Originally Posted by wmmk
anybody wanna copy and paste the article? i'm not subscribed to the NYT.
Shouldn't need to be, but whatever. I love how he bought a Dell laptop to rebel. That's, like, the craziest thing I've ever heard.
Singing the Praises of the Non-Nano
By WILSON ROTHMAN
Published: October 5, 2006
When Max Roosevelt wanted to rebel, he got a Dell laptop and a SanDisk Sansa MP3 player. It was not a rebellion against his parents, who had been buying Dells for years. It was a rebellion against his peers, Mac-toting iPod addicts one and all.
"I just didn't want to have the same MP3 player as everybody else, and felt that there had to be equivalent or better players out there," Mr. Roosevelt, an 18-year-old native of Chappaqua, N.Y., said recently from his freshman dorm room at the University of Maryland. "It's not that I don't like it; I just don't like the whole cult mentality towards Apple. I don't like how everyone gravitates toward it immediately."
While it may seem like he is the only one not buying Apple, the iPod's domestic market share in flash-memory players actually amounted to 68 percent during the first eight months of the year, according to the NPD Group, a research firm. In other words, nearly a third of the flash-memory MP3 players sold were made by someone else. SanDisk's products accounted for 14 percent of sales, and the remainder of the pie was shared by Creative, Samsung, iRiver and a few others.
The iPod Nano may represent an irresistible combination of enticing design, futuristic technology and sledgehammer marketing, but does Mr. Roosevelt have a point? Are there other players that are more advanced or more fun to use? An examination of four non-Nanos suggests there are praises to be sung outside of Apple's realm.
The four MP3 players all had features not found in a Nano, like larger screens, built-in FM receivers for radio listening, and microphones for instant dictation. Each can play videos, provided they are converted to an appropriate format using PC software. None of the players are compatible with Macs, the assumption being that there is no reason for them to try to compete on Apple's home court.
Each player is compatible with online music subscription services like Rhapsody, Napster and the new Urge, though none are compatible with files downloaded from the Apple iTunes Music Store.
None of the players are as slender as the Nano, though they are all small enough to fit into the front pocket of your jeans (even a tight pair). Only two, the SanDisk Sansa e200 series and, soon, the Creative Zen V Plus, promise eight-gigabyte versions for around $250, like the Nano. The other two, the iRiver Clix and the Yepp YP-T9J from Samsung, will soon have capacities of four gigabytes. When using the same earphones and the same music, each one sounds as good as the next, and all sound about as good as the Nano.
At first, similarities were more apparent than differences, but that changed after some testing. Take, for instance, those built-in radio tuners. On each device, it was easy to find a particular station (in this case, WFUV-FM, 90.7, at Fordham University). But the Sansa generated too much static along with the music, especially when held in hand.
The Zen also generated annoying static. The Yepp and the Clix maintained nearly static-free clarity, no matter where they were or how much they were waved around. Setting WFUV as a preset station was easier on some, like the Sansa and the Yepp, a bit more of a challenge on the Clix, and nearly impossible on the Zen.
Radio troubles were only the start for the spunky little Zen. The smallest, and the only one of the four that comes in a variety of colors, it could earn the cute prize when powered down. But when it is on, it is the least user-friendly. Not only did it have the smallest, grainiest screen and a text menu system that was dull compared with the animated icon menus of the other three, it also reacted slowly to the push of buttons.
Each has a different type of navigation. None are exactly like the Nano's clickwheel, though the Sansa's revolving wheel comes closest. Grooves on the raised wheel's side make it easy to scroll, but since the wheel is raised, it can be difficult to press one of the four buttons surrounding it.
The Zen is driven by a four-directional joystick for the thumb — nestled a little too far into its body to get a good grip. The Samsung uses an oldie-but-goodie: four directional buttons surrounded by a big center button. Its mystique of simplicity is spoiled a bit by four specialized buttons on the side, but over all it was the second-easiest interface.
The best design is from iRiver. The Clix is a re-release of iRiver's U10, a chunky rectangular player with no directional buttons at all. Though there are four real buttons on the side of the device, you execute nearly every command by pressing on one of the four sides of its gently tilting face.
Photo viewing quickly indicates the quality of the screen — the Yepp had the best, pixel per pixel, although the Clix provided a nice enough view on a larger screen, which earned it extra points. The Sansa was not as bright and easy to look at, and the Zen was grainier and smaller than the competition.
Video playback was the real talent show. The Sansa, the Yepp and the Zen all come with software that lets you turn most types of digital video into files you can play on them. By taking one clip — a bootleg Internet video featuring Barney the purple dinosaur rapping the verses of Tupac Shakur — and converting it for each device, it was easy to gauge the differences.
The Zen's screen is smaller and dimmer than the others. The Sansa and the Yepp have the same size screen, but the Yepp played the video brighter and more smoothly. (Smoother playback can be a result of better video-converting software.)
The Clix was a special case. It does not come with its own software, but relies on the Windows Media Player for loading and deleting songs, photos and compatible video files. What the Windows Media Player will not do is convert video files, and for that, iRiver America directs you to the Internet, to a freeware program.
The bad news is that the program is not heavy on user-friendly interface. The good news is that because it is not a licensed product, it can do things that iRiver might not officially condone, namely compressing DVD movies — even copy-protected ones — into a Clix-friendly format.
The Clix has the largest screen of the non-Nanos; it also has by far the thickest body. The resulting design may not be Apple-esque, but it offers some real power. Video playback looks wonderful, and iRiver reports that its battery, when playing video, will last up to five hours.
Though the Clix is the best of the bunch — it also includes seven animated Flash games and a demo for the Urge music service from MTV — it has mysteriously been a poor performer in sales. Among the four, it is the one that least resembles the Nano, and perhaps that is the explanation: do those who buy a non-Nano secretly want a Nano?
Max Roosevelt says no. Many people his age download or swap music, sometimes legally and oftentimes not; though he says he buys songs from the MSN Music service from Microsoft, stores like MSN and the Apple iTunes Music Store do not seem to be much of an incentive. For over a year, he used a Rio Carbon player and listened only to MP3 files that had no copy protection.
When the Carbon broke down, he learned that its manufacturer had left the business, unable to compete with Apple. Determined to steer clear of Apple, he bought his six-gigabyte Sansa last June.
"It may look a great deal like an iPod Nano, but it isn't one," he said, "which is all that I really cared about."
Last edited by Lixivial; Oct 6, 2006 at 07:50 PM.
Reason: Fixed typo