MP3 Players: Beyond the iPod

MP3 Players: Beyond the iPod

Did you know the iconic iPod from Apple ships with permanently sealed batteries inside the casing that you are not supposed to replace yourself? The battery lasts for 300-400 charges if you are careful, and far less if you are not.

In the US, Apple offers a battery replacement for $59, plus $6.95 for shipping. That’s $65.95 for just a battery replacement. You must also back up your collection of music and data before taking the device for replacement, and some conditions may apply. Read the fine print on Apple’s policy at

Sensing an opportunity worldwide, third-party kits are also available that include battery and instructions. Read the FAQs and find alternatives at

Apple has some justifiable reasons for this approach, and a few iPod rivals also have the same policy. Apple continues to dominate the market with more than 92% market share and a high level of customer-satisfaction, as cited at

Ring in the new

However, even the iPhone’s battery is non-user replaceable and this has resulted in suits against Apple, especially as the iPhone is a battery guzzler. More info here:

Just a week ago, Apple unveiled a new line-up of iPods with a newer iPhone that sports more memory and a lower price tag. For those who want the iPhone without the phone, there’s the new iTouch, with a touch-screen interface that mimics the iPhone. Want more? You can choose from hundreds of other competing MP3 player models. More than a hundred choices exist in just the flash memory-based category, with anything from 512MB to 16GB of storage space. You will find several that use ordinary, rechargeable AA or AAA batteries tucked beneath a convenient panel.

Much to everyone’s relief, it is the ordinary cellphone that will supplant the MP3 player in your pocket and, hence, Apple’s perfect timing in launching the iPhone that also doubles up as the next iPod.

Choices galore

Another interesting trend is the bonus MP3 player controls found on a number of USB thumb drives and portable hard disks. The LaCie SilverScreen portable external hard-disk goes so far as to offer video playback, complete with a remote control.

Finally, a growing number of consumer home stereo systems and home theatre systems directly support various MP3 media and device plug-ins. Hardware vendors are slapping MP3 playback on new, convergent devices, such as GPS-receivers, digital cameras and even wristwatches, giving a whole new meaning to “time-pass". Pretty much any device that runs on batteries and fits into your pocket will have MP3-support eventually. So, in all these tectonic movements, what’s the future of the classic MP3 player?

If you want music on the go, safely skip flash memory-based units and get yourself an MP3-savvy cellphone. That will make for one device less to carry. For your larger music collection and data, a hard disk-based classic player makes perfect sense. Here is where the real action begins. The Cowon X5 is a palm-sized device with better sound quality than the iPod, delivering the full spectrum of audible sound without perceived distortions.

Even more impressive, it digitally regenerates subtle nuances of sounds lost in MP3 conversion by using a technology called BBE, which further adds brilliance to the playback. As opposed to the iPod, several rivals support less restrictive file formats such as ogg and flac. Ogg is a patent-free format considered significantly superior to MP3. The Cowon is truly cross-platform as it works seamlessly with Mac, Windows and Linux. Support from Apple for Linux has especially been a sore point for iPod users given the exponential growth of this OS.

Many players offer built-in FM radio tuners, with the highly convenient option of directly recording radio broadcasts. For technophobes, almost all leading iPod rivals, such as from Creative, offer a Line-In jack enabling users to convert their audio tapes and even vinyl records directly to digital files without using a computer. The Cowon is stated to give playback for up to 35 hours on a full recharge, though actual times may vary, and can transfer images directly from a growing range of compatible digital cameras.

Microsoft’s disappointing Zune player comes with limited support for Wi-Fi, but you can wirelessly share music and files between Zunes.

Sound and lightly

The MP3 player is evolving into the MP4 player. The MP4 is a file format for video that can compress large files rather efficiently, and also supports the wildly popular DivX video file format. Thus, you can store your regular collection of music, but you can also shunt in a few hours of near-broadcast quality video into these palm-sized devices.

Such MP3 players are more appropriately called Personal Video Players, or PVPs or PMPs, where “M" stands for Media. Another common acronym is DMP, where “D" stands for Digital. A few PVPs can record video directly from any available video source, including DVDs and satellite television, and almost all allow you to connect to television sets so you may comfortably view an entire film if you wish.

Archos is one of the most popular PVPs in the market today, already with fifth generation models:

PVPs are turning over a new leaf already, with support for ebooks, so you can carry an entire book or even a bookshelf digitally on your device, and read it off the built-in screen while listening to your favourite music or radio channel. Plug into the growing excitement and buzz around PVPs at

After you scroll through the front page, click on the monthly archives to see the explosion and rapid mutation of PVPs that occurs week after week, in an overwhelming blizzard of models. As you absorb the evolving streams of digital consciousness from these little boxes in your palm, you may just end up believing like Forrest Gump: “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get."

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