Monday, December 23, 2002
A (short) MP3 player buyer's guide
If you're looking for an MP3 player, there are a few things to consider. MP3 players are for all practical purposes broken into two categories: flash memory based (using Smart Media or Compact Flash memory cards) and hard drive based (using itty bitty hard drives). There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Hard drive based players are more expensive usually, and are less durable - but hold gigabytes of music. Flash memory players are skip-free, smaller, more durable, but hold far less music. I've owned one of each, so I have some experience with them.
First, flash memory players. What sucks most about flash memory players is that they can only hold so much music. The Rio 500 I have maxes out at 128mb - 64mb built in an 64mb in a Smart Media card. Smart Media cards suck. They way they work, your player can only address a certain amount. So if I somehow got a 256mb Smart Media card and put it in, the Rio would not even see it. Anything bigger than 64 and it would not know what to do with it. Current Smart Media players, such as chelle's iRock, can see 128mb smart media cards. I'm not sure that Smart Media goes any higher. Yup, that means that her player maxes out at 256mb, which means a max of around 50-60 songs.
Compact Flash, on the other hand, doesn't have those limits. Anything that can take CF cards can take any size. Plug in a 512mb card and it just works. There are MicroDrive cards that have 1gb hard drives on them, those work too.
The i2go mp3 player, the only one I know of that uses Compact Flash media,
[can be found easily on ebay] for about $20-$50. Note that i2go, the company, doesn't exist anymore as far as I know, so you may be on your own for support and firmware updates.
CF cards are generally cheaper than Smart Media too.
[256mb compact flash cards]
[128mb compact flash cards]
Hard drive based players are cool, but many of them (like my Nomad Jukebox) are kind of big and clunky. Right now you can sometimes find new or refurbished Nomad Jukebox (first generation - 6gb capacity) for about [$120 or so], which is the best deal you will get on a hard drive based player. It's about the size and shape of a portable CD player, and while it's great for my car, it's too big to run or work out with. The iPod, of course, is the best hard drive based player out there, but if you want to use it with Windows, you probably need to get a [FireWire card for your computer too] (unless you have an expensive SoundBlaster Audigy card with a firewire port on it)
Apple 10 GB iPod (Win)
Apple 20 GB iPod (Win)
Apple 10 GB iPod (Mac)
Apple 5 GB iPod (Win)
Apple 5 GB iPod (Mac)
There are also portable CD players that play CD-Rs with MP3's burned onto them, but those aren't very practical for day to day use. They could be a decent compliment to a flash memory player - so you always have plenty of music on hand - but cd players that can play mp3's are just half assed. Probably not worth looking into.
And in general, if you are looking for a mp3 player for a PC, it will come with it's own software (none of while, front what I have seen, is all that good. if possible see if your preferred media player, like Real One or WinAmp, supports your player. the deault software WILL suck). If you're buying it for a Mac, you need USB or FireWire support in the player, and it will probably need to work with iTunes (pretty much every player does though!). [Here is a list of players compatible with iTunes]. Note that it is NOT complete - a number of players aren't listed, but it's a good starting point.
The above comments about Smart Media vs. Compact Flash should apply to digital cameras as well. So if you're looking at digital cameras, I would easily recommend a CF-based camera over Smart Media. I don't have any experience yet with Sony's Memory Stick, so I can't comment on that.
And the larger the memory card, CF, SM, or otherwise, the more power it will use, and the faster your batteries will run out. C'est la vie.
[ 12/23/2002 03:04:00 PM ] [