I'm looking for a small, rugged flash-based mp3 player mostly for listening to audiobooks and podcasts. Cheaper is better. Stupid drm shackles are an unfortunate must, so no ipod. My upper limit on price is about $150. I don't really want to spend more than $100 unless the thing is absolutely perfect in every way. For over $50 it had better be damned close, too. My last two players were an original 1 GB Creative Zen V (~$50) that broke and a Samsung YP-S3 (~$79) that I just bought and will return tomorrow.
Here's the more complete story:
1) I'm a casual but frugal audiophile with an old McIntosh receiver, Marantz CD player, and Linaeum speakers at home. I don't expect audiophile sound from an mp3 player, period. I mostly listen to my mp3 player in the car. So sound quality is a nice-to-have but merely "typical" performance is fine. Truly bad sound quality would of course be a problem.
2) I mostly use my mp3 player to listen to audiobooks and podcasts on my commute, through the aux jack on my car stereo.
3) I bring my mp3 player to work, charge it there, and download daily programs to it to listen to on the commute home. So a player that uses a plain mini-usb cable and no additional software on Vista would be strongly preferred. I don't want to install personal software on my work computer, and I don't want to have to think too much about keeping track of a special cable.
4) I might use an mp3 player more if it sounds good, looks good, and is pleasant to use.
I had a Zen V for about a year. I bought it because it was the cheapest device still on the market that netlibrary listed as working with their copy-protected audiobooks. I loathed it, but it did the job. It was ugly and borderline unusable. The bookmarking features barely worked, I was always losing my place in long audio files, and it required a lot of fiddling to get back to where I was in them, if I didn't crash the unit in the process. Then I left it out in the cold and the OLED display died on me.
I bought a Samsung YP-S3 the other day on impulse to replace it. It's far enough from ideal for what it cost that I'm going to take it back. The touch controls are confusing and I make lots of mistakes using them. It uses a proprietary USB cable, so if I lose the USB cable I'm screwed. It is less than perfect at keeping my place in audio files, but much better than the Zen V in that one regard.
So I'd like some feedback on a replacement. If returning the Samsung is as painless as I hope, I figure I will bring home a Sandisk Fuze to try out, because nobody seems to pick nits in the user experience of these things in reviews so you don't know until you get them home. But in the meantime, here's my wish list.
- drm support for netlibrary audiobooks (I think the obsolescent? Microsoft "plays for sure" standard covers this, but am not sure) This rules out ipods.
- little-to-no extra software required (Sandisk-style multiple protocol support sounds like what I want here). NO PROPRIETARY-PROTOCOL-ONLY PLAYERS. I expect to use Windows Media Player to sync DRM'ed audiobooks to the device, and otherwise to just use regular file access to dump mp3s on it
- standard USB connectors: NO PROPRIETARY CABLES
- tactile feedback on controls: NO TOUCH CONTROLS
- some kind of menu display so I can locate what I want to listen to; shuffle-type players are out.
MUST BE AS GOOD AS POSSIBLE, BUT I EXPECT NOT TO BE PERFECTLY HAPPY:
- best-of-breed pause/resume/bookmark functionality for podcasts and audiobooks. This is absolutely critical. The Samsung is about good enough here but it doesn't make me happy. The Zen V I would not purchase again based on my experience in this area. Let me explain this:
- if I pause it and then go to any other file any way, it MUST remember where I paused in that file and resume playing at that point when I return to that file. I should not have to explicitly set a bookmark. The Samsung fails on this point, as does the Zen V
- if I pause it and it turns off for ANY reason, it MUST remember where I paused it. The S3, annoyingly, does not *remain* paused when I turn it back on, but at least it doesn't lose its place. The Zen V fails this point completely
- if I turn it off in the middle of something, it MUST remember where it was. The S3 is fine on this point. This is also the one thing the Zen V actually did right, strangely enough
- it MUST NOT lose its place when it is plugged into a computer. This happened to me with the Zen V about twice a week because I would bring it in from my car and plug it into my computer at work to charge before I remembed that I had turned it off in the middle of something without setting a bookmark. My understanding is that this rules out the Sandisk "Clip". The S3 is OK on this.
- stable firmware: the Zen V was marginal on this: fine on plain mp3s, but seeking through long drm'ed stuff would crash it---and then it loses its place. I haven't used the Samsung YP-S3 enough to tell if it's any good on this point. "Fiddly" or "crash-prone" or "enthusiast" models are OUT
- NO SURPRISES: I'm sort of shocked that others list "must be able to delete files from the player", or "standard headphone jack" as a must-have, since I think that goes without saying. I don't want to find out something is lacking a switch to lock controls with, or needs a charger separate from the USB cable, or can't handle audio files over an hour long, or requires disassembly to reset, or anything stupid like that. I made all those up, but you know, warn me if your recommendation lacks some common feature!
- dedicated volume buttons. The lack of these on the Samsung was an annoyance
NICE TO HAVE, THAT IS, I DON'T NEED THESE OR CARE THAT MUCH AND CERTAINLY WON'T PAY EXTRA FOR THEM BUT ALL ELSE EQUAL I WILL CONSIDER PLAYERS WITH THESE FEATURES OVER THOSE THAT DON'T:
- flexible video support so I can listen to video lectures without converting them: if I have to convert them I'll strip audio instead, or more likely, I just won't bother. Again, not a must, just a nice-to-have
- known for sure to work out-of-the-box with ubuntu linux (as above, Sandisk-style multiple protocol support sounds like what I want here)
- better-than-typical memory capacity for its price point; since I swap stuff in and out a lot, the 1GB Zen V was about enough and any more is luxury
- better-than-typical sound
- better-than-typical battery life
- memory card slot
- ogg and flac support
- full functionality while USB is attached: because it's just dumb that so many players don't support this and I figure anyone who got that right would get other things right too
- an even better world clock than the Samsung: the one nifty little bonus feature that I liked
- it was the OLED that died on my Zen V, so more-reliable LCD displays are slightly preferred
- some more pause/resume/bookmarking features:
1. It should be hard to lose your place in a long file if you're "fast-forwarding" or "rewinding" within it. Ideally:
a. if I accidentally skip to the next file and then go back, it should resume playing where it was, not at the beginning.2. A separate way to set additional bookmarks would be nice but is not necessary. The Zen V has a fiddly menu for setting bookmarks that is not very practical. The Samsung has some support for bookmarking that I haven't tried
b. if I accidentally skip to the beginning, and then go forward, it should resume playing where it was, not skip to the next file
3. Really good controls for searching through long audio files (hours long) if you do manage to lose your place: the way the Zen accelerated its "fast forward" and "rewind" was almost unusable. (related but not the same as #1 above) I shudder to think what this must be like with the touch controls of the YP-S3
- less ugly and toy-like design than the Zen V
- reasonable means for keeping music separate from podcasts and audiobooks
- user-replaceable battery
- gapless playback
DON'T CARE AT ALL/DON'T LET IT GET IN THE WAY EITHER/WILLING TO BE CONVINCED IF THEY'RE STUNNINGLY WELL-IMPLEMENTED:
- video/image support for its own sake (see above)
- fm radio (I found the radio on the Samsung pleasing but I don't plan to use the player for that)
- voice recording/line-in
- game/text/organizer/calendar/alarm clock features
- built-in speaker
- silly audio processing/equalization features
- most display features beyond choosing files to play
Again, the next player I plan to try is the Fuze but I'm willing to be talked into something else.
Thanks in advance!