IPod Mini Killers Arrive

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At a Glance

For every new digital audio player that comes along, an inevitable question arises: Is it better than Apple's IPod? Three 5GB contenders take aim at the IPod Mini. Could one of these players loosen the Mini's market stranglehold?

Dell of a Device

Dell's Pocket DJ.
Dell's Pocket DJ.

Put a silver IPod Mini beside Dell's Pocket DJ, and except for the buttons, you would have an easier time telling the Olsen twins apart (pre-hair-dye job). The Dell features nearly the same dimensions and polished metal case as its rival. Switch it on, and the Now Playing screen displays the same font and layout as on the Mini.

Fortunately, the one area where Dell chose not to imitate Apple was in the pricing of its player. At $199, the Pocket DJ packs a full extra gigabyte of storage space for $50 less than the Mini. Dell also includes the most intuitive music management program I've used--Musicmatch 9--and the DJ's use of a scroll dial as its primary control (similar to the scroll wheel on a mouse) allows for speedy, simple navigation. The dedicated Home and Back buttons also come in handy.

Gym rats will wish the Dell came with an armband. In addition, it has no FM tuner or recording capabilities. Despite those drawbacks, though, Dell's Pocket DJ is a fine digital music player that makes a whole lot of fiscal sense.

GoVideo Is No Go

GoVideo's 5GB entry disappoints for now.
GoVideo's 5GB entry disappoints for now.
GoVideo's new MP3 player, the Rave-MP ARC 5, looks like a winner. Light, compact, and with a comfortable armband, the $250 ARC has the ergonomics down pat. The FM tuner gets good reception and good battery life, and you can record voice notes.

But the preproduction ARC I tested has hard-to-ignore weaknesses. The player turns on slowly--I found myself hitting the On button repeatedly and checking the lock switch, just to make sure I'd actually turned it on. Also, browsing for a new song interrupts playback of the current track. This violates my cardinal rule for any digital audio player: To quote Steve Miller, "Keep on a-rockin' me, baby."

But the biggest problem with the ARC is poor sound quality. The distortion I heard even at midrange volume got unbearable at the higher volumes required on a loud bus or a treadmill. Better headphones did not fix the problem. At press time GoVideo said it was planning to release a firmware update to address the issue. Look for an update and a final product rating at www.digital-world.com.

Flying Virgin First Class

Virgin's 5GB player serves up a little humor with your music.
Virgin's 5GB player serves up a little humor with your music.

Just think of the $249 Virgin Player 5GB as the Monty Python of digital audio devices. Turn it on for the first time, and it demonstrates basic controls with cheeky British humor. Play the Name That Tune quiz, and the player cheers correct answers with comments like "Brilliant!" and "Friggin' awesome!"

Controls (including Home and Back buttons) are intuitive, and the unit has 21 different equalizer settings, dual headphone jacks so you can share music with a friend, and an FM radio with good reception. Plus, the Virgin DJ feature spins songs based on an assortment of DJ themes--listen only to tracks you just loaded, forgotten tunes unplayed for ages, and so on.

Currently, the player works only with Windows Media Player 10. Virgin says that it has plans to provide its own music management software.

Drawbacks include small buttons, short (8-hour) battery life, no armband, and the inability to create playlists on the device. But personality, FM radio, and details that music lovers care about make this player just plain awesome.

If you're a coupon-clipping music lover, the Dell will not disappoint. If having a radio is important to you, the Virgin is a great option for a little more money than the Dell. Don't get me wrong, I still like the IPod Mini. But the introduction of these players means that the Mini isn't the only game in town anymore.

MP3 Jukebox Heroes

All of these players hold 5GB of digital audio and connect to your PC via USB 2.0. Dell's Pocket DJ edges out the Virgin Player 5GB for our DW Choice Award--at $199 it can't be beat.

Audio Player

Price

Software

Battery Life1

Weight

DW verdict

Dell Pocket DJ
()

$199 Musicmatch 9 10 hours 4.4 ounces Less expensive than the IPod Mini, and offers 1GB more storage.

Virgin Player 5GB
()

$249 Windows Media Player 10 8 hours 3.1 ounces Functional and fun (with a penchant for Monty Python-style humor), and includes a nice little FM radio.

GoVideo Rave-MP ARC 5
Preproduction model; not rated

$250 Windows Media Player 9 15 hours 2.8 ounces Poor sound quality and other annoyances are nothing to rave about.

1Vendor estimated.

This story, "IPod Mini Killers Arrive" was originally published by PCWorld.

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