It’s probably an item at or near the top of many people’s Christmas wish list. Call it a MP3 player or a portable music device -– this year thousands of these little devices will find their way holiday stockings and gift boxes.
A few years back the “in” gift was a Walkman cassette player. Then came portable CD machines. Then players to handle computer-based music files. I still have my first MP3 device -- it’s one with a measly 128KB of storage and I was able to store 12-to-15 songs on it before I ran out of room.
Today, 512KB-to-1 or even 2GB is the norm for very small flash memory devices, and 4-60 GB for the larger capacity hard drive models.
When you talk about portable music, you have to begin and end with Apple’s line of iPods. From the tiny Shuffle (512KB o 1GB models) to the elegantly thin Nano (2 or 4 GB) up to and including the newly improved audio/video iPods (30 or 60 GB), Apple has something for everyone -– and for nearly every pocketbook.
The Shuffle ($99-$129) is flash memory based. It has no screen to read. You just load your music (as many as 120 or 240 songs) and hit play. Some people have told me that the Shuffle sounds best of all the iPod models, although that has to do with the earphones. I’ll have more to say about that in a minute.
The other flash memory based model, the Nano ($199-$249) is amazingly small and thin. It can hold as many as 500 to 1,000 songs depending on the model you choose. It comes in either the famous iPod white or newer black enclosure. Sound quality is also very good.
The new “full-sized” iPods (30GB is $299 – 60GB is $399) do video as well as audio. The top-of-the-line 60GB device can hold as many as 15,000 music files or 150 hours of video. My friend Lew let me see his brand new 60GB iPod and see a video he had bought on iTunes. I was very impressed with the video quality.
There are other terrific portable audio/video devices out there as well. I really like the Archos AV 500 that I tested recently. It comes in a 30GB model (up to 130 hours of video for $499.95) and a 100GB one (up to 400 hours for $699.95). I particularly love the sharp 4-inch screen.
You don’t buy programming for the Archos -- you record from your cable or satellite feeds or DVDs. The Archos can do this because they it doesn't record digitally. It allows you to make analog recordings of your favorite programs — just like using a VCR — via composite or S-video outputs. That means there’s no digital rights management software to get in the way.
There’s even a video camera attachment ($199.95) so you can make your own movies. Archos also markets the AV700 with a 7-inch diagonal widescreen screen. The 40GB retails for $599.95 and the 100GB model lists for $799.95.
In addition to a great sounding music player, the Zen Micro also has a FM tuner (for listening and recording) as well as a voice recorder and removable/replaceable rechargeable battery. It also comes in ten colors!
Finally, whatever player you decide on – audio or video – you should think about adding a premium set of earphones. The ones that come with iPods and the like could and should be trashed.
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