How to Buy an MP3 Player

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MP3 Player Shopping Tips

Choosing the right MP3 player isn't that difficult, but one player does not fit all. People will want different things from their players.

Think about how you'll use the player. Joggers will almost certainly want a lightweight, flash-memory-based device, since hard drives don't react well to the shock of bouncing around all the time; audio aficionados who want lots of music at their fingertips should keep their eyes on the highest-capacity hard-drive models. And if you want to view video or photos on the device, the quality of the screen is an even more critical consideration.

Try your favorite before taking it home. We can't stress this enough. Make sure you can use the on-screen display to navigate to a specific song, and ask a clerk to show you how to transfer music to the device, if possible. Always bring your own set of headphones to listen to the sound quality of each unit you're interested in.

Get the largest-capacity device you can afford. Whether you buy a flash- or hard drive-based MP3 player, make sure to choose a model with the largest storage capacity possible. Even if you don't think you'll need it now, you will probably be happy to have it later.

Pay close attention to the user interface. Does the player's menu system make sense to you, and is the interface easy to use? If you can't find the songs, artists, or albums you want to play quickly and easily, keep looking.

Mind your power options. Although some flash-based portable players use replaceable alkaline batteries, most hard drive-based units feature a built-in rechargeable battery that cannot be easily removed. While these devices can keep going for tens of hours, if you're not going to be somewhere near a power outlet or a computer with a USB port, you might find yourself out of juice with no way to charge the player.

Look for wide file format support. All players should support the MP3 format; but if you prefer WMA, AAC, or Ogg Vorbis, make sure your player of choice can handle the files.

Consider a player with an FM tuner. This feature isn't essential, but it's nice to be able to listen to the radio--especially if you grow tired of your recorded music.

Do you need a carrying case? Some players come with a small carrying case; others don't. The more expensive and more fragile the player (hard-drive devices are the most delicate), the more likely you'll want a custom-fitted case to protect it. Even if the drive mechanism isn't delicate, you should take into account how upset you would be if your new possession were to get scratched.

Shop around, online and offline. MP3 players are widely available in almost every consumer electronics outlet, and their prices fluctuate. You can check prices from a variety of sources before you buy.

This story, "How to Buy an MP3 Player " was originally published by PCWorld.

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