If you like to carry around a small library of music, then a flash-based MP3 player just isn't going to do it for you. You're going to need something with significantly more storage capacity. Microdrive players, like the contenders lined up below, are smaller than full-blown hard disk players, but store many more songs than a flash player. Most of these players store around 1,000 songs. That's enough music to keep you going for weeks on the road.
While they're theoretically more susceptible to shocks, in our experience Microdrives are no more vulnerable than flash players. You'd have to drop one of these things pretty hard to cause the drive heads to skip across the platter.
Some music lovers will stumble towards the iPod like zombies and take it to the cash desk of the Apple store clasped in rigor mortised hands. Others might like to sample the less hypnotic offerings from iRiver, Samsung and Zen, who all make convincing efforts to upstage the big white. Unfortunately, only the iPod is compatible with Apple's iTunes music store; other players require you to delve into the world of online music providers like Napster. It's worth bearing in mind that the MP3 player itself is only half of the experience you'll have with these devices. It's important to check that the bundled software is easy to use. It's no surprise that Apple wins outright in this area with the inclusion of iTunes, but other manufacturers may well catch up soon.