April 12, 2007

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The new iPod substitutes
Yes, it's time for more Apple bashing
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

The first edition of this column was all about all the non-Apple portable music players out there.

That was almost two years ago, so I figured it was time for an update.

Problem is, everybody and their brother makes wannabe iPods. The list of just name brands is staggering, and once you get down to the second-, third- and fourth-tier players, you get a pile that collapses under its own weight. So let's focus a bit and look at a growing segment of the market: high-capacity flash-based players.

For a while now, Apple has been selling the iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle on the theory that you should have a smaller, more portable player for taking to the gym or jogging or whatever. The flash memory is less likely to skip or be damaged by jostling than the full-size iPod's spinning hard disk drive.

Problem is, competing flash players have joined the Nano in reaching the 8GB mark. With that much capacity, they can hold 2,000 songs, or, say, 200 albums. A lot of music libraries will fit on that, and with desktop and laptop hard drives holding hundreds of gigabytes, the large portable hard drive is becoming less and less relevant. These players can be someone's primary library all by themselves.

That doesn't mean Apple is in trouble. It still dominates the portable music player market, because nothing can beat the iPod cachet or the ease of use of iTunes with the device. What competitors have over Apple is features. The iPod Nano now has an 8GB version and plays videos as well as music, but so do the players listed below. In addition, they all feature FM radio reception and voice recording through built-in microphones. They can also be used to store data files.

* Creative Zen V Plus (MSRP: $199.99)

Cool feature: Line-in recording for higher quality microphones or audio equipment.

Deal killer: You must use Windows Media Player and XP or Vista to transfer audio and video for use on the player, even though you can drag and drop any file onto a partition that's just for storage.

* Sandisk Sansa e280 (MSRP: $199.99)

Cool feature: Expandable by up to 2GB via a microSD slot.

Deal killer: Unlike the other alternatives here (but like the iPod), the e200 series uses a proprietary connector. If you lose or damage it, it's off to Overpriced Accessories Land rather than your choice of generic stores for a cheap replacement cable.

* Dane-Elec Meizu (MSRP: around $150 to $200)

Cool feature: Big screen for such a small player.

Deal killer: Ever heard of Dane-Elec? Does the fact that this player is an American rebadging of a foreign brand that's also making a spitting image of Apple's iPhone make you feel any better?

* Unbranded Chinese iPod Nano knockoffs (MSRP: under $100)

Cool feature: Too-good-to-be-true cheapness.

Deal killer: Mostly available on eBay, the vast majority of these things don't actually hold 8GB of anything. They've been hacked to show a higher capacity than they actually possess, usually by a factor of four, and it's questionable that there are any genuine 8GB models. That makes them not such a great deal after all.



4/5/2007 Get a newer brain

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3/22/2007 Paper that's not paper
3/8/2007 Use any file
3/1/2007 Audiobooks for free
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2/15/2007 Prints in your pocket
2/8/2007 Watch this
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1/25/2007 iPhone it now
1/18/2007 Simplify, simplify
1/11/2007 Vista time!
1/4/2007 Google killers?
12/28/2006 Tech that didn't happen
12/21/2006 Do not want
12/14/2006 Meet the new web
12/07/2006 Extreme price shopping
11/30/2006 They want what?
11/23/2006 Zat zany Zune
11/16/2006 Shop smart
11/9/2006 Your data's new home
11/2/2006 Hotkey heaven
10/26/2006 Computer to go
10/19/2006 Tech news roundup
10/12/2006 A different drummer
10/05/2006 Who needs TiVo?
09/28/2006 Disk drives without disks
09/21/2006 Movies, just click your mouse!
09/14/2006 Laptops for less
09/07/2006 GPS everywhere
08/31/2006 The printer dilemma
08/24/2006 A series of tubes
08/17/2006 More music, more places
08/10/2006 How big is your drive?
08/03/2006 It's a WiFi world
07/27/2006 Fancy a spot of memory?
07/20/2006 Under the sea
07/06/2006 eBaysic training
06/29/2006 You paid money for that?
06/22/2006 Processing ... processing ...
06/15/2006 C:\Run for the border
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05/25/2006 Geek phone home
05/18/2006 Super highway information
05/11/2006 How to host a site
05/04/2006 If they mated
04/27/2006 Apples to apples
04/20/2006 Flash uber-drives
04/13/2006 Web site, by you
04/06/2006 Ayyy, jaQ's right!
03/30/2006 Choose wirelessly
03/23/2006 Tax programs cometh
03/16/2006 And the Spammie goes to...
03/09/2006 Take in the Vista
03/02/2006 Cheap moviemaking
02/23/2006 Go directly to iJail
02/16/2006 Will you stamp your e-mail?
02/09/2006 War of the machines
02/02/2006 Faster than a speeding packet

01/26/2006 Free software made simple
01/19/2006 The Worst of CES
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