Apple's recently announced iPod mini may be getting plenty of attention, but it's not the only new digital audio player making a splash. Here's a look at what's on offer.
Many of Apple's rivals on the PC side used January's Consumer Electronics Show to announce music players with features and price tags similar to the Apple iPod mini's. Archos, Creative Labs, Philips, RCA, Rio Audio, Sony, Aiwa, and Samsung are among the companies touting new and recently released digital audio players.
If a flash memory MP3 player just doesn't hold enough music for you, but a 20GB to 60GB jukebox feels too heavy, you're in luck. 4GB versions of Creative's MuVo2 and Rio's Nitrus players are on the way, upping capacity from the 1.5GB of earlier models.
You can already buy Creative's product on its Web site, and the unit should be in stores this year in the familiar square package. Rio's player, at about 2 ounces, is the lightest in this class (most units weigh about 3.5 ounces). It will be available later in January, both online and in retail stores. It retains its predecessor's wedge-like, slim profile. The two products should each cost about $249 (around £170). They support USB 2.0 for faster transfer, and play back WMA or MP3 files.
Philips and Samsung are each getting their foot in the door of this portable player class. Both entries are square-shaped, 1.5GB players that support WMA and MP3 formats. Philips is readying its hdd060, due to ship in February and priced at about $200 (around £130). Samsung's Yepp YH-800 is scheduled to ship in April and has a suggested retail price of $299 (around £200). You'll be transferring your music faster with the Samsung unit, though, because it supports USB 2.0, while the Philips sticks with USB 1.1.
Samsung will follow up the YH-800 with the YH-860, scheduled to ship in June at a suggested retail price of $320 (around £215). This unit has a 2GB capacity and adds an FM tuner and recorder.
More to come
Thomson RCA will follow its existing 1.5GB Lyra with a 2GB model, the Micro Jukebox RD2762, scheduled for release in late spring. That $229 (around £210) unit will feature an FM tuner from which you can record, and it will support USB 2.0.
Sony doesn't have a hard drive-based product in this class, but it competes with its new Hi-MD players. The family consists of four new models ranging in price from $199 (for the MZ-NH600D) to $400 (for the MZ-NH1). These new units use high-capacity 1GB removable mini discs and support the ATRAC3plus format. The SonicStage 2 software that comes with the system also supports more familiar formats, including WMA, MP3, and WAV. The players will all read standard mini discs, so you don't have to move your older music onto the new format.
The entry-level MZ-NH600D is a standard player. As you move up the models, you get additional features like AM/FM/TV/weather tuners, a microphone, LCD remotes, and USB cradles. All of the units are scheduled to become available in April, along with the new 1GB discs, which should sell for about $7 (around a fiver) each.
Bigger and better?
Archos is delivering a 20GB player that maintains a fairly compact size, rivaling the 1.5GB and 4GB players above. The Gmini220 is expected to be available by the end of January and priced at about $350 (£230). The black-and-silver unit weighs just 6 ounces, can read CompactFlash media, and supports USB 2.0.
In February, Philips expects to release a similarly-priced competing product, the hdd120, also with a 20GB capacity.
Thomson RCA will have its own entries in March, with capacities of 20GB and 40GB. The silver 20GB Lyra Jukebox RD2850 should sell for $349 (around £230), while the black RD2854 should cost $449 (around £300). Each unit weighs about 5.5 ounces, has a built-in FM tuner and recorder, and supports USB 2.0.
Sight and Sound
Both Philips and Samsung are releasing new devices that offer both video and audio playback.
Available in the middle of this year, Samsung's YH-999 will run on Microsoft's Portable Media Center platform and should put your videos, still pictures, and music in the palm of your hand. The device has 20GB of storage and a 3.5-inch colour TFT LCD so you can see and hear music and video in a variety of formats, including WMV at 700kpbs and 320-x-240 resolution. The unit weighs about 8 ounces and measures 3.8-x-4.2-x-0.8 inches. Pricing has not yet been set.
Philips opted for a smaller package for its KEY019 multimedia device. This compact unit is just a little bigger than a standard USB thumb drive and comes with both a video camera and a 2mp still camera. It can also store and play MP3 files. It has 128MB of RAM, which enables you to capture up to 24 minutes of continuous MPEG-4 at 360-x-480 resolution, and a small LCD lets you frame your shots so you know what you're capturing. The downside is that the unit connects via USB 1.1. Devices should be on sale in May for about $249 (£170).
Aiwa, now a subsidiary of Sony, is readying two lines of audio players, including the Pavit series, which will feature the company's proprietary Pavit USB flash drive. The removable drive will allow users to shuttle MP3 music between Aiwa Pavit players and any USB-enabled device such as PCs and laptops. Pavit drives will support USB 2.0, and can be used as stand-alone storage to save documents or shuttle them among systems.
Most of the Pavit line will make its debut in April, according to Aiwa. The new models include the ruggedized AZ-RS128 MP3 player, the headphone-based AZ-FS128 MP3 player, and the water-resistant AZ-BS32 shower stereo (scheduled to ship in May). The MP3 player and headphones will come with a 128MB Pavit drive, and the shower stereo will include a 32MB drive.
The company is also introducing two hard disk drive-based players, each priced at $239 (around £160). The Giga Pavit line will include the sporty and water-resistant HZ-DS2000, and the ultrathin HZ-WS2000 MP3 player. Both models will include a 2GB hard drive and will not be compatible with Aiwa's Pavit drives, despite the Pavit name in the series title.
So, whatever you listen to on your way to work, there's sure to be a new toy for you to play your tunes on. With every hardware company in the business trying to get a piece of the digital media explosion, the hardest part might be choosing a player.