Help the Idiot who knows nothing about MP3 players

My friend who doesn’t have Internet access & has appointed me her “Computer Monkey” (“Monkey WILL NOT wear diapers!”) is shopping for an MP3 player- she’s considering an IPod but is also open to anything comparable. And she’s appointed me to do her research- and I know nothing.

What good quality free music files are out there? What about Limewire? Does it have the legal problems that the old Napster did?

She wants to be able to do mixes, set up folders, sort out playlists- am I right that she needs one with a screen, and that any brand that does have a screen will be able to do these things?

Don’t mention the “L-word”!
Anyways, I have Creative Labs Zen Nomad 30Gb player. After a year it performs flawlessly. It can play MP3, WMA, and WAV formats. You can create playlists, too (although I don’t use that function).

There is nothing comparable. :wink: Sure, the specs for non-iPod players look nice on paper, but when you actually use them, you regret the choice…

Next to none; legal free music tends to be from obscure bands or up-and-(hopefully)-coming groups.

For most players, you don’t use the screen to do those – it’s too small for that stuff. Rather, you use a jukebox program on your computer to set up playlists, and then sync it with the MP3 player so your playlists (and songs) are transferred. Most players will let you do an “On the go” playlist, which is a rudimentary list of songs you want to play in a certain order, but that’s about it.

One of the nice things about the iPod is the associated iTunes jukebox program, which can get really elaborate with its “Smart Playlists” – “Play all jazz songs longer than 3:00 which I haven’t heard in the last week and I’ve rated 3 stars or greater”, for instance.

As a committed iPod user, here’s my attempt to be as objective as possible: they’re well-designed and easy to use, and have the best software for adding and sorting music (in my own opinion, at least). However, until recent models the battery life has been very poor, and they’re certainly overpriced - you’re paying for the design and the name as much as the actual features.

If money’s a big factor, you can get very good players from lots of manufacturers. If ease of use and/or design is a big factor, consider an iPod.

I probably shouldn’t say this, being under consideration for Apple employment (for iPod/iTunes even) at the moment, but there really are some other players that are better than the iPod… for specific purposes. Cowon makes some that sound noticably better. The Neuros series is much better for tinkers - they’re bricks, but they duct-taped just about every feature you could want in there. I remember reading that one of them can even be used like a Tivo Lite. Therer are much more stylish alternatives.

But the iPod is a really good synthesis of all of those, and for holding the high middle ground, it’s hard to beat.

My daughter wanted an i-pod for Xmas. I hate paying extra for brand names if they are not noticably better than their non brand name competition. I searched all the players. The i-pod won. Once you get used to its elegant interface, color screen and great sound, nothing else is close yet.

Thanks for everyone’s help- now here is her latest criteria -

She is looking for something about 5+ GB, has no need for photo or video
capabilities, but can organize mixes, folders, playlists & the like, uses WMA
files, has a durable case, a long life & is around $100. She likes IPod because of
the screem & the sorting/finding capabilities of the music files. With all that,
is she still wanting an IPod? What else may satisfy these criteria?

Also, what is the deal with Limeware- positive & negative? Once installed in its basic form, would it be easy to uninstall? She wants me to download the basic Limeware so I can browse to see what songs she wants may be available, but I am hesitant? Am I being silly or are my fears justified? Are its claims to be free of spyware & adware true? What other free music file sharing services do exist? She’s heard something about Torn, but all I can find is which belongs to a band.

Limewire is a P2P service. 'Nuff said.

First off, I feel it’s my duty to mention in this thread that it isd spelled iPod. Lower case ‘i’, capitol ‘P’, no dash, no space. It’s just one of my ticks that annoys me whern I see it spelled the wrong way. Not your fault, you didn’t know, but now you do. :stuck_out_tongue:

Anyway, as an iPod (60 GB fifth-gen (aka, video iPod)) owner, I can say it is very nice, but obviously with the specs you listed, it’s not what you need. A good choice, however, may be the iPod nano. It meets most of the requirements except that it’s only 4 GB (or 2 GB0 not 5, and it most tyhan $100. (I don’t think there is any way of getting a 5 GB player for around $100. I think the best might be 2-4 GB for a cheaper brand.) But it is small, has a nice screen, has the nice playlist sorting and mixing that iPods and iTunes are known for, and has a better battery life and is more durable than a normal iPod because it’s flash memory based, not harddrive based.

An iPod itself can’t play WMA files, but you can add them to your iTunes library and iTunes will automatically convert them to Apple lossless format (AAC) for playing on the iPod (it doesn’t change the original file, but makes a new file to be transferred.) It does this all automatically when you select the files to be added to the library. You don’t have to remeber to convert yourself, or convert and then add again, all simple to use.

And there shall be no more talk of this citrus-themed program of which you speak. It’s P2P,and while I don’t think it has been oficially rulled illegal in courts, it is mainly used to facilitate illegal mesdia sharing. iTunes is a good service, at about $1 per song, though it’s limited sicne the file you get can only be transferred a certain number of times, unless you get a third-party program to convert it, or burn it to a CD and then rip it as another format, either way it’s a bit of work. There are other legal online services as well, Wal-mart has one, for instance, and there is a new, legal, Napster that is an unlimited-download subscription service. I don’t know how that works. I think you are only licensed to play the files as long as you are paying Napster, but I’m not sure.

Check out the Creative Zen Micro. 5GB, plays WMA, has a protective case, and unlike the iPod has a battery that can be swapped by the user in about 5 seconds. Probably priced a little lower than an iPod of similar capacity. Hard drived based though, so the iPod Nano has that advantage.

While Creative has its own program to manage tracks and transfers, Windows Media Player works just fine to do the same with the Zen.

I’m convinced that 5+ GB at $100 is a contradiction in terms right now if you want WMA compatibility (or compatibility with anything but basic MP3 really). Flash is too expensive (compare the iPod Nano at 4 GB/$250) and hard drives are much bigger, if pricey. You can get the venerable Archos Jukebox for $80-100 (20GB hard drive, but not WMA-compatible) if you poke around.

If you’re willing to throw out everything in the name of a low sticker price, you could go for the GoVideo Rave-MP ARC5.0, $150 at CompUSA. It’s irredeemable crap. The Creative Labs Zen Neeon is $170 from ComputerBrain, a few dollars more in other places. The Rio Carbon is available off Amazon refurbished/used at $150-ish, if you don’t object to that. It was a pretty good player, but I forget if it was WMA-compatible.

I honestly don’t think you can go much lower.

so at the rate technology advances, how long should it be before the next price shift when more becomes available for less cost? Especially with iPod?

It seems like the iPod has been increasing performance instead of cutting prices. That is, they are making 60 GB iPods for the same price they used to sell 10 GB iPods in leiu of making cheap 10 GB iPods. You have to remember, that iPods (and all Apple products for that matter) are status symbols and you pay for that. If you want to get a cheaper iPod, your only options are really buying used or refurbished ones. Although, I would recommend against that becuase the iPod has a lot of issues with the battery crapping out.

Treis is right when it comes to price-cutting. The only way that iPod prices come down, really, is with the smaller models, the Nano/Shuffle/etcs. The Shuffle has come down in price and a lower-end Nano came out to fill that. You can probably expect a capacity jump in the Nano - my guess is around August/September, at Paris Expo - but I doubt it will get more than incrementally cheaper.

All the other MP3 players really follow suit. You could build a 64MB player today and sell it for about ten bucks if you wanted, but nobody really wants that, even if the same thing sold for $150 back when they came out.

That said, 5GB is still above the floor right now. I expect you’ll be able to get a 5GB Nano for $200 after next year’s Paris Expo or so (about eighteen months). 5GB Shuffle (or equivalent) in about three years, maybe a little more, and that’ll be in the $100 range. Part of it is that those are flash-based modules, and flash is expensive.

Apple doesn’t use hard drives for anything but the iPod itself, which is why it’s going to take so long. If you’re willing to go with other manufacturers, though, you should be able to get something like the Zen Neeon (microdrive-based player) that fits all your requirements within six months to a year. From a purely technical standpoint it should be a little faster than that, but product cycles are funny that way.

Full Disclosure: I don’t own an mp3 player. (Not the personal, portable kind under discussion, anyway.) I use iTunes and am my own Computer Monkey.

A couple of things to consider: If your friend goes with an iPod and wants to (buy and) download music from iTunes, you will have to authorise her iPod, your computer (for the downloading) and her computer (if she wants to be able to be able to use the songs from iTunes on it). That’s three of your iTunes account’s five available devices. Maybe this isn’t an issue, but you should be aware of it.

Also, how much time are you willing to spend as designated Computer Monkey? I may be reading too much into her lack of internet access. Is she computer savvy enough to interface and update her mp3 player without your help? If not, you gotta ask yourself "Are you feeling luc…"er, sorry. Got carried away. Umm, how much time are you going to want to spend making playlists, rating songs (with her standing there to advise you , 'cause how else are you going to do it) and moving and shaking and colating and…well you see where I’m going with this? (If she’s capable of doing all this on her own, never mind.)

Anyway, thanks for the thread. I’m going to have enough information and guidance, sooner or later, to make my own choice because of these threads and the advice of the people here. Thanks, all.

Also, there is a whole world of pay-download sites besides the more traditional iTunes/Napster/Rhapsody type. (Is Rhapsody still around?) In the “jamband” world you can download entire concerts from many of the bands from several sources. Google MuleTracks (I think) or Bonaroo to name two off the top of my head.

That’s Apple’s standard business model – the features increase while the prices stay the same.

Nah; Apple’s business model just means they don’t want to play “race to the bottom” the way Dell et al do – and considering Apple does most of their R&D by themselves (instead of just repackinging third-party products), it’s understandable.

Two, actually – iPods don’t get counted in the number of “devices” in Apple’s FairPlay scheme.

There is a difference between making crap and jacking up prices to be a status symbol. Apple has carved itself out a niche as the hip, cool and trendy company. That allows them to charge a higher price, and thats what they do.

I think a legitimate iPod competitor will be coming in the form of the Toshiba Gigabeat S-series that’s coming out in March. Seems to have been getting very good advance praise, and it’ll definitely play WMA since it’s a Windows device. About the same price as an iPod, though, so a bit over the $100 range. Unfortunately I don’t think you’ll find any 5 GB in that price range anyway, so you might as well go for broke. Of course if you just want simplicity and instant cool factor, the iPod is definitely the way to go.

This opens up a whole new dimension to “things I don’t know about iPods”. I’ve read Apple’s FAQs, but without one to experiment with, I don’t know what I don’t know.

Does what you’re saying mean I can load my (theoretical) iPod with my music (that I wrote and recorded, I am NOT trying to circumvent the law or board policy) and share it with my friend(s) by hooking it up to their computer(s)? (And I would have to use iTunes as the interface to do this, right?) Without my iPod having to be an “authorised device” on their machine(s)?

(I know there are other ways to accomplish this. I just want to know if I can use an iPod this way. Again, NOT trying to circumvent laws or board policy.)


From someone who owned Zen Micro’s for over a year and has a 30G iPod, I can provide you a good summary. The Micro’s got incredible sound but you have to work for it. It has a few quirks. The iPod just works. It’s for anyone who wants to listen to music with minimal fuss.

As a computer orangutan (won’t wear diaper) I’d much rather support 100 iPod users than a Micro user. Ask if you’d like details.