How to Buy an MP3 Player

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The Specs Explained

Initially only a few MP3 players dominated the market. Currently you can choose from dozens of players, each sporting a wide variety of features. (Compare prices now.)

No matter which player you pick, be sure to test it in a retail store before you buy--even if you don't buy the model from that store. When you test a player, pay close attention to the interface you use to choose the song you want to play: Large LCD screens will let you find and organize stored music more easily than tiny ones. Also look for a player that holds the most songs in the smallest package you can afford.

MP3 Player Specs

Size and weight: Important considerations. People who plan to bring the player with them on trips or while exercising will want a smaller, lighter unit. The constant evolution of the technology means that smaller and lighter players are always around the corner. Flash memory-based players run from less than $40 all the way up to $200. These players can range from about the size of a pack of gum to a bit smaller than a deck of cards. A good flash-based player should weigh less than 2 ounces. Hard-drive-based players run from $175 to $350 and range in weight from about 0.3 ounce to just over 6 ounces.

Storage capacity (at 128 kbps): An important consideration. CD-quality MP3 music occupies about 1MB of storage space per minute, so storage capacity determines the maximum number of songs you can upload from your PC. Some flash memory devices let you put songs on removable storage cards, which can hold additional gigabytes of music. The capacity of flash-based players runs from 512KB to 8GB. Hard-drive-based players can hold from 8GB to 80GB of music.

Battery life: Somewhat important to consider. Hard-drive-based devices--especially ones that play video--chew through batteries. Flash-based players with no moving parts are relatively energy-efficient. Most devices of both types run on rechargeable batteries. Flash-based devices can support a battery life of 20 to 50 hours, according to listed specs. Hard-drive players average about 14 hours of battery life when running audio alone, their specs say; but playing video will drain the battery much faster.

Upload interface: Somewhat important to consider. The faster the player's interface is, the faster you can load music onto the device. Some players let you transfer songs via removable storage cards. Speed is less important on players with smaller storage capacity, which is why larger hard-drive devices support faster interfaces (USB 2.0 or FireWire). If you want to view video on your player, make sure that you have the fastest interface you can afford.

File format support: A minor consideration (but make sure that the player you like can deal with the file formats you adopt). Among the most common types of audio file formats are AAC, AIFF, Apple Lossless, ASF, Audible, FLAC, MP3, MPEG4, OGG, WAV, WMA, and WMA Lossless. If your player has video capability, you'll need to work with files saved in another array of formats. Some of the most common video file formats are DivX4, DivX5, H.264, Motion JPEG, MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, WMV, and XviD. And if your device can display photographs, check to confirm that it can handle the format your photos are in; the most common of these are BMP, GIF, JPG, and PNG.

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