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What's in your pocket?

An expert's guide to the hottest MP3 players this summer 


By Richard Menta


Looking for an MP3 player? Are you looking beyond the media hype of iPods and checking out some other units? 


I doubt if any of these units will be iPod killers - that silly term that marketing folks love to use - but they do offer a lot of features not yet found on an iPod.


There may be no such thing as an iPod killer, but together these players can slowly chip away at Apple's market share.


That's making the assumption that the iPod's ability to sell three out of every four players is not sustainable.



The NEC VoTol


Short for a moderately pretentious moniker they label Visual On-demand Tool of Life, is modestly notable for the fact that an English to Japanese translator is packaged into the thing.


A PMP unit, the VoTol is capable of handling MPEG 2 and 4 video and DivX. On the audio side, the VoTol adds Ogg Vorbis and ACC (not Apple's proprietary version, but you probably already knew that) to the commonly used MP3 and WMA formats.


The NEC VoTol holds 30GB in a 1.8" drive, has an SD port for added memory and transfers, and sports a 2.7-inch 320 x 240 LCD.


And that water graphic on the screen shot? It's a fancy battery level indicator (points for flair). The VoTol shipped last March for $340.






Samsung YP-U2

As we get closer to summer another Samsung DAP has arrived. Samsung's persistance clearly sends a message that the iPod may be king now, but we'll chip away year after year.

Of course, the iPod had to go ahead and gain even more market share the last six months, so Samsung has to reverse that trend first.

But hey, it was Samsung who designed and built Creative's first MP3 player, the original Nomad, in 1999 so these guys know what they are doing.

So let's get to the details. The Samsung YP-U2X is a 512MB player with a 4-line LCD display, voice recording, FM tuner, and a reported 13 hour bateery life.

The unit measures 24.4 x 87.6 x 12.6mm and handles WMA / ASF / WAV audio along with MP3.

The unit is already available through Best Buy's site for a very reasonable $70. The 1GB U2Z version of this portable and the 2GB U2Q are expected to hit US shores before early summer.

Oregon Scientific MP121 Measures BMI


In the bustling world of MP3 players, where your choices are the iPod v. everything else, Oregon Scientific has focused on the active set as its niche audience.


The company continues the trend with its new MP121, a unit that is waterproof, shockproof, and will measure how many footsteps you take on that hike through the Columbia River Gorge, courtesy of a built-in pedometer.


The features offered by the pedometer include target setting (step, calories, distance) distance calculator, calorie counter and body mass index (BMI) calculator. The pedometer is the most unique feature in this 1GB unit, whose earbuds are even waterproof.


That doesn't mean you should be doing pool laps with this player like the SwiMP3, but if cought in a heavy rain while visiting Klammath Falls, there is no need to tuck it away in your jacket.


The MP121 measure in at 2.72" x 2.07" x .83" and retails for $179 for the 1GB unit. A 512MB unit is also available for $139.



Kiss MP3 Player


Ok this one is a little cutesy, but it will probably score huge points with your 10 year old daughter. That's assuming you aren't afraid of making your young child deaf with one of these things, but I suspect big girls will like it too.


It is a nice heart-shaped portable for that loved one who already has a penchant for heart-shaped baubles around their necks.


It's sweet and it comes with up to 1GB of memory. Yes, nothing says romance like small electronics from your lover.


The Kiss MP3 player is available in red, white, and silver, which appears to be the only feature besides the player's shape. There's no price on the Kiss MP3 yet, but expect it to hit English-speaking countries by summer simply because the word kiss is, well, in English.



Archos 104


This Archos 104 comes with 4GB of hard drive storage, yet despite the use of non-flash technology it manages a profile similar to the iPod nano. The difference is that the Archos 104 is a quarter of an inch thicker and an ounce heavier.


That's pretty good, particularly since flash memory supplies are tight these days keeping costs up. The reward is that the Archos 104 will set back the shopper just $149, a hundred bucks less than the similarly endowed iPod nano.


Our experiences with Archos products have always been excellent, so it is well worth considering.


The Archos 104 sports a 1.5 inch OLED display and handles PlaysForSure media for you Napster/Rhapsody users. The player ships in May.



Tomy Bear MP3


Everybody is getting into the MP3 business, including toy manufacturers. Hearing risks aside, I guess they see a viable niche market targeting your kids.


Yes, it is cutesy this digital music player from Tomy. It has to be as it aims for are those at the cusp of school age. Now your little tikes can listen to music like the big kids and feel all grown up and the like.


Actually, I can see this tiny device becoming popular among early teenage girls, though even there I am not so, as many young teens are already waiting for their mobile phone contracts to expire so they can upgrade to a more feature-laden phone.


So what are the basics for Tomy Bear?


It is a 128MB portable, quite modest in today's iPod nano times, but still enough to cause the hearing damage audiologists fear earphones are causing. The Tomy bear MP3 plays music in both MP3 and WMA, gets 8 hours to a battery, and weighs in at 1.8 oz. Dimensions are 3.7" x 2.5" x 1.6".





Toshiba Gigabeat S


The Gigabeat S is a Windows Portable Media Center unit that comes with 30GB (model S30) and 60GB (model S60V) capacity.


The unit sports a 2.4" QVGA color screen, an FM tuner, and supports MP3 as well as the latest versions of Microsoft's DRM-laden audio and video codecs.


The Gigabeat S claims a 20 hour battery time for audio and a 5 hour duration for video. The Toshiba can be hooked up to a Tivo or an XBox 360 for those so inclined.


The Toshiba Gigabeat S30 weighs in at 4.4 ounces . The Gigabeat S60V is slightly larger. The Gibabeat S also comes in three colors; white, red and black


The Gigabeat caused a bit of a stir with the digerati when it's introduced  last January. The player will become available by the end of May.



Samsung SBH-300 Bluetooth


Rumors that Apple is planning to release a bluetooth iPod sometime in the near future have been flying around for several months now.


The problem with Apple rumors is that since there are so many of them it is hard to validate the accurate ones against the myriad that are just acts of wishful thinking by fans.


Sometimes, though, you can look to what the competition is producing to get a hint a what technology is viable now and therefore a compelling bet for Apple.


The Samsung SBH-300 is a DAP with Bluetooth for wireless headphone activity. The SBH-300 is a 2GB flash unit that sports a 262k color OLED LCD display, voice recording, FM tuner, and A2DP stereo Bluetooth, which allows the unit to function with Samsung's Anycall SBH-100 earphones.


Samsung also says that the unit can function as a Bluetooth stereo headset for handling calls linked to Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones.





Sandisk Sansa e200 Series

SanDisk has now released its 200 series players. Announced in January, these iPod nano competitors offer up to 6GB of memory, trumping the nano's 4GB top end.

The unit's 3.5" x 1.7" x 0.5" dimensions compares well with the iPod nano's 3.5 x 1.6 x 0.27 figure, though the Sansa is twice as thick.

The e200 series offers some compelling features. This includes a removable battery - a must as we found out recently - built in voice recording, an FM tuner and a MicroSD slot to expand the memory further.

The unit also has photo and video playback capability, the latter feature being a curious addition for the small 1.8-inch TFT display.

The SanDisk e200 line include the 2GB Sansa e250 for $199, the 4GB Sansa e260 at $249 and finally the 6GB Sansa e270 at $299.

Dada Code M

Normally we don't throw wearable DAP players on this list for the same reason we rarely include mobile phones, there are just too many such items out there so we try to stay focused. Naturally some devices we simply can't resist.

In this case it's a sneaker and yes, those are built in speakers sewn into the side that will pump your latest theme song for all to hear as you walk down the boulevard.

Think Old School Hip-Hop and Rapper's Delight. You too can strut to the sounds of your own theme music.

The Code M can either play music through the speakers or to a wireless headphone. Dada claims a 30 foot radius for the wireless, which means friends with wireless headphones can groove to your tunes too!

Wow, this is making me giddy. If that is not enough the shiny silver surface just screams pay attention to me. Hey, it's a safety thing! You want speeding cars and airplanes to be able to see you at night, don't cha?

I am totally entertained by this thing. Just toss a mobile caller into it and you have Maxwell Smart's shoe phone. Don't laugh, the wireless headset can be programmed to take calls from your existing cell phone, so the folks at Dada thought about this.

The Dada Code M loads tunes via the USB port (that cable in the photo), which also recharges the device/footwear.

The controls are in the tongue of the shoe and Dada claims the Code M will play 6 hours on a single charge. The company says the Code M holds 100 songs, which probably means it holds a very skimpy 256K of memory.




With thanks to MP3newswire.net, where this piece was first published.


Please send comments about this review to comments@thenewblackmagazine.com









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