MP3 Player/Hard Drive
December 24, 2003 7:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a new portable hard-drive MP3 player. Requirements: 1. At least 30GB storage 2. Long battery life (at least 8 hours, real-world not theoretical) 3. Doesn't suck 4. Not gigantic, I want to be able to hold and control it w/one hand and fit it in my oversized pockets. Price matters not. I'm especially interested in hearing from people who own a player which meets these requirements. [more]

It looks like the iPod, Creative Zen, and RCA Lyra fit my requirements, or at least the objective ones. I'm not sure about the iPod's battery, it's listed as 8 hours but I suspect that it will not last that long under real-world conditions. Some claim the Lyra is too big, anyone with one have any problems with that?
posted by punishinglemur to Shopping (20 answers total)
The ipod rocks. I have a 5gig first generation model and I usually get multiple days of listening in on one charge. If you have shuffle turned on you might get less, though. The only thing I don't like about it is the relatively small harddrive. Of course, if you're getting the 40gig model then you won't have this problem.

I would actually wait until MWSF (January). There's been a lot of rumors flying around that there might be a major ipod update.
posted by bshort at 7:54 PM on December 24, 2003

I suggest the iPod with a Belkin Battery Pack add on. While the Dell DJ, et all look very interesting. The iPod wins because it's super GUI, that's easy to navigate using one hand. Also you'll get a remote, so that helps.
posted by riffola at 7:54 PM on December 24, 2003

Yeah like bshort said, wait till January for the Mac World. Apparently there are minipods coming that'll be around the $100 range, which might see price changes in the entire line.
posted by riffola at 7:55 PM on December 24, 2003

I'm an iPod user and agree with all of the above. If battery matters a lot, get the belkin add on for the 8+ hour trips, otherwise, it should be good. It can easily be handled/controlled with one hand.
posted by dobbs at 8:12 PM on December 24, 2003

I own the first-gen 20GB Creative Nomad Zen and have generally been pleased with it. Practical usage indicates the advertised battery life (8 hours for this model) is accurate, if not underestimated. The newer models reportedly offer 14-hour charges.

As far as size goes, it's larger than an iPod in all dimensions, though not unreasonably so. (Again, the newer Zen models are reportedly smaller and lighter.) It fits well in a coat or similar oversized pocket, and the buttons mounted on either side allow you to easily operate the unit without taking it out of your pocket (and without requiring a wired remote.)

My qualms with the Zen:

1. The filesystem employed by Creative is proprietary and, as a result, you must use special software to transfer data back and forth. Creative's software is utter crap; Red Chair Software's Notmad Explorer provides outstanding functionality, integration with Windows, and costs only $25.

2. Since the filesystem is proprietary, the Zen doesn't auto-mount as an external hard drive like the iPod can. This would be particularly nice if you use the Zen to transfer large quantities of data around. AFAIK, even a mounted iPod volume won't show music files without employing a crack. Notmad Explorer reveals all.

3. It takes too long to cycle through tracks. Whether this is due to the bizarre filesystem or not, hitting PREV/NEXT will often result in a 2-3 second pause if the track isn't already loaded into memory. This grows nearly unbearable if you're attempting to find a single track in a large playlist.

4. Creative abandoned the original dual FireWire/USB1.1 data interface for USB2.

The Zen offers nice touches like integrated Environmental Effects, consistent battery life, and newer models even have swappable batteries, dodging the recent iPod fiasco. It's also quite a bit cheaper than an iPod with comparable capacity. Whether this is worth tolerating the issues listed above is up to you.
posted by Danelope at 8:20 PM on December 24, 2003

Response by poster: Looks like it'll be a choice between the Zen and the iPod. I'll probably make my decision after MacWorld, see if Apple can impress me with a price drop or somethin'.
posted by punishinglemur at 9:11 PM on December 24, 2003

Response by poster: Also... any idea how much size the Belkin pack adds to the iPod?
posted by punishinglemur at 9:12 PM on December 24, 2003

#3 is the hard part.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:14 PM on December 24, 2003

I've got a 40 gig creative nomad jukebox 3. They actually updated the firmware on this device like 2 days ago, and they put in a bunch of the stuff it had been lacking... so right now I'm exceedingly happy with it. It is a little larger than the ipod -- basically the same size as a CD player -- but with the optional extra battery ($50) you can get over 20 hours of life out of it. (I bought the extra battery after owning the player for about 6 months.) If you do buy a creative device, be sure and go for the red chair software noted above, it rocks. No matter which way you go the ability to slap a couple of new songs onto your player and take them with you is wonderful.
posted by woil at 10:46 PM on December 24, 2003

It's a choice between the latest iPod, Zen or one that hasn't been mentioned so far, the iRiver iHP-120, which I'm thinking of getting. Though the iRiver is only 20 gig (I'd prefer more room too), I've been told it's the superior portable mp3 player.
posted by Onanist at 11:14 PM on December 24, 2003

The IRiver also does Ogg, which has better sound in less space, which means you can get more on the drive.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:19 PM on December 24, 2003

The Apple Ipod is a more expensive but 'cleaner' Mp3 player, with it's only major drawback being the battery. (Not replaceable by normal means, $99 through Apple).

The Creative Nomad Jukebox Zen is a cheaper offering but with it's robust features (i used to own one) and dedication to sound quality makes the music player worth more for the asking price.

In your situation, money being no object, Apple Ipod. But, then again you are paying for something that has a lot of flash but will (let me say this again: Will) cost you 100 bucks to 'repair' down the road.
posted by Keyser Soze at 12:06 AM on December 25, 2003

Keyser: I think too much is being made of this battery issue. It is hardly surprising though because this is basically the only major thing wrong with the iPod, and no-one likes a show-off.

I own a first generation 5GB iPod and while the battery life *has* gone down, I am hardly going to throw it in the bin. It is about 5 hours now and that's perfectly fine for my uses. If I'd actually taken care of the battery and not let it run down completely so often, it's likely it would still be near 10 hours. Now, if you expect your iPod to last forever, then you will have a problem with the battery life, but if you accept that these things get old and batteries run down (just like laptop batteries) then it's just something you have to accept. Personally, I intend to buy a new iPod this summer, by which time I think the battery situation will have improved.

In any case, you shouldn't think, "The Zen and the iPod are the same, except the Zen is bigger and the iPod has a crap battery." One important thing to remember about the iPod is that is has an absolutely outstanding physical and software interface that isn't matched by *any* other mp3 player. You can control all its functions with one hand, which is not true for others, and it is totally intuitive.
posted by adrianhon at 2:04 AM on December 25, 2003

I've gotta agree with you, Adrian. I've got a Nomad player which I loved... until I got my wife an iPod. That thing is pretty darn cool, indeed. That said, there are things I love about the Jukebox that don't seem to be in the ipod, such as a balanced line out for when I hook it into the stereo and whatnot. The ability to record is pretty cool. Also, Jukebox 3 has a remote, although it costs extra. The Red Chair software really is a treat to use -- personally, I like it better than iTunes, but maybe that's just me.

For interesting nomad-related stuff, check out, the clearinghouse for info on creative portable audio products.
posted by ph00dz at 7:09 AM on December 25, 2003

Gen 3 iPods have a line out via the dock.
posted by riffola at 9:53 AM on December 25, 2003

I don't have one yet, but I'm seriously looking at the Rio Karma. It meets all your requirements, except afaik the 40gig one isn't out yet (current model is 20gigs), plus it has a couple really cool features:
*) It plays oggs and flacs.
*) It's cradle has ethernet, and RCA outs.
*) It can be controlled via a web interface.

So you can plug the cradle in near your stereo, hook up the outputs and the ethernet, and control all that from your laptop while you're at home, then just grab it and hit the road. That, plus the flac support really makes it attractive to me.

The reviews I've read of it have all been really positive, the UI is reportedly quite good, as is the audio quality.
posted by duckstab at 1:43 PM on December 25, 2003

I'm intrigued by the Rio Karma as well; however, I was shocked to find that it only has Rio's 90 day standard warranty. I find that length to be lacking in a hardware based MP3 a hard drive based one with a proprietary internal battery, I'm afraid that it's a deal killer for me.
posted by filmgoerjuan at 2:24 PM on December 25, 2003

Response by poster: Any idea when the 40gig Karma might be out? I read that one was planned, and if they're going to release it within the next month or two I'd like to get it.
posted by punishinglemur at 3:26 PM on December 25, 2003

One other nice accessory for whatever player you decide to get is a car adapter. That way you can plug in to your cigarette lighter, which is a real boon on long drives. Just add a cassette adapter and you're set. Unlimited charge for my iPod saved my mind on a 15-hour holiday jaunt from Michigan to North Carolina (and I'm sure it will again tomorrow on the return trip).

If you do decide to get car accessories, I'd recommend you go for a cassette adapter rather than an FM one. While the FM ones seem cool, I've found that they're not as reliable.
posted by amery at 4:04 PM on December 25, 2003

I used to have a 64mb Diamond Rio. And the best part was the size. Then I got a Creative Nomad Jukebox 6gb, which was *terrible*, and put me off buying anything but sound cards and speakers from Creative for life. Seriously. It seemed like they released it in the beta stage. I imagine the newer models are more stable, intuitive and well, better, but any hardware that you have to spend another $25 on third party software on makes my spider senses tingle.

I now have a 10gb first gen iPod, and though I've noticed a drop in battery time, too, it's still the best MP3 player I've had, and I only plan to get rid of it when I get the 40gb model.
posted by armoured-ant at 12:01 PM on December 26, 2003

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