The iPod may be tops, but it’s not the only choice for music fans.
Apple Computer Inc.’s lovely little music player dominates the market, and
its design and simplicity make it hard to beat.
But let’s face it – the iPod is the luxury car of hard-drive music players.
You pay as much for style as you do for function. The recently upgraded versions
cost $300 for 20 gigabytes and $400 for 40 gigabytes.
You can buy a competing product that plays music just as well, sacrificing only
a little user-friendliness and the cachet created by Apple’s smart marketing.
And you’ll get some added features that the iPod doesn’t have.
We reviewed four iPod challengers to see how they stacked up against the big kahuna.
Some devices came with music-organizing software designed by or developed in cooperation
with the manufacturer. Their software does most of the things Apple’s iTunes
software does for the iPod – organizing playlists, editing song information,
etc. – but iTunes is still the easiest and most pleasurable to use.
Apple’s recent redesign of the iPod helped it catch up in some areas where
rivals were pulling ahead, especially in battery life. The newest iPod can chug
along for about 12 hours, compared with eight in the previous generation.
Apple’s classic scroll wheel, which allows you to browse through music files
by circling your thumb around the device’s surface, continues to be one of
its best features. And Apple added a "shuffle songs" option to its main
menu in a nod to one of users’ favorite ways to listen to music.
We’ve included the manufacturer’s suggested price for each iPod competitor,
though many can be had for much less. And we’ve quoted the manufacturer’s
claims on battery life, which are usually slightly longer than what users experience
in the real world.
Philips HDD120 Recording Audio Jukebox
Size: 20 gigabytes
Battery life: 10 hours
Design: Black and sleek, with a glowing white LCD display. It would have fit perfectly
on "Knight Rider."
Browsing mechanism: Instead of a fancy scroll wheel, Philips goes with two buttons,
one for up, one for down. No need to get flashy.
Other buttons: Those browsing buttons double as the forward and back buttons.
There’s another button for playing and selecting options and another for
going to the previous menu. A side button takes you to the main menu, and another
side button lets you go straight to the library.
Pros: The HDD120 has a built-in recording function. And like the iPod, it has
a shuffle button located conveniently in the main menu.
Cons: The HDD120 won’t work with other Windows-based music-organizing software,
and you can’t drag and drop music to the device and play it. What’s
worse, Philips’ software is onerous, requiring lots of clicks to input information
about each song.
Can it beat the iPod?: Not even close, thanks to that clunky software. But the
recording feature is a plus.
Creative Zen Touch
Size: 20 gigabytes
Battery life: 24 hours
Design: Looks like a blocky iPod with angular edges.
Browsing mechanism: The Zen Touch uses a vertical scroll pad. Slide your thumb
up and down the pad to browse, and click the button at the device’s center
to make a selection.
Other buttons: The Zen Touch makes it easy to shuffle songs with a "random"
button on its face. Play, back, forward and menu buttons are stacked vertically
on the sides.
Pros: You can search for a song, artist or album by alphabetical order. Just click
the center button, select "Find," and scroll. The iPod could use this.
The Zen Touch gives you more options than the iPod for building playlists on the
Cons: The sensitive scroll pad lies just below the center button, so you must
be careful not to touch it when you press the button. Adjust the pad’s sensitivity
if that causes you trouble.
Can it beat the iPod? Maybe. Besides the shuffle button and the touch pad, the
Zen Touch offers little that other iPod rivals haven’t done.
Dell Digital Jukebox
Size: 15 or 20 gigabytes
Price: $200 or $280
Battery life: 16 hours
Design: Rectangular and slightly curved around the edges like the iPod, but wider,
fatter and not nearly as pretty. The device looks busy with two tones of silver
and a black band around its edge. And it has a funny-looking bulge in its center,
although that bulge is important.
Browsing mechanism: The bulge houses a mechanical barrel. Roll it up or down to
browse, then press it in to select a song. That might seem clunky compared to
the iPod’s scroll wheel, but it actually works pretty well. The up and down
motion feels more natural than moving your thumb in a circle.
Other buttons: Nice and simple – play, forward, back, previous menu and home
are on the front. Two volume buttons and a microphone button for recording are
on the side.
Pros: The Dell uses an operating system very similar to Creative’s, so it
has many of the same features, including browsing by the alphabet.
Cons: It’s an ugly duckling next to the iPod.
Can it beat the iPod? Yes, if you prefer function over form. The scroll barrel
is extremely user-friendly, and the recording feature is easy to use.
Size: 20 gigabytes
Battery life: 15 hours
Design: Square and black, with a curve on the right side designed for your thumb
and forefinger to fit on the controls. Its tiny size and relatively big screen
make it look like a pager.
Browsing mechanism: A dial at the top right corner scrolls through songs. You
can cradle the device in your fingers and scroll with your thumb or your forefinger.
Other buttons: The Rio uses a joystick that you push up to play, right to fast-forward,
etc. A separate button lets you go to the previous menu, and two side buttons
Pros: The Karma is small. It’ll fit in your pocket even if your pants are
tight. It has a very user-friendly browsing system, displaying every song in one
column and showing your place in the alphabet in the other. The Karma also has
cool shuffling features that automatically make themed playlists for you.
Cons: The scroll dial is great when the Karma is in your hand, but it’s a
pain when it’s docked next to the computer. It’s just difficult to wrap
your hand around it that way.
Can it beat the iPod? Yes, if you’re more of an on-the-go listener than a
(c) 2004, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information
Article posted on 12/14/2004
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