Is the iPod the only MP3 player worth buying?

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With all the hype about iPod there is no doubt that they are becoming synonymous with MP3 players (think hoovers for the 21st century). But is the iPod truly as good as the hype or should you be looking into different brands of players, and if so how should you decide what to look at?

History
I got my first MP3 player way back in the heady days of 2000, when you couldn’t find a player with more than 64MB memory, the original Napster had started a revolution, and the leading music software was Real Player. Back then there was little integration between players and software, they were difficult to use and the only player that had a decent memory size (i.e. more than one CD) was the Creative Jukebox, which was much larger than pocket size, had a short battery life, was difficult to use and you wouldn’t really show it to your friends.

Then along came the iPod and with it Apple changed everything. Yes, the iPod looked cooler. Yes, it had much more memory for the size. But for me it was the usability that stood out. The one hand wheel and fantastically simple (on the surface anyway) menu structure of the user interface are absolutely idiot proof – you know a user interface is great when you just seem to know how to use it the second you pick it up.

Apple didn’t stop with the device though. They added seamless integration with easily the best music jukebox software in iTunes. As someone who originally owned a Windows iPod prior to it being integrated with iTunes (you had to use Music Match instead), I know first hand the difference it makes to have easy to use software that easily connects to your player. Prior to this you needed an above average understanding of how to use computers to make it work, now it is childsplay.

Verdict
In my opinion there is absolutely no doubt – the iPod really is that much better than all the competition. I haven’t tried any of the very recent models and the competition are working hard to catch up, but it would take a lot of convincing for me to believe that someone has got ALL of the following great things about the iPod right:

  • User interface on the device
  • Jukebox software
  • Jukebox integration
  • Music store integration (though not in Australia yet)
  • Design

There are only two reasons not to buy an iPod : cost and use. If you are on a very tight budget then there are definitely cheaper alternatives to the iPod, but always remember that you get what you paid for and if a deal looks too good to be true then it probably is and you could end up spending more in the long run. If you have a very specific use for your MP3 player such as in the car or while exercising, there may be better alternatives out there for your iPod. But the iPod is very versatile and still works great in most situations (the one I would warn off is using the hard drive versions for exercising as they tend to skip/stop after about 20min; instead go for the iPod Mini, iPod Nano or iPod Shuffle).

And in any case, you’ll probably be the only one of your mates not to have one and could get laughed at . . .

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