For millions of music lovers, their listening device of choice is either a portable music player or smartphone. It’s certainly convenient to take your music with you wherever you go and be able to listen to tunes while you commute, exercise, study, or whatever.
There’s not much complicated about playing music on a portable music player or smartphone. You have to somehow get the music to the portable device, of course, and then navigate through the menus to find the track, album, artist, genre, or playlist you want to listen to. From there, it’s a simple matter of plugging those little earbuds into your ears and getting your groove on.
Choosing a Portable Music Player
When it comes to choosing a portable music player, we can pretend that it’s otherwise but it’s truly an Apple world. Apple pretty much defined the market for portable music players, and a decade later it’s still Apple’s game.
If you’re in the market for a new portable music player, your quest starts and probably ends with a member of the iPod family. And even though the company’s emphasis is not-so-subtly shifting to the iPhone (which also functions as a portable music player), Apple still sells a boatload of its market-leading music player devices.
While there have been rumors about Apple paring its iPod offerings, as of Spring 2012 that hasn’t happened. There are still four primary types of iPods to choose from, including the following:
- iPod shuffle. The shuffle is Apple’s smallest, lightest, and least expensive iPod. There’s no screen; playback literally shuffles through the tunes you’ve loaded onto the device. It’s great for joggers and exercisers of all types; as you can see in Figure 27.1, the unit is small enough to clip onto your shirt or belt or whatever. The iPod shuffle’s capacity is 2GB, it comes in a variety of pretty colors, and it sells for just $49.
FIGURE 27.1 Apple’s teeny-tiny iPod shuffle.
- iPod nano. Next up is the iPod nano, which in its current iteration (there have been several variations of the nano over the years) is just a smidge larger than the iPod shuffle, but with a small color LCD screen to control all playback operations. (Figure 27.2 shows the nano and its various screens.) The nano is also a favorite with athletic types and comes in 8GB ($129) and 16GB ($149) versions, in a variety of colors.
FIGURE 27.2 An assortment of iPod nanos.
- iPod classic. Apple’s biggest iPod, in terms of both size and storage, is the iPod classic, shown in Figure 27.3. This unit is the most like the original iPod, and plays both music and videos. You get a whopping 160GB of storage, enough for a fairly large music library, for $249. This is the iPod for serious music collectors.
- iPod touch. The iPod touch can best be described as an iPhone without the phone. Instead of physical controls, the entire front of the device is a touch-screen display, as you can see in Figure 27.4. Like the iPhone, you can install all sorts of apps for games and other functionality. The touch also has built-in WiFi connectivity, so you can go online (to surf the web, grab email, send messages, and such) whenever you’re near a wireless hotspot. There are three versions of the iPod touch available, in 8GB ($199), 32GB ($299), and 64GB ($399) versions. This is the iPod for people who want to do more than just play music.
FIGURE 27.3 The classic look of the iPod classic.
FIGURE 27.4 Apple’s iPod touch.
All of these units, save for the classic, use solid state flash memory for storage. The classic uses a small, high capacity hard drive instead, which is why it has so much more capacity than the others.
Which iPod is best for you? If you want something small and inexpensive, the shuffle does the job. If you like small but want more functionality and storage, go with the nano. If you have a huge music library you want to take with you, choose the classic. And if you want to do more than just listen to music, like play games, then the touch is the unit you want.
Other Portable Music Players
What do you do if you’re in the market for a portable music player but don’t want to give your money to Apple? The choices are few and far between, but they do exist—although you might have to seek them out. Here’s a sampling of what’s available:
- Creative ZEN Style (www.creative.com, $49/$69/$89). Creative’s been a steady competitor to Apple since the early days of the iPod, and continues with the ZEN Style, a lower-priced alternative to the iPod nano. It’s a touchscreen operated device, as you can see in Figure 27.5, and comes in 4GB ($49), 8GB ($69), and 16GB ($89) versions. Unlike it’s Apple competition, the ZEN Style has a built-in FM radio.
FIGURE 27.5 Creative’s ZEN Style MP3 player with touchscreen display.
- SanDisk Sansa Clip Zip (www.sandisk.com, $49). As you can see in Figure 27.6, the Sansa Clip Zip unit is a cross between Apple’s shuffle and nano, with 4GB of storage, a variety of colors to choose from, and a small color touchscreen display.
FIGURE 27.6 SanDisk’s Sansa Clip Zip nano-like music player.
- SanDisk Sansa Fuze+ (www.sandisk.com, $59/$89/$119). As shown in Figure 27.7, the Sansa Fuze+ is a bigger version of the Clip Zip, with a larger screen and either 4GB ($59), 8GB ($89), or 16GB ($119) of storage.
FIGURE 27.7 SanDisk’s Sansa Fuze+.
- Sony Walkman (store.sony.com, $79/$89/$109). Yes, Sony is still making something they call the Walkman, although it’s a far cry from the portable audiocassette players of old. As you can see in Figure 27.8, this 21st-century Walkman sports either 4GB ($79), 8GB ($89), or 16GB ($109) of solid state storage and a 2-inch color LCD display.
FIGURE 27.8 Sony’s new-generation Walkman.
- Creative ZEN X-Fi3 (www.creative.com, $99/$139/$169). This ZEN model is a tad larger than the ZEN Style, with improved audio playback, support for FLAC files, and Bluetooth connectivity to similarly equipped car audio systems. Available in 8GB ($99), 16GB ($139), and 32GB ($169) versions, as shown in Figure 27.9. Includes a built-in FM radio.
- Samsung Galaxy Player (www.samsung.com, $199). As you can see in Figure 27.10, this unit looks a lot like one of Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones, but without the phone part. You get a big full-face touchscreen display and 8GB of storage.
FIGURE 27.9 The Creative ZEN X-Fi3 MP3 player.
FIGURE 27.10 Samsung’s Galaxy Player.
All of these units use solid state flash memory for storage. All play MP3-format files; some also play WMA files, but few if any can play Apple’s AAC files. They’re all decent-enough alternatives to an iPod, but really don’t do anything that an iPod doesn’t. (Except, in some cases, play WMA-format files—and, in the case of the Creative players, offer a built-in FM radio.)