When shopping for an MP3 player, first decide how much you're willing to spend on a unit you might want to replace in a year or two. Then decide whether the player you want will be an iPod or that of another brand, which might not be as popular but might offer useful features that iPods lack.
You should also decide whether you'll mostly watch videos or listen to music. Most MP3 players can handle downloaded music videos, movies, and TV programs, but some are better at it than others. An increasing number of MP3 players now offer built-in support for optional wireless Bluetooth headphones for tangle-free listening, and even Wi-Fi capability for downloading music directly from online stores and browsing the Web.
iPod or not?
With Apple's family of players so ubiquitous, and so similar in many ways, it's worth considering the advantages and shortcomings of iPods before going further with your buying decision. iPods are easy to use, thanks to superb integration of the players and the company's iTunes software. The iTunes Store offers the largest selection of legal digital content on the Web, including virtually all the available downloads of major TV shows. The newest generation includes options such as a camcorder, 64GB of flash memory, and 160GB hard drives. iPods also have a plethora 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. Several other brands of players have custom aftermarket equipment (although generic gear will, for example, allow you to pipe any player's music into a component sound system or a car stereo).
As for drawbacks, iPods typically cost a little more than non-Apple players with comparable capacity. And they have some special limitations, such as the inability to easily transfer music to any other devices not on your home network. In addition, iPods require you to open iTunes to transfer music into the player; competing devices more conveniently let you drag and drop music files without opening music-management software.
Music, movies, and more
If video content is going to be a big part of your entertainment mix, make sure the player's display is large enough (at least 2 inches measured diagonally) to let you watch comfortably for extended periods. Also think about what you'll watch, and how you're going to get it. For example, some models let you record directly from a TV, cable box, or digital video recorder (DVR), either on the fly or on a schedule. Some players have Wi-Fi connections that let you wirelessly swap music, photos, and other files with other players of the same model, or patch into wireless home networks to connect with a PC, or access the Web to browse sites or to download music and videos. Just remember that those special abilities often add hundreds to the player price tag and introduce yet another set of considerations.
Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.