It’s easy to understand the appeal of Apple’s iPod Nano music and video player: It’s slim and simple to use and has a crisp 2-inch LCD screen.
But what if you want a player that costs less, includes features like an FM radio or voice recorder, and lets you drag and drop songs from your computer desktop instead of going through Apple’s iTunes software? I tried out some options and found three to highlight. All include a bevy of features and support multiple file types including MP3 and Windows Media (WMA) tunes, MPEG4 videos and JPEG photos.
Iriver Lplayer: Owing to its diminutive hotness and strong performance across the board, iriver’s Lplayer ($100-$130) was my favorite. The sleek little device comes with 4 or 8 gigabytes of flash memory storage. Its face consists solely of a 2-inch screen whose sides can be pressed to control the device. The controls were a little confusing, as I assumed clicking the middle of the screen would serve as an “enter” or “play” button (it doesn’t). But once I got used to it, I liked the simplicity. My music sounded pretty good on the Lplayer, and while I wouldn’t want to read a novel on the tiny screen, its support for files in the “TXT” text format make it a good place to keep simple notes. Though this device was the fattest of the bunch, being a bit larger than a Zippo lighter meant it was also the easiest to hold. Its battery can handle 12 hours of music playback (3½ hours of video playback) — still far less than the up to 24 hours of audio (or five hours of video) that the Nano boasts.
Sansa Fuze: Of the mini-multimedia players I tested, the Sansa Fuze ($80-$130) looks most like the current-generation Nano. The Fuze’s screen was plenty bright, but images did not look crisp and were plagued by what looked like slim vertical lines across the face. The Fuze got points for its more traditional set of controls and rubbery-feeling clickwheel, which made it easier to operate than the others. The Fuze also scores with its microSD slot that lets users expand the player’s flash memory capacity (included memory ranges from 2 to 8 gigabytes). Those looking for capacity at a low price will note the 8-gigabyte Fuze costs less than the 4-gigabyte Nano, which costs $149. Also, the player is rated for up to 24 hours of music playback (or five hours of video playback), which is right up there with its body double.
Samsung YP-S3: With its long, slender body and glowing, touch-sensitive LED controls, Samsung’s S3 (pictured left, $100, due out by early fall) looks oddly like the top half of a flip phone. Despite that, the S3 — available with 4 gigabytes in the U.S., though I tested a 2-gigabyte version — proved to be pretty solid. Most notable is the crisp, 1.8-inch LCD that is surprisingly good for watching videos. Listening to music was simple, with lots of equalization options that were easier to manipulate than on other players. Another feature was the inclusion of several games, with more set to be available for free. The device’s playback time is rated as essentially comparable to the Nano, with 25 hours of audio, four hours of video.