So you've decided you want a skip-free, flash-based MP3 player instead of a hard disk-based device. Good decision -- but how do you choose between the hundreds on the market? The iPod nano is rightfully well-regarded, but there are plenty of options out there if you don't want to buy into the iTunes ecosystem, and many of them have features the nano lacks.
The most important question to ask yourself is, "What am I going to do with my player?" Are you interested in video playback? Are you more interested in having a player that'll play music for dozens of hours or would you rather have a more feature-packed device? Are you after something diminutive and inconspicuous? These questions are important, because with so many players on the market, there's definitely one out there specifically suited to your needs.
Battery life is often the most important feature when people choose an MP3 player. Smaller screens require less power and OLED screens consume even less, because they're not backlit.
Video playback is becoming a more common feature in flash players too, but it comes at a cost: video files take up a lot more space in the player's memory and they get through three or four times as much battery life. If the most important feature for you is video playback, you'd probably be better off with a hard-disk player.
If you're only interested in short clips though, flash players are getting increasingly more suitable, but you'll need to be aware that storing relatively large video files will inhibit the amount of music you can store and enjoy.
Flash-based players are generally much smaller and lighter than hard-disk players. But is it possible to be too small? Remember the smaller a player gets, the more tricky it can be to operate. The position of commonly used controls needs to be considered, not to mention that if your fingers are made of anything more than just the bones you may find fiddly buttons a nightmare.
Here are some of the best models we've seen recently:
Sony's A808 features incredible battery life and fantastic-quality video playback, but there's no FM radio. It's super-stylish and devilishly enjoyable to use, but the SonicStage PC software is difficult to use and may not be suitable for beginners. There's also no support for the open-source OGG music format.
Samsung's YP-T9 is another video-playing flash player, but this certainly isn't its killer feature. We liked its simple and elegant design and its easy-to-use keypad. It's got good battery life, though not quite as long as Sony's A808, but it has simple PC software and supports OGG-format music. It also has an FM radio.
Sony's NW-S703F is a slim MP3 player that features noise-cancelling technology, but you have to use the bundled headphones. The player boasts great battery life and top-notch sound quality, but there's no video playback, the same unintuitive SonicStage software and fiddly controls. But did we mention it has noise-cancelling technology?
The iRiver Clix is larger than other flash-based players, but the screen is huge so it's great for video playback. Battery life is good, though not quite up to Sony's figure, and the screen will get mucky from fingerprints. But it's packed to the gills with cool features and is incredible value for money.