Face it – with well over 120 million units sold, no company even comes close to touching the extraordinary success that Apple has enjoyed with its iPod-branded portable media players. Between classic, nano, shuffle and touch models (not to mention nearly 35 million iPhones sold to date), the almighty iPod has become all but synonymous with MP3 players in just a few short years (and perhaps the first “Kleenex” or “Frisbee” of the 21st century). But commercial success doesn’t necessarily mean the iPod is the best player on the market. In fact, many competing portable media players offer equally high sonic performance, as well as a handful of features not found in Apple’s family of products. Here’s a look at five capable alternatives that also hit a high note:
Don’t be fooled by its teeny size – the small, but powerful SanDisk Sansa Clip (sandisk.com; $34.99 to $99.99, depending on capacity) rocks a number of impressive features. Along with the bright OLED screen for viewing song and playlist info, the Sansa Clip (available in 1GB, 2GB, 4Gb or 8GB capacities) includes voice recording functions courtesy of its built-in microphone, FM tuner (with 40 preset stations) and integrated rechargeable battery that lasts roughly 15 hours between charges. The 2GB version (roughly 500 songs) ships in multiple colors: Red, pink, blue and black, while all models come equipped with a clip to affix to clothing or a backpack. What’s more, units’ miniscule size – measuring just 2.17 x .65 x 2.17 inches, and just under an ounce in weight – make them ideal exercise companions.
If James Bond had an MP3 player, this would be it. The sleek, black Samsung YP-Q1 ($129.99; samsung.com) is one of the slimmest and lightest media players on the market. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack a lot of power under the hood. The 8GB player can tackle music, audiobooks, podcasts and videos – and includes software to convert them for use – as well as offers an FM radio and recorder, voice recorder, built-in Flash games, e-book reader, organizer and more. Film enthusiasts can further view MPEG4, WMV or SVI videos on the Q1’s 2.4-inch LCD screen at a resolution of 320×240 pixels (and a frame rate of 30 fps) using the device’s lighted touchpad to navigate between clips. Arguably the gizmo’s most impressive feature, however, is Samsung’s DNSe 3.0 technology that produces higher-quality and well-balanced sound out of compressed MP3 audio tracks.
Don’t think of the 250GB Archos 5 ($449.99; archos.com) as a mere portable media player — it acts a lot more like a pocket-size PC and DVR (digital video recorder) rolled into one. This fifth-generation Archos product features a five-inch touch-screen display, fast ARM processor, built-in Wi-Fi and a SIM card slot for GSM connectivity. To enjoy it, simply use your fingertip or the bundled stylus to surf the Internet, download files and pick up email. On the media front, the silver machine offers HD video playback, output jacks for TV hookup, and — with the optional digital video recorder station (about $100) — the ability to record TV shows, movies and sports to bring with you when you’re on the go. Oh, and keep in mind a 250GB hard drive translates to roughly 60,000 songs or about 60 hours of video.