01:29 PM

Review: 8 iPod Alternatives

iPods are the market leaders in media players today -- but are they necessarily better than their competitors? We look at 8 iPod alternatives and decide whether you should go Apple or not.

The iPod Shuffle is aimed at the more active and cost-conscious consumer. With a small design that allows you to clip it onto your clothing, the Shuffle is a nice player to bring along on a jog. But without a screen, the Shuffle is sometimes unwieldy and, for anyone who wants to skip to a certain song, may not be the best choice.

iRiver S10
When you first open the box, you immediately think to yourself: "This is it?" The iRiver S10 is so small, I couldn’t help but think it would easily get lost in my pocket or on my cluttered desk. But it’s that small design that not only makes this player unique, but a worthy competitor to the iPod Shuffle as well.

iRiver S10

Besides its size, iRiver’s decision to place an OLED display on the face of the player is a welcome addition. The screen is bright and maneuvering through the menu is simple. Similar to the iRiver Clix, the S10’s faceplate is clickable and moves up, down, left and right. These movements not only control the menu, but it makes navigating the S10’s menu easy.

If you’re not in the mood for your songs, the S10 also offers an FM tuner. And if you really like the station, the player also supports presets so you won’t have to scan your way through the FM band again. However, small often means reception problems -- if you decide to put it in your pocket, the crackling of the radio will become an annoyance in no time.

Product Info
iRiver S10
Price: $170 (2GB)

Although the S10 is the best iPod Shuffle alternative, it doesn’t quite compare to its main competitor. The S10 will play Ogg, WMA, MP3 and ASF files, but does not support DRM-protected music, so if you want to dump some songs you purchased off of a music store onto the player, you will need to burn them to a disc, and rip them back onto your computer in MP3. Additionally, the S10 does not offer the same seamless experience as the iPod, and I sometimes found it frustrating to sync the player through its headphone jack (there is no USB connectivity). Even worse, if you are a Mac owner, you might as well move along -- the S10 does not support Mac OS X.

All in all, the iRiver S10 is a fine player that offers better sound quality than the iPod Shuffle, but still can’t match the end-to-end functionality of its main competitor. And for what the player offers, nothing can justify the steep price: $170 for 2GB.

RCA Opal
The fact that the RCA Opal (also known as the RCA m4002) is light and thin is a nice feature, but unfortunately, it is one of the player’s few redeeming qualities.

RCA Opal

The design of the Opal is simply awful. With awkward blue marks on the front and sideways navigation buttons, I couldn’t help but wonder what RCA was thinking when they released this player. Not only is it difficult to get your thumb in the right place when you want to click the bottom and top of the navigation circle, the buttons are small and lack any significant tactile response.

Even worse, the middle button -- which controls the menu and song selection -- is too small for the average hand, and trying to click it will sometimes cause you to click on the outside circle.

Product Info
RCA Opal
Price: $70 (2GB)
The Opal’s menu system is wonky, and although it supports video playback, the screen is so small, watching videos was more a nuisance than anything else.

Sound quality was average at best. Bass levels were where they should be, but more complex songs (like a classical piece) sounded tinny and hollow.

The Opal also includes digital voice and line-in recording, which is a nice addition to a 2GB player that, at $70, is priced less than most.

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