back to article Ten of the Best... iPod rivals

Yes, the news is dominated by this week's revamped iPods, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of other good media players out there. Put off the colourful Nano, or the shiny Touch? Then here are ten of the best alternatives. Counting down, in reverse order, we kick of with the... Creative Zen X-Fi Click here for the …

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  1. Xander
    Unhappy

    Damn it

    Dammit el Reg. I just yesterday bought a Creative Zen...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    iPod rivals

    The best thing about iPod's is in fact the iTunes software - it does exactly what it says on the tin and just works, unlike hideous alternatives like Windows Media Player.

  3. Paul Hargreaves
    Paris Hilton

    Oh dear

    If that's the best of the rest then I'll stick with my Touch...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    There is no iPod Rivals

    My Job's device is superior all rivals !!!1!!ONE

  5. Webster Phreaky
    Jobs Horns

    NOTICE? Never been ANY complaints about any of these brands?

    But the HISTORY of nearly all of the iPuds has been riddled with complaints, bugs, flaws and LAW SUITS.

    So much for the iPhony moniker of Apple product confidence. (EVERY one of those user surveys giving Apple high marks has been skewed by AppleTards voting like Democrats in a US election - "vote early and vote often (a lot more than once)).

  6. Cosmo
    Thumb Up

    Creative Zen?

    I was surprised not to see the "original" Creative Zen on this list. I bought one about 4 months ago for £55 for the 4GB version and it has worked pretty well for me.

  7. okubax
    Stop

    Where the Zune ??

    I searched for the Zune and lo' it couldn't be found...am thinking it is because it is not yet on sale in the UK, right ?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Why?

    Didn't realise until I watched Lord Jobs' keynote that SanDisk actually made music players! - Let alone get a market share that big.

    We are always comparing devices to the iconic iPod, and all these manufacturers strive to become iPods and to get a decent taste of the iPod market share. But they need to give up, and try and come up with new features and impressive designs - which takes them beyond the iPod.

    (More importantly they all need to collaborate, and build a platform that can compete with iTunes!)

    Paris, cause she'll only ever have an iPod!

  9. Brian Miller
    Alert

    Why on earth???

    Would anyone pay an extra £65 for 6 GB extra storage when the device can take a bigger cheaper microSD card.

    I am speaking in reference to the pricing structure of the No.1 editors choice.

    Rhetorical.

  10. Charlie Barnes

    All very well...

    But why cant we buy a decent mp3 player for £50 with more than 10gb memory? The prices jump as soon as you get above 4gb.

    I don't want the video, dvd, internet, bluetooth rubbish that eat into battery life, just a decent sized music player.

    With the prices of hard drives plummeting, why are mp3's not cheap as chips?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Browsing files

    "two-thirds of the player's musical content only accessible through a basic Directory menu."

    Where can I get one that enables *all* the content to be accessible through a directory menu?

    I know where the music is on my PC. I don't want iTunes or the like to organise it for me. I just use Windows Explorer or the Linux alternative. (OK, Media Monkey isn't bad because it lets you browse by location.)

    I'd like the same on a portable player. The inability to browse by directory is one of the great disappointments of my Creative Zen Vision M.

    I know some will say the solution is to make sure your music is tagged properly but this is hard to do with classical. The usual databases can be very inconsistent in the way they store data. For instance, 'artist' can be interpreted as meaning composer, orchestra, conductor, or soloist.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Sony Walkman

    I think the entry for Sony A-series Walkman sums up the typical Ipod owners... just so in love with their gadget they often forget that it is just an portable music player.

    As for me, I still find my Walkman A818 amazingly practical, slim and above all else capable of pumping out quality sound. Being not tied to any software is a great and wonderful thing.

  13. Steven M

    The Best MP3 Player ......

    Is the currently the Creative ZEN.

    Small size, lightweight, excellent sound quality and available with 32GB of storage.

    This is the best MP3 player I have yet owned ... and I have quite a few.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    Missing Info.

    So much is missing from these reviews. For example, how good the supporting PC software is. My last purchase is great hardware, but abysmal PC software (SonicStage), which makes my player a chore to use. Same can be said for iTunes. got given a new iPod yesterday, immediately gave it to the missus, as the sound quality of all ipods is abysmal (a music player for people that fall for slick marketing, as opposed to music real music lovers). Anyhows, the iTunes 8 totally locked up my dual core PC, whilst working out gapless info from the music on my network share, and estimated it would take over a year to complete. Of course all the time it was doing this, iTunes UI was totally unresponsive.

    Total pants.

  15. Christopher D'Souza
    Thumb Up

    Cowon D2?

    Smaller screen that the A3, but better battery life

  16. Grant
    Thumb Down

    Sony Walkman

    Love mine (A829), bluetooth = no more catching the headphone cord on things and it works great with my phone connected at the same time - pause for call then music back on. Synchs great with MediaMonkey, WMP or just drag and drop.

    As for iTunes - having recently set up an iPod shuffle on iTunes/Vista it's easy to see what their priorities are - walking you through signing up to the iTunes shop and taking credit card details!

  17. And Clover

    USB MSD

    Which of these support the USB Mass Storage Device standard (and so can have music added and removed using the normal file manager of any OS)?

    Having to use cruddy software like iTunes or the above-mentioned (and indeed just awful) SonicStage is an absolute deal-breaker for me. I can't understand why any manufacturer would make a device without USB-MSD, it's not exactly a difficult feature.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Not so sure about this

    Considering exactly half the devices came in at an 80% rating or below, I'd think it isn't really a good reflection on the competition if this truly represents "Ten of the Best iPod Rivals" - expecially with 2 devices rated in the 60's.

    "Quick! We can't let an Apple product refresh announcement go unchallenged! Throw together 10 things that may or may not be any good and call them viable alternatives! We'll teach them to snub us!"

    "You got it, boss!"

  19. Dana W
    Thumb Down

    @Anonymous Coward

    >as the sound quality of all ipods is abysmal

    Try not ripping your Mp3s in 128 or low end AAC. Just because you don't know how to compress music is hardly Apple's fault. Ever embrace the concept of changing your DEFAULT SETTINGS? My Lame ripped 320 VBRs sound great on my pod.

    >Anyhows, the iTunes 8 totally locked up my dual core PC, whilst working out gapless info from the music on my network share,

    You did your gapless playback scan........ Over your network share.........? "I bet it was 802.11.g too"

    Do I really have to say what's dumb about that to anybody? Its also not Apple's fault if you can't properly use a program that does everything for you but hold your hand when you pee. And it also says a great deal about Windows networking.

    It whips through my 80 gig or so of audio in about ten minutes. "and no I don't do it over a network, I use an external drive" Sounds like another failure caused by "loose nut behind the wheel" syndrome.

    I may replace my Gen six ipod with something else. but only because like Gen 1-5 the Gen 6 battery is REALLY un-replaceable. I've been doing battery replacements for people's iPods since Gen 2 and its been easy, but most banks should be locked as tightly as a Gen 6 ipod classic. Pity, as they finally made the things properly scratch resistant.

    I just hope something matching it in storage capacity, battery life and ease of use shows up soon. If Sansa made a player with decent storage I'd be seriously interested. I'm at 160 gig, a flash player won't cut it till at least 2010.

  20. Lee T.
    Flame

    fuck webster, you're even thicker than i thought

    have you ever heard about the creative zen micro? generally speaking, every single one had the headphone socket fail either just before or just after the (1 Yr) warranty expired. I had one. It died and i got it replaced (free) with a different model. Also, apple currently sells LOADS of different players, but they are all called ipod, and so every single fault on every single ipod from the last howeverthefuckmanyyears gets called by you as evidence. The more sold, the more faults will be reported, and apple has sold the most. learn something about statistics you twat, before you post yet-another-pointless-inaccurate-incoherent crap reply. I shouldn't bite, really, but Damn does webster get irritating.

  21. Brian Morrison
    Alert

    Will buy a Sansa Fuze when....

    ....they get the firmware updated to cope with FLAC and Ogg.

    It's promised soon, but so far it hasn't actually appeared.

  22. Julian Bond
    Jobs Horns

    160Gb?

    Now that Toshiba have a 240Gb 1.8" disk and Apple have canceled the 160Gb Classic and downgraded it to 120Gb, where's the competition? Why doesn't *anyone* address the needs of people with too much music and video?

  23. Steven Knox
    Happy

    Admittedly, I'm biased...

    My first mp3 player was a SanDisk (an m100 I believe), and they've alwas been my favorites, so I'm pleased to see them at the top of the list.

    As for iTunes doing exactly what it says and just working, I guess I missed the part where it says iTunes will take up loads of space on the hard drive, install unwanted additions like QuickTime, and make an overly complicated mess of COPYING FILES.

    With most non-iPods, esp. the SanDisks, you actually have the option to simply treat the player as another USB drive, so you can just copy the files using the file manager of your choice. No need for extra crap. What I'm saying (Missing Info) is that if you need supporting software*, then the player is crap.

    *Other than, perhaps, a transcoder to optimize video.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    Problems...

    Creative Zen Problem 9,280,000 results on google

    Creative Zen Lawsuit 118,000 results on google

    Of course none of this counts as I am clearly a mac/ipod/apple fanboi/mactard etc. And how dare I quest the Great Nerd that is Webster Freaky. <sarcasm>I wish I were him. It must be great trolling the net to find Apple stories and make riduculous and incoherant comments about them.</sarcasm>

    Your 'learned' opinion ain't fact. Twunt.

  25. dingo_chutney
    Jobs Horns

    What about Archos?

    I own an Archos 605 Wifi. It's a superb video player, great audio player and has bags of features. Surely it deserves a place in this list? It smacks the arse of the ipod!

    Then again, it's a last-year gadget isn't it? God forbid something released last year could still be one of the best of its ilk.

  26. Roger Barrett
    Gates Halo

    Zen Vision M 30GB for me

    Been using the 30GB Zen since launch, taken it round the world for a year charging in Canada/USA, New Zealand/Australia and now back in the UK it gets daily 12 hour use, then charges over night for another full day plugged into the office hi-fi. Disappointed to hear the bad reviews for the X-Fi as I only have a couple of gig left before mines full and really want to jump up to a 60GB to give me plenty of future space.

    I'm a bit confused by the hate for Windows Media Player? I use it to Sync my Zen very easily, just plug it in and drag across the latest CD, only small problem I had initially was my pc is old and a USB 1.1 speed for the initial sync took a loooong time. Admittidly if I want to scroll through the albums on my pc, it does stutter a little, but thats probably my pc.

    Anway just wanted to chuck in my twopence worth.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    *shrug*

    <rant> So there are some nice mp3 players out there. I knew that before. Thing is, compared to, say, the 160 GB iPod Classic they lack storage capacity. Heck, most compare badly to the iPod Nano, even. As to sound quality, use some serious headphones (let's talk Sennheiser 530s here, f'rinstance-OK, they're old, but they're still great) and encode your stuff in high quality and you won't be able to honestly complain. That last goes for many other players, too, of course.

    I personally wish Apple would include the Ogg Vorbis CoDec in a software update, but that's about it as far as complaints go. My iPod does things smoothly I have seen most other players to do badly or not at all, it serves great as a multi-boot external hard disk which I use to check up on "dead" computers (take that, S(PH)ONY...), and otherwise offers me flight entertainment for the entire duration of a transatlantic flight, which many other players won't do either due to lack of battery capacity.

    Considering the iPod Touch, I don't think there is any device out there at this time that could honestly compete with the functionality. I don't need that functionality, so I don't have one, but I must say it's one sexy device... evolving quickly into a combination PDA/mobile game console.

    As to the iPod Shuffle, hey, it's a great device. I have one which I clip to my car's dashboard and use as my in-car entertainment system. I don't need to watch video while driving, after all. And the nano... well, OK, there are one or two devices out there that might out-do it. Unfortunately, those won't work together with the iTunes music store (@Steve Knox, get off it about iTunes installing QuickTime. Guess how much garbage WMP brings along... which you don't notice because that POS is forced down your throat by MS? And QT is more like extra value for Windows users, because it allows you to use more file formats than Steve B. can throw chairs at. Hint: iTunes uses QuickTime as playback engine... And if you would be so kind as to look at the file handling settings for iTunes, you might notice you can tell it to use all media files from right where they are found w/o copying anything...).

    As to the commenter a few posts up who wondered why the Zune was not mentioned, I'd say it's because the Zune is just plain shite. I've attempted to use one for a bit (together with the associated music store), and I wonder whether there is any current owner who'll be masochist enough to buy another one. Just my personal experience, though; guess your mileage may vary. I can imagine that people used to, say, Vista, would be delighted that the Zune actually does work without hitches occasionally. </rant>

    Just to make sure it's understood, I am not employed or in any other way associated with Apple, Inc. or any of their subsidiaries.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Tried multiple MP3 players

    Thus far the only one's that have even begun to come close to my iPod are the offerings from Cowon. Every manufacturer has issues of one stripe or another but in the end it's about what, how, and in what format you want your music. Despite the uninformed and pointless ramblings of dolts like webster the iPod is still a solid product and it takes all of maybe two minutes of altering settings in iTunes to make it organize my music the way I want it.

    All in all some of the offerings in this list are utter shyte and others are decent enough kit. If you want more real world information and reviews of products that do indeed compete with the iPod then I suggest sites such as head-fi where users have used/own/have reviewed just about every offering out there.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Roger Barrett

    I'm a bit confused by the hate for Windows Media Player

    Simple its an MS product. I like it but because its an MS product it has to be hated.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Apple has won

    I think the title of the piece says it all really. There are iPods, and there are other mp3 players.

  31. IR

    Where does the iPod come in?

    We need the rating you'd give the ipod(s) so that we can properly compare.

    I got a Sandisk e280 and love it. It was $50 cheaper than the equivalent ipod, had a radio (the only reason I chose it over the ipod since they were even on most other scores) and expandable memory. Memory is so much cheaper now than two years ago. I often use it for transferring large files between PCs since it is so quick and easy, and I don't have to carry a thumb drive around.

  32. TJ
    Go

    @Roger

    Quite simply put, Windows Media Player, is an MS product. Thats what "makes it bad".

    Quite honestly, I think people get too worked up about these things. People are hacking into credit card companies, but "heaven forbid if our music applications don't work as we fix THAT problem"

    I own an Ipod. Generation 2, 15GB. And personally, I'm getting irritated at the Itunes bloat as well. Yes, it works. It has to because 90% of Ipod users are quite simply put - retarded. They are teenie bobbers who don't know what a USB port is, or much less an MP3 itself. I'm not anti Mac. I'm an IT guy, I can't be Anti anything because that would just be ignorance. I run XP pro at home, because thats what I'm faced most with.

    I do however enjoy seeing the turn against Apple as their market share grows. Its just not cool, to be cool anymore. I think Steve should go talk to Bill to help him through the feedback from the very people who took him too the top turning against him. Deja-vu.

  33. Matt White

    Lack of Archos...

    I mean come on, that's got to be the one to go for for anyone with a large storage need now.

  34. Frank Bough
    Stop

    This is Just

    ...a group therapy session for Apple refusniks, right?

  35. tardigrade

    So that's why iPod's have market share uber pwnage.

    Looking at that list I now understand why iPod's are where they are at.

    The competition isn't very sexy apart from the Walkman range. Adding off the wall features doesn't make a product better than the competition when the whole products purpose is to play music. Apple made this, the simplest of things to do. That equals win. Desire and design have a big role to play here. Zune? Who wants a brick with 70's styling?

    From all the negative comments that anti-fanbois come out with at every Apple launch, you'd guess that there were some good alternatives out there buried under Apples hype. But apparently not.

  36. ratfox Silver badge

    Didn't bother to read the review

    Is there any of these which can play from one track to another WITHOUT pausing, like a CD? Much of classical music should keep playing from one track to another, and the pause introduced by my iPod makes me want to scream.

  37. Dana W
    Jobs Halo

    @ratfox

    >and the pause introduced by my iPod makes me want to scream.

    So, how old a version of iTunes are you USING? We have had gapless playback for YEARS.

  38. Sarev
    Paris Hilton

    @ ac

    > Creative Zen Problem 9,280,000 results on google

    > Creative Zen Lawsuit 118,000 results on google

    right, and:

    "ipod lawsuit" 1,880,000 results on google

    "ipod problem" 3,420,000 results on google

    hardly a resounding victory on the iPod front or a meaningful metric of anything.

    I have a Zen V Plus as does my other half. We've had them a couple of years and not had any problems. Hey ho.

  39. Michael Kean
    Happy

    How about PDAs and Phones.

    Every day I walk around with three MP3 players in my pocket - each with it's own strengths and weaknesses. Two are phones, and because of their proprietary audio connectors (ZTE F252, LG U8380) they only get used for playback via their speakers.

    The third however, an aging Palm T|X, does a very good job as MP3 and Video player, as well as all the other things Palm used to do well. DivX support, MP3 support with equaliser and limiter (very useful for podcasts that go loud then quiet while you're driving), proper audio outputs and decent battery life. Option to browse by file system structure or by ID3 tags. Streaming audio over WiFi too, and a touch screen not far from iPhone size.

    Again like most of these I guess the software that comes with them is a let-down, but since it's an SD card (and they're so cheap) content management can be done through WMP, or through any number of sync apps.

    For me, there's no need for a dedicated MP3 player.

  40. Raddimus Voracious
    Go

    Just get a cheepo.

    I tried two nice media players: Zune (the 8GB SSD version) and paid $250USD. It had a nice build but I had a couple glitches and had to use MSs decent software to convert and load music. I took it back after a week. I went off and got a Sansa View 16GB I was largely happy it cost $150USD and I didn't need to convert media except for some vids. I set it on the roof of my car one day and was puzzled where my audiable books went. Gone... After that I just figured I don't need the flashy features and choose to replace it with a 4GB Sansa Clip which cost me $60USD. I should have got a clip to begin with. It has a cheep build but it does the job. Zen stone seems very similar but it cost a bit more.

    So now I can give a laugh to those smug Mac users with their stone washed tattered jeans and over priced mp3 players. Mine MP3 just works and my jeans are tattered because they're 15 years old, I spent a fraction to get this crap.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The thing about Ipod + Itunes...

    Is that each step of the end-end experience is simply "nice" and hasn't been obviously designed by a techie. The whole package is just pleasant to use.

    Anything that doesn't make it easy to plug device in, load up software automatically, buy music / video, listen / watch media in software, unplug device, listen / watch media on the move, fails at the first hurdle. That pretty much rules out anything that requires use of an on-device file browser or an explorer window in windows.

    Anything with any more than around oh .... let's be generous and say 5 (left, right, top, down, centre) *intuitive* multi-function buttons equally has lost before it's left the factory. Don't knock the ipod until you've experience the click-wheel.

    Then you have the device's graphical interface which needs to actually be tailored to someone using it to play media (as opposed to fitting around the underlying software). Sounds obvious right?

    The amount of companies that fail to grasp these three basic requirements is absolutely astounding. If any of them aren't there, you've got yourself an "MP3 player", as opposed to a "music player" and it should be fairly self-evident which of those markets is bigger.

  42. elder norm

    Such a funny article. :-)

    Hey, I believe that each person should have the player that is best for them.

    But, most of us ......

    Do not want software that SUCKS. Period

    Do not want two features that are good and 10 that SUCK.

    Only Windows Media plays-for-sure, well mostly, maybe if MS lets us..... nuff said.

    iPods have 73% of the world market cause 73 % of the people like them best. PERIOD. 2.5% like Zunes (or Hate Apple... what a stupid reason to buy a player.....)

    the rest are split up amount many different players and companies.

    HMmmm, do you think that the slight lead by Apple could be cause the advertise (well mostly they do not) or that Steve Jobs told them they must buy an iPod (actually he never did).

    Enjoy your player. I have several mp3 players that work just fine but they sit in the drawer cause my iPods are just ..... more enjoyable to me. PERIOD>

    Just a thought.

    en

  43. Trix Bronze badge
    Jobs Horns

    Cowon *close* to iPud?

    Well, if you don't mind your music sounding meh and only one or two file types being supported. I do admit the iPod's interface pwns all.

    I'm surprised it wasn't the D2 listed here either, since that's more directly similar to the other devices. 8GB flash onboard, SDHC card slot, and plays all the media formats you can throw at it. And sounds good while the battery lasts for days. The A-series are more full-blown PMPs - take to watch movies on and the like.

  44. George Madison
    Thumb Down

    iTunes - *FEH*!

    One of the reasons I don't use an iPod is because iTunes is such a vile piece of crap.

    The others are that iPlods don't support Vorbis and FLAC, and don't have proper replaceable batteries. Only designs that are cheap and disposable can be excused for having a non-replaceable battery (the iPod Shuffle, for instance). In any other case, it's planned obsolescence to "encourage" people to buy another unit instead of simply replacing a worn-out battery.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You can get gapless playback on the iPod:

    If you have the right model:

    http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1797

    Depends on the model you have. Works well though, I never have any complaints.

  46. Calum Morrison
    Unhappy

    iPod sound quality

    I bought a 160Gb classic last year primarily for the storage; it's nearly full but as someone else mentioned, the sound quality is poor compared to other players.

    Comparing the same mp3s (320kbps - hence why I need a 160Gb drive) on the ipod to my Archos 405 shows a massive difference, and when you factor in that I'm using the same headphones/car/home hi-fi for playback then, yes the comparison is valid.

    The iPod interface is slick, the hardware is nice, iTunes sort of works and is excellent for synchronising music, but seriously, take a listen to the alternatives before buying an iPod. I only wish someone else had been offering a properly big HD when I bought my classic last year; and that Archos hadn't decided to charge for just about everything that they used to include for free...

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Halo

    @Dana W

    "Try not ripping your Mp3s in 128 or low end AAC. Just because you don't know how to compress music is hardly Apple's fault."

    Try not making flawed assumptions. The ipods sound crap, not because of the quality of rip/encode, but because of the high SNR, and crap DAC's fitted. iPods are crammed full of el-cheapo components. Anyone owning a iPod is clearly not a music lover. Once you have heard a decent personal music player, you will wonder why on earth iPlod is as popular as it is, given it's not actually got much going for it, besides slick marketing for the sheep market.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Sansa sucks big time

    As a Sansa e200 (8gb) I'm very surprised to see a Sansa at the top of this list.

    I bought the e200 because I thought it did everything I disliked about the ipod at the time. It was larger (at the time) then the largest Nano's and expandable through MicroSD cards. It has had a replacable rechargable battery.

    However, like many I'm still waiting on firmware to fix many problems with the player like

    Very slow startup time. The player will not go into a sleep mode that it can quickly resume from, unless to put on unsupported firmware that is extremely buggy. With the actual supported firmware, the player cold boot every time taking quite a while to startup and longer to rescan the inserted SD card (every time you restart the player)

    No radio on European Sansa's. The HW is missing from players on ale here for some arcane tax reason.

    Connectivity. The Sansa used to be just a mass storage device with a regular drive letter when plugged into the USB port. but then Sandisk crippled it in later firmware by using Microsoft's DRM riddled MTP. Linux and Mac users were SOL trying to use the player.

    I got so fed up with the thing that I bought an 80Gb iPod classic and I'm actually in the market for a 160Gb before they dissappear. I'll never buy a Sandisk player. I notice nothing in the list has anywhere near that capacity.

    http://www.anythingbutipod.com/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=103

  49. omg

    I don't get it.

    Unless you're back-packing around the world, why would anyone need to carry around more than about 2Gbs worth of music?

    I just have a tiny little USB-stick player. It has a crappy little one-line LCD for an interface, but that doesn't matter because it only holds about 80 tunes anyway, ordered by directory. It only cost about £10 on ebay, it weighs about a gram, it's virtually indestructible, and no one's going to steal it. When I want to change the tunes, a quick transfer from the PC only takes a few minutes.

    Best of all it doesn't need any crappy software like iTunes.

    iPod's are far more a fashion accessory than a necessary gadget.

  50. Tony

    @anyone that thinks iTunes is any good

    What planet are you from?

    iTunes is the worst thing about owning an iPod. It sits on your hard drive like an elephant turd in a cat litter box. If you don't turn off the updates then it seems to update itself every 12 minutes requiring you to download hundreds of megs more of bloated apple code. It keeps trying to get you to install quicktime as well (why on earth would anyone want to??) and more recently apple's crappy browser too.

    'it just works'... Give me a break! You know what would just work? allowing you to just connect your i-pod to a usb port and have it detected as just another drive, then just drag and drop mp3s and movies across. How is it easier or simpler to spend ages downloading and updating apple's bloated propriatary media player? They must have you brainwashed. I reckon iTunes must insert subliminal messages into your music when you convert it. That is the only explanation why software that does something so simple needs to be so large and why everyone puts up with (and even praises) this pos.

  51. Mark

    re: I don't get it.

    Because some of us care about what we listen to. This is the response from the iTunes generation, who buy a single track from iTunes that they heard on Radio one.

    There is a huge demographic that have hundreds of albums, all of which get FULL listens. I love the ability to carry my entire library of music, and know that I have it when I fancy a listen to it.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    key things

    Personally, the things I'd consider important in a music player are:

    Solid output

    Good navigation

    Works like a USB HDD that plays music (no software required to get stuff on and off)

    FM Radio

    Good multiple file support

    Decent form factor

    Decent battery life

    It's surprising how few players (including the ipod) accomplish this

  53. Antony Riley
    Stop

    Can we have "Best of portable digital audio players" next time?

    "Ten of the Best iPod rivals ^W wannabees", yeh, there's a good reason they all suck, they're trying to be an iPod.

    All in all the review is FAIL.

    You want the list of features I care about:

    supported formats (including maximum supported bit rates).

    gapless playback.

    music browsing by directory.

    music browsing by tags.

    quality of playback.

    weight.

    battery life.

    £ / GB.

    Stability of latest firmware.

    Lack of stupid design decisions (putting controls inline on the headset lead is one of these).

    No, I don't care about video playback, it's an expensive gimmic best left to devices which have a bigger screen (laptops, portable DVD players etc).

    Manage to cover half of the above list and you'll have something approaching a good impartial review.

  54. Oliver
    Thumb Down

    Forget mp3 players!!!

    Convergence is convenience!

    When I get the Sony Ericsson w890i (next month) it will sport a 3.2 megapixel camera, 3G, bluetooth and a 2GB M2 micro memory stick as standard. I'm going to punt the stick and get a 4GB replacement with a USB convertor so I can transfer files directly to the memory. The Walkman menu system is pretty slick, the only drawback is it's probably not the best for viewing video. The Sony connector thingy is proprietary but the headphone lead has a 1/4" jack at the other end so you can hook it up to other equipment (e.g. car stereo) easily enough.

    Best of all it come free with the contract (<£10/mnth) so, someone tell me, why would I want an mp3 player?!?!

  55. jason Silver badge
    Happy

    I've used Apple/Creative and Archos players but.....

    .....I've settled on a Zune.

    It nice and workmanlike. The audio quality using WMA Pro codec is stunning for the 192k bit rate (sounds better to me than the 256k MP3 I used to use). Matches up nice and simply with WMP11 and the Zune software. Video playback is good and the UI is really fast and easy to use. Oh and the FM radio is good to have too.

    No DRM as I just use my own CD rips (anyone buying 128k audio from a website needs their head examined as you dont own it and its poor value).

    It also get plenty of conversation as its totally different to what everyone else in the office has. "Oooh what's that? Thats different!"

    Its my player of choice and I'm off to Canada soon to see if I can pick up another while I'm out there.

    Think different...buy a Zune.

  56. omg

    @Mark - re: I don't get it.

    You've missed the point completely. I am definitely not of the iTunes generation, I have hundreds of full albums, but I mostly listen to them at home, played in Winamp, on my PC. If I'm going somewhere I copy a few albums onto my tiny cheap usb-player. Why would I ever need to carry around 160Gb of music?

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Tony

    I'd hate to come across any system that you dealt with, or have to clean up the mess afterwards. The general computer using public have problems with the concept of plugging in a drive, waiting for it to mount, manually managing their music, finding the right thing to eject the drive. Its much easier for them to just let a piece of software organise the music for them and sort out all of the detail.

    Perhaps you'd prefer to go back to the early '80s where it seems your attitude belongs. Keep computers for computer people and too complex for the ordinary people in the street.

  58. Gildas
    Alert

    @Oliver

    ...cos I don't want to flatten my phone's battery while listening to my tunes on the train from Manchester to London and back when I have a full day of work in between. That is why I want a pmp and a phone in two seperate but handy packages - until someone comes up with a battery that will support 10 hours of music/video playback and at least half that length of talk time that is.

  59. Dapprman
    Thumb Down

    Another "Where's the Archos"

    As the Archos 605 seems to be the main player compared with the iPod Touch, where is it or any of it's sibling players ?

  60. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Don't buy a Fuze without reading this

    I'm the owner of an 8GB Sansa Fuze since the start of the week. It connects up fine in linux, amarok offers to manage it etc. The sound quality is really excellent, battery life is impressive, you can use it with one hand and I bought it hoping it would be the last audio player I'd want for a while.

    Unfortunately, it's driving me crazy. It's an 8GB player with a 1GB interface. There is no way you can successfully navigate more than a few albums with it, so it is entirely necessary to use pre-prepared playlists.

    The only way to browse your content is with the thumbwheel. God help you if you whose name starts with a letter near the end of the alphabet (The White Stripes, The Strokes, Wham, no wait not Wham, The Pixies, The Best of...) because you'll be scrolling that wheel for a while. This wouldn't be so bad if it had less space on it, but I picked it so I would not have to decide what I want to listen to in advance.

    This is made worse if you have a lot of artists or a lot of miscellaneous songs. I'd say the album / artist lists on this thing are at least 300 lines long and YOU CAN'T SCROLL BACK PAST THE TOP OF THE LIST TO THE BOTTOM. They might as well have fitted the click-wheel to one of those wind-up radio mechanisms and I'd never have to charge the bloody thing again.

    You have the option of navigating by 'Play All', 'Recently Added', 'Artists', Albums', 'Songs', 'Genres', 'My Top Rated' and 'Playlists'. 'Play all' is absurd. 'Recently Added' doesn't do anything yet, because I dumped 5GB on in one go, and 'Songs' is laughable; I have over 1200 songs on this. I would have to scroll through from the top every time with the crappy scroll wheel. It takes me twenty seconds to get past songs that start with '01 ' alone. You can't even navigate the raw disk folders, but apparently that's an unusual feature outside archos machines.

    When a song is playing, the scroll wheel is used for volume, which is a massive waste. To navigate to a non-consecutive song you have to click the 'home' button, then into 'music', then into one of the above choices, or click . That doesn't even queue the track. You can either play it straight away (stopping your currently playing track) or add it to the 'GoList', which bears no relation to what you are currently listening to. Why can't I just scroll down the current folder and queue a track? My fingers keep looking for buttons that aren't there. There are other little interface annoyances too. One of the most-used functions if you navigate while a song is playing is the 'back to music list' option, but to go 'back' you have to click forward. Ok, that last one is a bit petty.

    I couldn't recommend this to anyone that I didn't hate. I liked the idea of the expansion slot, but that is only going to make things worse. It looks like I'm still waiting for the perfect MP3 player, or at least a decent UI upgrade from Sandisk.

    Maybe I should cave and try out an ipod?

  61. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Oliver

    I understand the convenience of mobile phones with built-in music playback. But dedicated music players still gives people two things that the majority of mobile phones (including Sony Ericsson Walkman), battery life and sound quality.

    My Walkman A818 for example can go 33 hours before needing a recharge and the sound quality is mind blowing. While I need to charge my phone every two days, I only need to charge my A818 once a week. The W890i, sexy as it is, can only playback music for 16 hours and contains no dedicated sound chip.

    About the best mobile phone DAP I've tried was the Nokia 5310, it has a dedicated sound processor (S-E Walkmans doesn't, AFAIK) plus 3.5mm, but the battery life (18 hours with flight mode) isn't nearly as amazing as a dedicated player.

  62. Steven Gray
    Stop

    @tony and everybody else using Windows exporer to manage their music

    I think iTunes is good. It lets me sync my iPod in a few seconds without touching keyboard or mouse. Why is that bad?

    I can't get my head around why *anyone* would want to use Explorer - of all things - to manage their music.

    iTunes is a media database, and as such can do stuff a file system simply cannot.

    Take smart playlists. Like a super-simple SQL, it leverages the metadata accompanying the music as well as that generated by your listening habits.

    For example, want to make a playlist of stuff you haven't listened to in, say, 6 months? Do it with a few clicks in iTunes. Got 30 gigs of music but only a 16Gb player but absolutely need certain albums on there, the rest a random selection from your library? Again, a few clicks and you're set. Wanna refresh that 1Gb Shuffle with some different choons? 1 click.

    Anyone that can't see the benefits of this kind of power over a large media collection needs to leave their cave once in a while.

    Also, I can't think of a way you'd achieve any of the above in Explorer.

  63. Jonathan Tate
    Happy

    All I have to add is...

    I loathed my Sansa e200r. I love my Zune 8gb w/ Zune Pass subscription.

  64. omg

    @Steven Gray

    Just as you can't see why I would use explorer, I can't see why anyone would use iTunes.

    The features you describe are not things I've ever wanted to do.

    I never make random selections, I select a few directories and drag & drop onto the usb-player. I know what music I want to play, I don't want my PC to try and tell me.

    My music is already well organised and named in Windows, why would I want to reorganise it again in iTunes?

    Playlists are a disaster in iTunes (and even worse in WMP).

    Winamp (basic interface) is simpler, faster, smaller, and easier to use. It also plays far more formats, doesn't advertise at me, and is far more configurable.

  65. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    Alternative to an iPod

    As far as I'm concerned, the best alternative to a current iPod is a previous generation one. I got an iPod Touch to replace an old Gen 1 Nano, and I've got to say that the sound quality is noticeably worse than the old 80GB Gen 5 iPod (the last one before it became a "Classic").

    Oh, and while we're about it - I also hate on the Touch, the slow boot-up time; slow shutdown time; missing features like the Smart Playlist; slow interface; not being able to continue the album/song I was listening to last time I had the thing powered on. And it would appear that some/all of these are common to the "modern" 'pods. :(

    That said, the Touch makes a fantastic eBook reader! However, I don't think I'll be looking at a new 'pod anytime soon. Best sound quality on a device I've owned was an old 20GB Creative Zen Touch - shame the user interface sucked badly.

    @Steve: I agree (partially) with you Steve - I find iTunes pretty okay, and I certainly need some help to manage 40GB+ of albums. Just wish it wasn't so prone to throw up faults and didn't come with so much baggage.

    @Omg: Winamp? Used to be a good system, then it fell into the evil hands of AOL and last time I looked it was less usable than iTunes! And life is too short to go copying files here and there... ;) There's better music players on my Linux kit - like Amarok etc.

    Useful article though - especially with the dreaded Christmas looming iceberg-like on the horizon!!

  66. Rick Silver badge
    Happy

    Cowon Systems

    Reminds me why I like this site, I've never even heard them mentioned anywhere else other than the site I bought mine from, despite them easily making among the best media players around. Support for formats other than mp3 (including FLAC), work as a simple USB drive without any crappy proprietory software, no DRM, simple and obvious interface, very good battery life (at least on music models rather than video ones, I still get well over 25 hours from mine) and sturdy enough to last 5-6 years of being dropped on the floor.

    Sure, they don't have touch screens, telepathic routines to sort and choose your music and so on, but so what? I don't want a media player to look pretty or tell me what I can and can't listen to, I just want to plug it in, put music on it and then listen to it. I've never found another company that really comes close. The only problem I've had with it is that the remote died, but considering the abuse it's had, that's not really something I can complain about.

  67. Mike

    Why bother?

    iPod mini with knackered hard drive £10 plus a 32Gb compact flash £35 and for £45 you've got a robust, compact, high capacity MP3 player (install Linux and you can play other formats, ogg etc.), you could even pretend that you prefer the "retro look", but imagine the cheap accessories that having an iPod can bring.

    I also use my W810 with an 8Gb card (microsd+converter) which was dirt cheap.

    If you want video, the old Creative Zen 30gb is wonderful, and I'm sure that most users would agree that it's better than the same spec iPod (chunkier, harder screen, better battery life, more video codecs)

  68. omg

    @Anonymous Coward - Alternative to an iPod

    Not sure what you mean by Winamp "used to be a good system". Are you referring to the failed version 3? They scrapped that years ago.

    Current versions work just like the old Winamp 2 if you choose the 'classic skin' and close the media library.

  69. Tony

    @AC & Stephen Gray

    Wow. Conclusive proof... Totally brainwashed.

    So I want to 'Keep computers for computer people and too complex for the ordinary people in the street'.. by my luddite suggestion that I should be able to simply drag and drop media onto my IPod direct from my O/S, if I so chose?

    I wasn’t suggesting that I would manage my entire music collection in this way, just that if I am popping over a friend's house it would be nice just to drag and drop a few tunes I have been working on from my laptop onto my I-Pod. When I get over there I would then just plug straight into his PC and drop them onto his hard disk without him having to spend half an hour downloading and installing Apple's bloatware. That doesn’t seem a lot to ask?

    I didn't say that the IPod should only support transferring files in this way or that it should not support software for the creation of playlists. However I do think that perhaps it might be a good thing if we had some choice in the matter - But then that is not what Apple are about is it?

    Thank goodness for Songbird, which is an open source ITunes alternative (and you will notice about a third of the size of its fat American brother). It still needs a bit of polish, but it does have the potential to be the 'Firefox equivalent' to ITunes' Internet Explorer.

  70. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    MediaMonkey

    Why does everyone who thinks that people who dislikes iPods/iTunes uses Explorer to manage our music? There are plenty of alternatives including the excellent MediaMonkey for Windows.

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