Flash MP3 players are extremely light, and small enough to slip discreetly into a pocket, yet can hold enough music for several hours of listening. The absence of moving parts makes Flash storage totally shock-proof, so it's ideal for exercise buffs and users who are constantly on the go. Players with storage capacities of up to 2 GB can compete with hard-disk players in terms of storage capacity to price ratio. But the maximum capacity of Flash memory players remains much smaller than that of hard-disk models, currently topping out at 4 GB.
For this roundup, we limited the contenders further, to a capacity of 1 GB. This gives you a player with ample capacity for commuting back and forth to work, while keeping the price affordable. There is not much that's really new among the products that we tested - product lines are currently in a renewal phase. Still, now is a good time to get a deal on products that have been around for awhile and whose prices have dropped as a result.
Obviously, the main reason you buy an MP3 player is to listen to music, but the products we tested varied widely in sound quality. To make matters worse, many players come with a junky pair of earphones. which you'll have to replace in order to get decent sound.
In addition to music, most players offer photo and sometimes video display functions. Video is most often little more than a gimmick, with poor image quality and a tiny display - not to mention often off-the-wall video formats that sometimes require you to spend a long time converting files only to get results that are disappointing. Players' photo-display functions are somewhat useful, but even there the size and low resolution of the display screen are limiting factors.
Another negative trend that still continues is that manufacturers continue to use proprietary solutions for file transfer, instead of good old drag-and-drop. Players also continue to sport connectors that require you to always have a special cable with you for copying a file or recharging your player. Our preference is for models that use a standard USB port for recharging the player and for transferring files. Otherwise you need to use the cable that comes with the player, which isn't very practical when you're away from home or if you want to hook up to another computer.
Our testing consists of first checking each player's build quality and overall ergonomics, then listening to various musical selections to evaluate audio quality. We listen in two stages: first, with the earphones included with the player, and then with our reference earphone set, the Koss PortaPro. We also test any additional functions and battery life.