Help me help her
September 12, 2009 8:29 AM   Subscribe

What mp3 player should my wife get?

My wife has wanted an ipod for a while and will probably be buying one in the next week or so. At the moment she's thinking of the 32GB ipod touch over the 16GB nano. The standout feature of the touch over the nano being the ability to surf the net.

The last time I knew anything about portable mp3 players was in 2003 when I bought my 3rd gen ipod (which I still use) so I have no idea if any of the "ipod killers" out there offer compelling alternatives. Archos, Zune, Zen?

Also, being able to use the device in linux would be nice. Not a deal breaker, but nice.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm to Technology (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Nano just got a killer new feature set (video camera and FM radio). But you're looking at really different beasts here, at really different prices.

The iPod touch is so much more than an mp3 player. The ability to surf the net (when near wireless, of course) is only the beginning. The range of applications for the touch is astounding, and you will quickly start to discover uses for it you can't imagine yet. If you have regular wireless access in your normal routine, it becomes indispensable. I've owned half a dozen other pocket rockets, dating back to the Palm Tungsten C and, until the iPod, the closest I came to Nirvana was a Nokia N800 (if you want something that plays nice with Linux, Nokia's your best bet, google "Maemo"). But the iPod touch is the first one that I find truly satisfactory, other than a) the absence of bluetooth, thus no possibility of an external keyboard and b) so far, the absence of a camera/video camera (my N800 has a built in video camera that rocks). Apple was supposedly putting a camera on the new 3G touch, but it didn't happen (some rumors say they're going to introduce this more quietly, and fairly soon, and that it was just held up by hardware production problems, which would lead me to wait on buying a touch for a few more months, esp. if you're going to spend the big bucks on the 32GB version). This is why I've kept my 1G touch (which works for audio Skype calls, by the way, and can also now record audio with the right ext mic).

Well, a third problem is the lack of sufficient display space to really be able to read comfortably for any length of time. But that's true of any pocket-sized device, and as pocket-sized screens go, the touch's fantastic screen (and its elegant interface) make it endurable to read a few pages of a PDF on the train. Confronted with a research paper or an e-book, one quickly goes mad. But that's what the rumored Apple tablet will be for, amirite? Supposedly, we'll see that in the next few months. Or not.

The Nano is just a music player and -- now -- video recorder/fm radio. It's a different concept, but perfectly executed, a joy to carry and darn good sounding. The touch is a capable little computer connected to the internet.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:52 AM on September 12, 2009

"My wife has wanted an ipod for a whille...What mp3 player should my wife get?"

The one she actually wants, and not one that makes you feel good about avoiding a popular brand. Sounds like it's a 32G iPod Touch she wants.

"being able to use the device in linux would be nice"

iPods can do that just fine.

"I say it's immoral to support that behavior..."

I don't like corporations trying to exert undue and unearned control over what I do with my possessions, either. But if that's what the wife wants, why be a dick about it?
posted by majick at 9:11 AM on September 12, 2009

Oh, here's an good source of leads:

Rockbox is a project to make an environment on hopefully any music player. You get a interface that is pretty similar, regardless of the hardware, so you can switch between then without as much having-to-look-at-the-device UI woes.

If you don't take my advice to integrate the phone with music player, then consider the list of supported devices.
posted by cmiller at 9:19 AM on September 12, 2009

Response by poster: majick, seriously? I have an ipod and have been using it for the last 6 years - there's no trying to avoid a brand. But we also don't see ads for other mp3 players on tv so we'd like to know if there's anything else out there that's any good.

And FWIW modern ipod touches only work in linux if you jailbreak them or install windows on a virtual machine and then run itunes.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:25 AM on September 12, 2009

The new nano is a brilliant device. The touch is really more of a handheld computer than an mp3 player per se.

cmiller- touche. wait, you were goofing right?
posted by mpls2 at 9:25 AM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I recently got a Sansa Fuze and it is an excellent device. There is a world beyond Apple.
posted by yclipse at 9:33 AM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

"we'd like to know if there's anything else out there that's any good."

Pretty much no. Sony/Ericsson makes some "walkman" branded phones, but the current generation of SE user interfaces is utterly terrible devices now use expensive and proprietary Sony storage. I've never seen a Nokia UI I liked. I think the Android UI is promising although still unpolished, but unfortunately every last bit of hardware available for it is awful.

"Archos, Zune, Zen?"

No. I mean, on a checklist you might get near feature parity with a Touch on some of these devices, but actually owning and using badly-designed hardware quickly makes you realize why Apple is at the top of this market. They're selling the best and most usable devices for the common use cases.

"modern ipod touches only work in linux if you jailbreak them"

That takes about ten minutes to do.

Oh hey, and if you thought I was accusing you of being a dick, I'm quite sorry. I was accusing cmiller of being a dick. (Well, a clueless zealot -- give your spouse a crappy cellphone when she asks for something else? -- but zealotry is often kind of dicky).
posted by majick at 9:36 AM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Cowon has a range of alternative PMPs, e.g. S9. There are a few comparisons on the net.
posted by noztran at 9:36 AM on September 12, 2009

Best answer: I moved from a nano to an iphone a few months back, after my daughter moved from a nano to a touch and loved it. I could just KICK myself for not getting this device earlier. But as mpls2 says, it's really more of a pocket computer than just a music player.

It's attractive, and it works well, we've found them to be trouble-free. Some other brand is surely cheaper, but there's something to be said for using a standard, well-supported device.

I wish it didn't mean pouring money into a controlling company's pockets, but really, unless you're going to live in a cave wearing homespun, you have to pick your fights. Apple is not so much worse than its competitors that I want to drop significantly in quality.
posted by tyllwin at 9:58 AM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I very much like my Sansa Fuze. However, it's because I like subscription music over pay-per-song, and now this may be moot since iPod Touch now supports Rhapsody.
posted by ALongDecember at 10:04 AM on September 12, 2009

Best answer: If she wants it for the features, get the Touch. majick is right in that it's really the best choice for features and hardware usability. On the other hand, hooking it up to a computer and putting mp3s on it means jailbreaking or iTunes. Jailbreaking isn't hard, but you're voiding warranty from day one with that.

I'll swear by Sansa players myself. Mine has been unbelievably reliable and very user friendly when I want to manage my playlist. However, it sounds like your wife likes the shiny features on the Touch, and there's really no great alternatives in that case. Stay away from the Nano though. Sansa Fuze or even the old e250 line handles that area better, cheaper, and way more user friendly.

In short- Features and shinies important- iPod Touch. Features and shinies not so important- Sansa.
posted by Saydur at 10:05 AM on September 12, 2009

The App Store offerings for the iPod Touch will be hard for any other brand to beat.
posted by The Deej at 10:09 AM on September 12, 2009

I had a Creative Zen, but after three years it was starting to show its age. Rather than buying into the Apple monopoly, I got a Zune - and it's great. 120 GB means it'll hold everything I could ever want, its interface is rather sleek, and it's just a very well designed device. I also hate iTunes, and the Zune software is just right. I have total control over what goes on my device.

The Zune HD is coming out soon, so you could wait for that. They discontinued all the other Zune models, so I'd expect prices on them to start dropping.
posted by gchucky at 10:10 AM on September 12, 2009

I may be right -- well, no, I am right -- but in retrospect I'm the one who is being a dick about it. I apologize to you and our readers for doing so as it serves none of us. I hope your wife enjoys whatever it is the two of you select.
posted by majick at 10:19 AM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

banshee project -- supports robust iPod management on linux.

Simple instructions for using banshee on ubuntu.
posted by fourcheesemac at 10:22 AM on September 12, 2009

The fact that you're able to buy and use a Zune, Sansa, etc. means Apple doesn't have a "monopoly". I'm overjoyed with my iPod Touch even though I've never bought music for it from Apple, and god willing will never have to.

(Yes, iTunes sucks, but the app store is more than worth the tradeoff.)
posted by Lazlo at 10:24 AM on September 12, 2009

Also, you can run Linux on an iPod.

iPod (almost all models) has always been a pretty amazing piece of hardware, no matter what you think of the OS or the company.
posted by fourcheesemac at 10:25 AM on September 12, 2009

I have been absolutely floored by the wonderfulness that is the iPod touch. I wasn't expecting much, but the apps have provided solutions for problems I didn't know I had. I also love the music interface. That being said, the new nano does look intriguing...
posted by ms.v. at 10:31 AM on September 12, 2009

I have no idea what their products are like NOW, but I have a 5+ year old Zen MP3 1G player (yes, I know it's outdated-- but I use it for working at a greenhouse and kickboxing and things like that, so I don't want anything that I'm going to weep over when I break it!) and that thing fell off the back of a moving vehicle at 30+ mph and was just fine once I popped the battery back in. Another time I set a dripping paintbrush down on it. Fine, once the paint had set enough to peel off. Another time it came tumbling with me down a flight of stairs and I landed on it. It was in better shape than I was. There are a number of other stores, too many to mention, including quite a few accidental soakings with a water hose.

It's quite possible your wife's player will not be subjected to that kind of treatment, but if she's rough on her electronics, Zens seem to be unstoppable.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:14 AM on September 12, 2009

i really like our sansa. but as others have said, it's not feature rich (which is one of the things i like so much about it). also, i would never willingly install itunes.
posted by nadawi at 11:21 AM on September 12, 2009

You mention the ability to surf on the touch.

I'm now on my second iPhone and the Web browser is just leaps and bounds over anything else I've seen. A lot of sites have interfaces specifically built for that browser, MobileSafari; everything else just looks pretty much how'd you would expect it to look.

Plus there are tons and tons of apps. It's a mobile computing platform more than a music player.

The only stumbling block I see is the Linux support. You could make this work if you like fiddling with devices in ways they are not intended to be fiddled with. Otherwise it might be a problem.

For me, though, the iPhone has turned out to be the best technology purchase I've ever made. And I've made a lot of them.
posted by lackutrol at 12:40 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mod note: no part of this question is "what's your opinion about apple?" be cool or go to MeTa, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:21 PM on September 12, 2009

A vote for the Zen; they seem to have the brightest display I've seen. Well-designed player firmware too; with very customizable menus. And a caution against Sansas; we've had two die on us in the last two years.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 1:36 PM on September 12, 2009

I'm ridiculously partisan about Cowon players. The X5 - apparently long gone out of production - sounded so much better than my 1G iPod that there was no going back. My next and current player was a D2+ (the X5 still works, maybe six years on?), which has ridiculously long battery life and the characteristic Cowon precision of sound. Its controls are gimcrack and awkward but set that thing going on a long set of programs and you'll hear a lot you miss with the iPod.

The feature I like next best about Cowon players is they look to computers like USB drives (in MSC mode, if you are a Windows person). Copying content on and off is a drag-and-drop operation, irrespective of OS. No iTunes!
posted by jet_silver at 1:41 PM on September 12, 2009

The answer to this question is always "iPod". The only variation is which model. It sounds like you need to choose between the very small, lightweight, but feature-poor Nano and the larger, feature-rich, but heavier Touch. Which is more important to your wife? You mentioned that she likes the Web capability, so maybe that's the answer, but how much will it ever really get used, given that you need to have WiFi access?

If she wants to use the player while running or whatever, she may be better with a smaller, lighter device like the Nano. I use my iPhone to listen to music while running and the only useful way I have found to carry it is on an arm-band, which could annoy some people.
posted by dg at 3:50 PM on September 12, 2009

Nintendo DS plus flash cart plus Moonshell.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:03 PM on September 12, 2009

Best answer: I don't like corporations trying to exert undue and unearned control over what I do with my possessions.

Nor husbands.

Get her the iPod Touch, which is an amazing piece of engineering, both as MP3 player, video player, and probably best browser and e-mail client of any handheld device. Best of all it's easy to use, so she actually WILL use all the features. And once she finds the App store, she'll be very happy and never go back.

There are other adequate MP3 players, portable video players, handheld computers... but there's still nothing as slick or complete, sorry.
posted by rokusan at 5:44 PM on September 12, 2009

Response by poster: Guess I wasn't as clear as I ought to be. My wife is getting the mp3 player for herself. I was just asking here because neither of us knows much about the current state of mp3 players.

It looks like if she's leaning towards the ipod touch there are no real alternatives, but if she decides on a nano-type player then the sansa fuze would be worth a look.

(As for linux compatibility, if she does end up with a touch she'll just have to boot into Windows when she wants to manage her music. And while Windows is running I can play Civ4).
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:08 PM on September 12, 2009

Adding to the chorus...I love my iPod Touch for its awesome WiFi capabilities. Also, jailbreaking is super easy and not that complicated if you are computer-savvy.
posted by fantine at 11:22 AM on September 13, 2009

I loved my iPod Touch but I found the music playing to be the weakest part of it. No external control buttons other than volume meant it sucked when I was driving -- constantly had to wake it up and look at the screen, no tactile response, etc. And dealing with iTunes on Windows just to throw a few tracks on as I was running out the door was annoying.

It does have the most kick-ass browser and is amazing for everything else. But you're getting a substandard "iPod" experience with the Touch IMHO.
posted by frenetic at 7:24 PM on September 14, 2009

I'm always on the look-out for linux-compatible mp3 players, mostly because I've yet to find one that seems worth buying other than those cheapy USB-stick ones. The Samsung P3 and Cowon iAudio s9 seem to be the closest thing available to an iPod touch competitor right now. Both lack wifi. The Archos 5 is huge (the size of a Nintendo DS) and meant to be a "internet media tablet" more than an mp3 player, but it might fit the bill.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:16 AM on September 15, 2009

« Older Renting in New Zealand - Pets urine on carpet....   |   Invitations Direct Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.