B., I'd say get a Sansa Clip if you can find one--they only go up to 4 jigglebytes, but they are VERY compact, and quite inexpensive--take my daughter's word for it, she loves mine. :-/

Another thing I'd recommend is a radio adapter for the car. You plug it in to your player's headphone jack, power it from the cigarette lighter, and it broadcasts the player's audio as radio, which you can then pick up on the stereo in your car. You can get such adapters fairly cheaply (I saw some as low as $20 at Radio Shack not too long ago). I have one in my car and really enjoy listening to my player on the long drive to and from work.

Posted by: Chuck S. at May 26, 2009 12:41 AM

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