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.

A bump up in design and capacity over the Shuffle, the iPod Nano is designed for the person who doesn’t care about video, and wants a nice screen but a slender design. With capacities of 2 GB to 8GB and prices ranging from $149 to $249, the following players have one tough competitor.

Creative Zen V Plus
The first thing that struck me about the Creative Zen V Plus was its vivid OLED display. For such a small screen, the viewing angle is superb and choosing a song in the dark is made even easier with the light-up buttons to the right of the navigation joystick. Much like its competitors, the player is loaded with useful extras like video playback, voice recording, and FM radio, but its small navigation joystick is difficult to use, and to be honest, it just seems cheap.

Creative Zen V Plus

Although the company was probably going for the clean look, it would have been nice to see more buttons on the face instead of the sides, as this set-up made it far more difficult to navigate the player than it should have been.

Product Info
Creative Zen V Plus
Creative Technology, Ltd.
Price: $79 (1GB), $100 (2GB), $134 (4GB), $188 (8GB)

This difficulty was increased by the poor design of the navigation joystick. Although it is obviously meant to add character and uniqueness to the design, I found it frustrating until I finally got the hang of using it (a few hours later). Even when I finally got it down, there were still times when I couldn't find my way through the menu; pushing in the joystick sometimes made me pick the wrong song. However, that said, with some modifications, the joystick could really become the menu navigator of choice.

The Creative Zen V plus offered superior sound quality. My songs played exceptionally well, and some parts that were more difficult to hear on other players were crystal clear.

The Zen V Plus is a nice player that offers a bundle of features, but it doesn't quite top its Apple competitor.

iRiver Clix
Offering a slick and stylish design with great functionality, the Clix is one of the best music players I have ever used.

iRiver Clix

Much like the S10, the Clix uses the same intuitive interface and features a clickable face that, once I got used to it, actually became my preferred way of working through the menu. Sound from the FM radio is superb and the included voice recorder turned out to be quite handy when I had to remember quick thoughts. And besides its support of Ogg files as well as subscription content (I suggest Urge for this player -- it is optimized to work with the Clix device), the player boasts SRS WoW technology, an EQ setting that significantly enhances audio fidelity (you can also use your own customized EQ setting). In short, the Clix sounds great.

Product Info
iRiver Clix
iriver America
Price: $200 (4GB)

The Active-Matrix LED screen was crystal clear, and did justice to both album art and MPEG-4 video. I found few imperfections during video playback, and once I got past the small screen, it was actually enjoyable to watch home movies (converted into MPEG-4). Getting video onto the device was the only issue I had -- as of this writing, there were no directions in the manual that described exactly how to do it. However, the iRiver site offers a useful tool called iRiviter that converts the files and helps get the video onto the player.

The device gives you the option of changing the background to one of the seven pre-set color schemes that will either stay the same each day, or cycle through the days of the week. You can also load some JPEG images onto the device and use those as the background.

Priced comparably to the iPod, the iRiver Clix is a must-see for anyone who wants the best functionality and quality at a price that won’t empty the wallet. Simply put, the iRiver Clix is one of the best music players I have ever used.

Sandisk Sansa Connect
The Sansa Connect has quite a reputation to live up to among MP3 players. Unfortunately, it didn't quite perform the way I had hoped. Although the Wi-Fi wireless capability is a nice addition that helps set the player apart (and will likely usher in a new wave of players offering the same capability), using the Wi-Fi was more of a pain than useful.

Sandisk Sansa Connect

The Sansa Connect only works with a DHCP router, which means a static IP setup will not work with the player. Unfortunately, Sandisk did not include a menu option to input a specific IP address -- in order to get it to work, you need to set your router up to accept dynamic IP addresses or (if it doesn't have that option) go buy yourself a new router.

And as this was being written, Sandisk was working on a solution to fix a pretty significant issue: the player currently cannot get past the "Terms and Conditions" page you find on a number of hotel and public hotspots.

But wireless is not the only feature the Sansa Connect offers. The menu system is great and easily navigable, and its compatibility with Yahoo! Music makes adding media to the device a cinch. The player even includes an external speaker and access to free Internet radio via its wireless connection. Simply navigate your way over to the Internet radio menu option, input your Yahoo! ID and username, and within seconds you have access to all of LaunchCast’s Internet radio stations for free.

Product Info
Sandisk Sansa Connect
SanDisk Corp.
Price: $250 (4GB)
If that’s not enough, the menu displays a Photo heading that not only allows you to view pictures stored on the device, but, by clicking the Flickr option, you can connect wirelessly to the Flickr homepage, can upload and view photos, and have access to Flickr’s photos of the day.

Although the wireless functionality is a bit of a disappointment, the Sansa Connect boasts a great menu and impressive sound -- in other words, it's a fine alternative to any iPod. Let’s just hope the issues mentioned above will be corrected in the next generation.

Sandisk Sansa e280
Although it doesn’t quite stack up to the iRiver Clix, the Sansa e280 is a great player that offers rich functionality and a host of features that make using this player a rewarding experience.

Sandisk Sansa e280

The e280’s sound quality is simply superb. Even with the included low-quality earbuds (that became a bit uncomfortable after prolonged use), the e280 performed above my expectations, and competed admirably with the Clix. The tactile navigation wheel made it easy to maneuver through the menu system, and the blue light that illuminates the wheel is a nice touch. However, with such a big wheel, the buttons surrounding it seemed too small and were difficult to press. I sometimes found myself having to hit the play button several times to get a song to start.

Product Info
Sandisk Sansa e280
SanDisk Corp.
Price: $200 (8GB)

The Sansa e280 offers a number of features that help differentiate it from the iPod. Not only does the player boast admirable video playback, the e280’s sound quality is top-notch. The menu system is much friendlier than the iPod menu for the novice user, and the inclusion of a lighted scroll wheel is a must-have feature the iPod is lacking.

Unfortunately, issues with the buttons and the inability to use the player's microSD slot for video or photos means this player can't quite rise above the best in its category.

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