Best Value Portable Media Players (Music, Video, Games, Apps) – A Comparative Review

Portable Media Players are available from the low twenties for a basic branded 1 GB mp3 player to anywhere around $300 for multi-purpose players capable of various gigs - music, video, games, and even run Apps. The low-end (below $100) of the market is crowded with manufacturers competing on both features and price. A frugal consumer can definitely angle for better values in this very competitive side of the spectrum. The mid and high-ends of the market are almost a monopoly of Apple’s iPod products.

For the best value comparison spreadsheet listed below of the low-end products, two products each were chosen from each of the following price ranges:
  • less than $25,
  • from $25 to $50, and
  • between $50 to $100.


ModelThumbnailBest PriceFeaturesComments
Coby MP610-4G MP3 and Video Player$35Music - mp3, WMA, video - MTV, Photos - jpg, and text; 4GB Internal Flash Memory, Integrated FM, 8 hr battery, 1.8 inch LCD, Dimensions: 3.6 x 1.6 x 0.4 inches; 8 ouncesExcellent Value. Menu access is slow, ear-buds are average quality, but overall the feature set is impressive in this price change.
Sandisk Sansa Clip+ 2GB MP3 Player$33.65

Music - mp3, WMA, Audible; Integrated FM; Voice Recorder; 15 hr battery, Dimensions: 2.2 x 1.4 x 0.6 inches; 14.1 ounces Excellent - Newer player (8/2009) from a quality brand at value pricing.
Sandisk Sansa Clip+ 4GB Player$39.99Features of Sandisk Sansa Clip 4GB plus more preset FM Channels, 4GB Memory. Dimensions: 2.17 x 1.35 x 0.65 inchesGood Value.
Sony Walkman E-340 8GB Video MP3 Player$69.99

Music – mp3, WMA, AAC, PPM, AVC; Video – MPEG4 and WMV (DRM); Digital FM Tuner; 2-inch LCD; 30 hour battery; Dimensions: 3.5 x 1.8 x 0.4 inches Good basic audio & video player.
Sandisk Sansa Fuze 8GB Video MP3 Player$69.99Music – mp3, WMA, WAV, Audible, Overdrive; Video – MPEG4; Digital FM Tuner, Voice Recording, 1.9 inch LCD screen, MicroSD Expansion Slot, 24-hour Li-Ion battery, Dimensions: 3.1 x 1.9 x 0.3 inchesExcellent Value - great pricing - good alternative to higher-end products if your primary interests are music, audio and video.



Apple iPod Shuffle series products compete in the below $100 price range, but as their reviews are all over the map, they did not make this comparison spreadsheet. Usability played second fiddle to minimalist form-factor design. The operational controls are embedded in a sub-par headphone, rather than the main unit. There are workarounds – employing an adapter with the controls allow use of other headphones.

For a best value comparison of the mid and high-end products, we chose the Apple iPod Nano and Touch products along with the Microsoft Zune HD. Below is our spreadsheet:



Feature - ProductApple iPod Nano 8GB 5th GenApple iPod Touch 8GB 3rd GenZune HD 16GB
Thumbnail








Best Price$127.99

$175.99$179.99
Capacity8GB – 2000 songs, 7000 photos, or 8 hours of Video8 GB capacity for 1,750 songs, 10,000 photos, or 10 hours of video16 GB capacity for up to 4,000 songs, 24 hours standard definition video, or 5 hours high definition video
Screen2 inch LCD3.5-inch widescreen – Touchscreen interface3.3-inch OLED screen widescreen
Audio FormatsAAC, MP3, Audible, Apple Lossless, AIFF, WAVAAC, MP3, MP3 VBR, Audible, Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV audio formatsWMA, AAC-LC, MP3
Video FormatsH.264 and MPEG-4H.264 and MPEG-4WMV H.264, MPEG-4, 1080i HD, 720p HD Video Output (HDMI or Composite - requires dock and connector)
Video RecordingYes with Video Special Effects SupportNo


















PedometerYes – Fitness features with iPod+Nike Sport Kit – Sold separatelyNo, but supports iPod+Nike Sport KitNo
FM RadioYes – with pause and rewindNo – needs online appYes
HD RadioNoNoYes
GamesNoYesYes – limited selection
WIFINoYesYes
LanguagesMultiple – Display, Voice Over, and SpokenMultiple –Keyboards with landscape mode, Display, Voice Over, and SpokenYes
Software and Hardware Features Genius – An Apple exclusive feature that creates playlists and mixes based on songs you like, iTunes tagging – allows tagging songs you are listening over the radio to allow easy purchase from iTunes. Shake to shuffle music, VoiceOver Kit – click wheel interface that tells the title and artist of songs you listen to iPhone OS. Features in iPod Nano PLUS Bluetooth (allows wireless listening), On Screen Video Controls, App Store – Browse, Download, Update, and Genius Recommendations to purchase and download applications, Customizable Home Screen with Search, Safari Web Browser, Email, Maps, YouTube, Peer-to-peer gaming, parental controls, Prepackaged Apps – Calendar, Contacts, Notes, Stock Quotes, Weather, Calculator; Kindle Interface and Reader; Multi-Touch – gestures (swipe, glide, pinch, etc) based multi-touch screen interface Windows CE Based OS. Web Browser – Customized version of IE for Windows Mobile; Twist Interface with sections for music, videos, pictures, social, radio, podcasts, marketplace, games and settings; Quickplay – brings to foreground the content you care about most; tap-to-zoom, built-in-accelerator, and touch-screen QWERTY keyboard; Multi-screen streaming support with Windows and XBOX; two-dimensional navigation; Accessories for Video, Audio playback on home and automobile systems, and synching docks
BatteryLi-Ion 24-hour (music) rechargeableLi-Ion 30-hour (music) rechargeableLio-Ion 33-hour (average) rechargeable
Dimensions4.1x2.2x1.8 inches4.3x2.4x0.33 inches4.0x2.1x0.4 inches
Weight4.8 ounces4.05 ounces2.56 ounces



Summary:

Amongst the low-end models, the choice of our best value products boil down to the difference in brand name products, amount of flash storage, and other comparatively minor differences. Compared to higher end models (primarily Apple iPods) that perform all these and beyond, the software interface of the lower end models are far inferior to the almost transparent and slick interface that Apple iPods sport with the iTunes.

At this time, Apple iPods reign supreme over Microsoft Zune. Music pricing is the one area where we think Zune has an edge. Zune marketplace offers a very flexible $15/month music subscription pass that allows unlimited temporary (limited to the length of the pass) downloads of music. Further, ten song credits are issued for each month of subscription and that allows building an extensive music collection of your taste, albeit slowly. Apple on the other hand has a fixed priced model with pricing in three tiers: 69c, 99c, and $1.29. Despite this, Apple iPods are so ubiquitous that Microsoft was on the line to deliver a product rich in features that far exceeded Apple’s at a lower price to even stand a chance. Unfortunately, Zune HD failed to kindle any spark leaving the higher end contest an All Apple one – between the iPod Nano and the iPod Touch.

For around $50 more the 8GB iPod Touch 3G (newest version) with WiFi and gaming seems a better deal than the 8GB iPod Nano (newest 5th generation). The caveat though is that the 8GB iPod Touch is a 3rd generation product by name only – in actuality it is a firmware upgrade of the 8GB iPod Touch 2G. To obtain the 3rd generation product with the faster processor and graphics, go for the 32GB iPod Touch 3G which is priced around $270. For an integrated product, the Apple iPod Nano functions above par in the music, video and other peripheral functionality. However, the video recording feature in the Nano is inferior compared to the popular point-and-shoot camcorders.

Our choice between these products would be the 8GB iPod Touch despite the fact that it is not the latest technology. The Multi-Touch feature in the iPod Touch, that Apple first introduced in 2007 on the iPhone (technology came from their FingerWorks acquisition) is a great interface for a mobile gadget. The under $200 price-point is outstanding given the feature set!




Last Updated: 08/2010.


1 comment :

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