Apple iPod Nano review
Flash MP3 players
Enjoy your music on the move: we try out five of the best flash-based MP3 players on the market
With the capacity of flash-based MP3 players now up to 8GB, they’re no longer the lesser cousin of hard disk models. In fact, with their diminutive size and absence of moving parts, flash-based players arguably represent the better deal. With no hard disk to jog, they’re ideal for exercise, and as flash memory requires little power in operation, battery life is most often counted in tens of hours.
The revamped Apple iPod nano has a solid aluminium shell, and the familiar scroll dial remains faster and more flexible than anything else here. As ever, you’re restricted to using iTunes to buy or transfer tracks, and you’ll have to convert unprotected WMA files to AAC or MP3. But even with this drawback, it’s impossible not to love the nano. It’s now just 6.5mm thick and weighs 40g, yet it feels solid in your hand, it lasts for 25 hours and the range of available cases and accessories is seemingly endless. The 8GB and 4GB models offer decent value, but avoid the £80 2GB version.
The Netac MuStik A200 costs £3 less for 2GB (its biggest capacity), but it lacks the style and polish that makes the nano so appealing. The playback controls are awkwardly positioned on the top and bottom rather than the front. But it has a major strength no other can boast: as well as an FM radio receiver, it has a built-in FM transmitter to send music directly to your car stereo. Netac even bundles an in-car charger should the eight-hour battery life prove too short. We wouldn’t recommend the A200 if you’re just looking for an MP3 player, but if you drive a lot this makes it a different proposition entirely, and both the 1GB or 2GB models offer good value.
Next to the MuStick, the Samsung YP-K5 appears to offer contrastingly poor value, costing more for 1GB than most do for 2GB. It might be 18mm thick, but this is to house the slide-out 750mW speakers. With several EQ presets, the K5 beats most laptops for sound. It will play WMA DRM tracks and the alarm clock can wake you up with a particular track or FM radio station. The touch-sensitive controls are a little fiddly and there’s no scroll pad or wheel, but finding tracks is simple thanks to the bright 1.7in screen. Even with the speakers on it will last six hours, and five times that when using the decent headphones. If you need built-in speakers, it’s worth the money.
The Creative Zen V Plus is the smallest challenger on test – a third shorter than the nano but twice as thick. This is a bonus when slipping it in a pocket, but restricts ease of use. Navigation is via a small joystick, similar to those found on mobile phones, which is fine for basic tasks but lacks speed for large lists.
But onto this minute device is squeezed a 1.5in colour display that handles photos and video. Protected WMA files are supported, and there’s also an FM radio and a line-in mini-jack for recording, plus a bundled microphone. The battery life of 15 hours (for music) falls behind the best, but the prices for all capacities are competitive.
In terms of value, though, nothing can compete with the SanDisk Sansa e200 series. It’s unique in offering 6GB, and provides it for less than most 4GB models. The 4GB and 2GB versions are good value, plus an 8GB model is now available. While its mechanical scrollwheel is clunky compared to the iPod, it’s the quickest way to navigate a large library, and one that supports WMA DRM tracks, among others. The 1.8in TFT is impressive, as is the MicroSD card slot on the side. 20 hours of music playback is decent and the e200 is stylish, does more than a nano (it plays video and has a built-in mic for voice recording), yet costs significantly less for the privilege.