MP3 Player Buying Guide

MP3 Player Buying Guide

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Provided by Digital Trends

By Jason Tomczak

Buying an MP3 player can be a confusing process; there are countless devices to choose from and each one has its own capabilities and limitations. We've got a simple list of things to look for when buying an MP3 player.

1. Name Brands

Stick to the name brand MP3 players to ensure a good-quality product, a fair warranty and even a generous return policy. Refrain from buying obscure brands unless you're trying to boost that penny tech stock you got wrangled into. Some of the most popular name brands are: Apple iPod, Creative Zen, Microsoft Zune, SanDisk Sansa and Sony.

2. Music, Movies and Photos

What kind of content will go on this MP3 player? Just music, audio books or recorded lectures? If that's all, some MP3 players are super-compact and have tiny monochrome screens or even no screens at all. These players are fine for someone who just wants basic audio playback.

Want more active content like movies, TV shows and photo slideshows? Then you'll want a more advanced MP3 player with a wide-screen, color LCD display. If you're unsure about content, take the safe route and buy a player that can handle everything. The difference in price is outweighed by the increase in useful features.

3. Physical Size

MP3 players come in a wide range of physical sizes – some so small that they can hang off a keychain and others that'll barely fit in your hand. The smallest players are great for workout routines, jogging or even clipping to a shirt lapel for everyday use. Midsize MP3 players – palm-sized units with 2" to 3.5" screens and weighing less than 5 ounces – are the most popular world-wide and appeal to the greatest number of consumers for enjoying audio and video. Larger MP3 players – with 4" or larger color screens and thicker, heavier bodies – are fantastic for playing video and enjoying music, but they're typically much more expensive and can be considered niche products with far fewer accessories.

4. Storage Capacity vs. Price

MP3 players store content on either tiny internal hard drives or even tinier memory chips also known as Flash Memory. MP3 players with hard drives can store much, much more content than MP3 players that use Flash Memory. Hard drive MP3 players also cost less per unit of storage.

For example, an 80GB hard drive MP3 player that can hold roughly 20,000 songs will cost between $215 and $250 (about $2.91 per 1GB of storage). An 8GB Flash Memory player that can hold about 2,000 songs will often cost $160 to $300 depending on how many bells and whistles (between $20 and $37.50 per 1GB). Why is it more expensive for less storage capacity? Flash-based MP3 players are typically thinner and lighter and they get much longer battery life and have no moving parts, meaning zero potential for skipping music and fewer parts failures.

How much content will you really be storing on the MP3 player? Can you save a few bucks and get a smaller capacity player or should you just go for the gusto? Consider a 2GB or 4GB player for under $100 that will still hold 1,000 to 2,000 songs.

5. Battery Life

Most MP3 players have rechargeable batteries built in. A few have battery bays for AA or AAA batteries. No matter which you prefer, make sure the battery life is no less than 12 hours for music and 4 hours for video. The new "iPod classic", for example, gives upwards of 40 hours of battery life. Also consider charging cords or external battery packs for the MP3 player to keep it juiced up while on the road.

6. Adding Music

An MP3 player without music is like a car without gas. It may look nice and shiny, but it's practically useless until you fill 'er up. Each MP3 player comes with software for managing your music (and video) library. You can copy an entire CD collection onto an MP3 player with almost no technical knowledge or experience. If you want to buy music online for an MP3 player, there are several services available.

The iPod, for example, uses the iTunes program to manage music, and online music purchases are made through iTunes at an average of $0.99 per song. There are millions of songs available, as well as thousands of movies, TV shows and other content.

Non-iPod MP3 players like the SanDisk Sansa will connect to the equally easy-to-use Yahoo! Music service or other online music stores like Rhapsody To Go, Napster, eMusic, etc. These services also have millions of songs, videos, etc., however the pricing schemes vary.

No matter which MP3 player you decide to purchase, there will probably be more available content than one person could enjoy in a decade or more. And buying your music through these online services is almost always less expensive than buying physical CDs.

7. Music Format

The most common format for digital music is MP3. That's why most digital media players are simply referred to as MP3 players. It's universal. Other popular formats are WMA (Windows Media Audio – native to Microsoft Windows computers) and AAC (Advanced Audio Coding – a popular iTunes/iPod format).

There are also specialized formats, like FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec), OGG (Ogg Vorbis), WAV and AIFF. But if you're not an audiophile or serious geek, your best bests are: high quality MP3 for all systems and players, WMA for Windows users, AAC for Mac users.

8. PC or Mac?

Some MP3 players work well with all types of computers and operating systems (Windows, Linux or Mac OS X), while other players are intended solely for Windows systems. Try to find an MP3 player that's as flexible as possible. However, if you know the MP3 player will never be connected to a Mac computer, buying a Windows-only device is a valid choice.

9. Extra Functions

Most people are looking for an MP3 player so they can simply enjoy content. Some advanced users appreciate additional features like a built-in microphone for recording voice notes or interviews, FM radio tuner, wireless internet connectivity or even inputs for recording live video directly to the player.

10. Accessories

Everyone loves accessories and add-ons. They make the original product even better. The more popular the brand of MP3 player, the more accessories can be found. These range from hip protective cases, arm bands for runners, connectable speaker systems, wireless headphones and even adapters for using the MP3 player in automobiles.

If you keep these 10 topics in mind when buying an MP3 player, you're bound to take home a product that you'll be very happy with – at least until something much more sophisticated and fun comes along.

For more information, please visit www.digitaltrends.com

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