Buying Guides -> Software -> Music Manager
Team CHIP | 25 May 2011
With a media player as small as a matchbox, you can play your favourite flicks anywhere and anytime. We bring together 23 portable media players to find out which one is a true entertainer.
MP3 players and portable media players are ideal travel companions for music lovers and movie buffs. You can carry your entire music library and favourite movies on one pocketable device. Mobile phones also offer good media playback, but you don’t want to run out of battery power on your phone because of it.
That's where portab le players come in. Today, you can buy a large-screen player with plenty of storage space for under Rs 5,000 thanks to emerging brands like Zebronics and Yes. Such super-affordable players are giving big brands a run for their money. However, high-end portable media players have become more compact and versatile. Watching videos on the iPod Touch's Retina display or the Cowon J3's AMOLED display is a sheer treat. The iPod Touch is the first to feature a camera with 720p video recording. Some players also featured an FM transmitter and Bluetooth A2DP technology for wireless listening.
In this roundup, we tested 23 music and video players spanning all budgets and form factors. Read on to find out how we tested them and which ones emerged as the cream of the crop.
The Zebronics Zebmate 20 won the Best Value title purely because of the audio performance and the lowest price tag. It is a simple MP3 player the size of a thumb and has enough storage space for approximately 500 songs (2 GB) with a 20-hour continuous playback battery life. The overall build quality is just average; the glossy shell can get scratched easily, but the shell is tough enough to handle shocks from accidental falls. On the ergonomics front, the buttons are quite tacky and the sluggish user interface along with the tiny D-pad can make operating the player quite annoying. With a really sluggish user interface, it is best to create a playlist and leave the player untouched. Some good extra features are voice recording and a text reader. To our surprise, the player performs quite well. It scored above-average in our tests and outperformed the Apple players in its category. The bundled earphones are comparatively good and you won’t need to change them unless you prefer your personal earphones.
Verdict: A basic PMP with good sound and the lowest price..
For: Good audio quality, cheap, voice recording.
AGAINST: Bad ergonomics, sluggish UI.
The Cowon iAudio 9 rightfully bagged the title of Best Performance by outperforming all players in both audio and video sections. It has an excellent build-quality with a scratch-resistant shell. It is sleek and light and has an averagely-sized 2-inch 240 x 320 TFT display screen. The responsive backlit touchpad makes operating it a breeze. It can playback DivX and WMV video formats out of the box, and for audio, it supports MP3, WMA, FLAC, Ogg and WAV. The iAudio 9 packs in 8 GB of storage. The battery can output 29 hours of audio or 7 hours of video on a single charge. Additional features include games, FM radio, voice recorder, and audio/video output. It also includes Cowon’s JetEffect v3.0 and BBE+ sound engine, which enhances the audio further. The built-in speakers are not too good, but the bundled earphones are excellent. One downside is the proprietary PC interface for charging and data transfer. Also, composite AV cables are not bundled with the player.
Verdict: A full-fledged media player for both portability and TV connectivity.
For: Ease of use, composite AV out, touch interface, good audio and display.
AGAINST: Proprietary PC interface, puny speaker, AV cabled not bundled.
The Cowon J3 scores high on all counts. Videos and images look great on its 3.3-inch AMOLED display and the audio output it pristine. The volume level is excellent and so is the reproduction of frequencies. There are more than 30 equalizer presets and manual EQ to tweak the frequency bands. The player is a breeze to operate; the UI is fluid and intuitive, and the capacitive touchscreen adds to the comfort. Transferring media to it is as simple as copying music, videos and photos to the respective folders. The support for FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, DivX and WMV is native. It would have been nice if this player supported MKV and MOV, but nevertheless, it plays almost everything besides these formats. Besides audio and video playback and a picture viewer, the J3 features FM radio, calculator, notepad, and Flash player. At Rs 11,000 for the 4 GB variant, the J3 is quite expensive and even the AMOLED display, memory expansion support and HDMI output can’t justify it. But if you’re an audiophile and meticulous about quality, price no bar, then get this one.
Verdict: A pocket dynamite that costs a bomb.
For: fantastic AMOLED display, excellent audio quality, intuitive UI.
AGAINST: No MKV and MOV support.
XZebronics has recently introduced a bunch of PMPs, and they seem to have done a very good job with some of them, including the Cinema 3.0. It’s about the size of a visiting card and has a 3-inch display with a 240x400 resolution - good enough for watching videos. This player bagged the Best Value award mainly because of its price. It’s one of the most affordable players in its segment, and it offers a good set of features. The Cinema 3.0 supports DivX, MP4, MOV, VOB and MPG formats natively, so you won’t need to transcode videos. The quality of audio output is very good, but you’ll need a good pair of earphones to do it justice because the supplied earphones are below average. The overall performance is good, but the ergonomics could have been way better. Using the tacky buttons at the bottom of the screen to navigate through media and options can be frustrating at times. Instead, Zebronics should have gone with a touchscreen screen. Want a pocket DivX player for a throwaway price? Pick this one.
Verdict: For its price and features, you can’t go wrong.
For: Great audio quality, good price,
Against: Sluggish UI, average earphones.
was waiting for this comparison test so that I could go and pick a good MP3 player after testing all of them thoroughly. At first, I thought I’ll go in for a big brand like Apple or Cowon, but in the end, I found that even smaller brands have some great players. The Philips GoGear Spark is an excellent player if you want something tiny and sturdy while working out. A 4 GB player can hold around 1,000 MP3s, which you won’t need to replace for at least a few months. It’s a great performer, but to realize its full potential, you’ll have to use a good set of earphones. When it comes to videos, the larger the screen, the better the visual treat. I like the Yes PMP 99 for its large 4.3-inch screen, 8 GB of internal storage, memory expansion, and ease of use it offers at an attractive price. The Zebronics Cinema 4.3 is also good, but I like the PMP 99 for its superior build.
While players such as the Yes PMP 100HD and the Zebronics Cinema 4.3 offer larger screens at lower prices, the Apple iPod Touch and the Cowon J3 carry hefty price tags. That said, audio/video quality and price aren’t everything; when it comes to media players, ergonomics is just as important. Players must have fluid GUIs that are easy to operate. The YES PMP-100HD has an easy-to-use interface with a large, crisp display, but it suffers from poor ergonomics. The lack of a touch screen or D-pad cost it dearly in this round-up. The iPod Touch might sound like a good option, but it does have a few downsides - iTunes is a must for media transfers and every video has to be encoded. The Cowon J3, on the other hand, is a beautiful mix of features—OLED display, responsive capacitive touch UI, great sound, and awesome build quality. However, when price comes into the equation, the iPod Touch offers better value for money.