Buying Guide to MP3 Players

In the arena of MP3 players, the reigning champion is the Apple iPod series. In order to fulfill consumer needs, Apple has come out with an array of iPods over the last couple of years. There is the Apple Nano, which has a 1 GB (gigobyte) storage capacity, translating to roughly 250 songs. The Nano is a portable, lower cost ($60-70) option for those who want to put only their favorite hits in a portable form. For those seeking out multimedia options, Apple has put out the iPod Video, which has a small screen to show music videos and other imagery. This particular iPod has a 30 GB capacity, with the ability to hold up to 7500 songs and a 14 hour battery life. With a wider range of options, however, comes a higher price tag in the range of $270 to 300. Apple does provide easy payment options and certainly the ubiquitous nature of the iPod makes it a consumer favorite.

The competition for the MP3 market is starting to become more diverse, however, and other electronics companies have provided alternatives to the iPod. Napster, the music download company that popularized peer-to-peer downloads, has MP3 players that hold 128MB and 256MB of music, putting it at a disadvantage capacity-wise to Apple. However, it does provide a similar bit of service with a two month trial subscription to the huge music library that Napster has, as well as ten free downloads on top of unlimited downloads during the trial period. While the capacity may be smaller, Napster does provide a strong product name among younger consumers and a large library of songs to choose from.

Other providers include Toshiba, Creative Labs, iRiver, and Philips. Philips’ Go Gear HDD6330 is a great MP3 choice at 30 GB capacity and 16 hour battery life, but it also has an FM radio tuner and voice recorder within a small package. Toshiba’s Gigabeat MP3 player allows video viewing of programs recorded by Tivo, as well as interactive gaming with your Xbox 360. While the Gigabeat is pricy, topping out near $400, it blows away much of the competition with its various media options.


1. Price: Look to spend in the upper $200 to lower $300 range on a good, powerful MP3 player. If you are looking for something to put only your favorite songs on, look for a 1GB or less player that will usually keep you around $100. However, if you want to have different options in your MP3 player, look at Apple and Toshiba, who seem to have the multimedia software down pat.

2. Capacity: 1 GB of memory equals roughly 250 songs, so keep that in mind when looking at MP3 players. The use of video and larger audio files will change the amount of data you can save on your MP3 player, so it is better to have more memory than less.

3. Display Options: For video and multimedia players, the display screen is incredibly important because bad resolution and poor design can turn your movies and music videos into pixilated disasters. Make sure you take a look at a sample of video on the company’s website and see if store displays have a sample of the video images you would see in your potential MP3 players. For audio-only players, there are often options to have slide shows or custom images display during certain songs. As well, it is still important without these options to have a good display, if only because aesthetics are incredibly important to the average consumer’s enjoyment of portable technology.

Shopping Tips

The first shopping tip is to look in your Sunday paper to see who has the best deal on your particular MP3 player. While the prices should be roughly the same, I have seen ads for Best Buy and Circuit City (among other places) that sometimes have one day sales or temporary price reductions that can save you money. This should be at the end of your decision making process and don’t let a good deal completely sway you from the MP3 player of your choice.

After choosing which store to go to (if you are shopping offline), make sure to ask the employees of that particular store not only which MP3 player they would recommend, but which one they personally own. While many may have Apple iPods, it does not hurt to ask and find out some more opinions about these products. Often, the employees of places like Best Buy are younger and more attuned to changes in MP3 players and other technology, so they may be a valuable resource in confirming your choice.

Finally, when you do make your purchase, check with the sale person or the customer service area about warranties and repair information. Companies like Dell and Apple have good services and warranties on their product, but brands like iRiver and Samsung may not have the same mechanisms for repairing your new MP3 player if the worst should happen. With companies like Sony, you can send in the product during the warranty at minimum cost to have it repaired. Even if you don’t think that anything will go wrong with your new MP3 player, it doesn’t hurt to have too much information.

A Few Hints…

– Like with any other major purchase, do an excessive amount of research before pulling the financial trigger. Unlike other products like clothing or cars that are often judged by the whim of individual consumers, MP3 players have a lot of tangible information that can be compared side by side. Make a spreadsheet (either hand written or on Microsoft Excel) of all this information and have it with you when shopping or online.

– MP3 players by companies like Dell and Apple provide easy payment options, but it may be more financially sound to pay up front or to purchase a brand like Samsung or iRiver depending on rebates and store sales. Depending on what your needs are for capacity or portability, many of these brands provide equivalent MP3 options for consumers.

– Like other technology purchases, make sure to look into warranty options or how easy it is to get the MP3 player serviced. Dell, Apple, and Napster provide support for their MP3 players but other ones may require more cumbersome service processes. This may give the average consumer a clearer picture of how long their MP3 investment will last.

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