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MP3 and MP4 player reviews

We compare two popular smartphones with the latest in media players.
 
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01 .Introduction

Portable media player with earbuds and catalogues

We review 21 MP3 and MP4 players priced from $50 to $799, including two smartphones.

Through our rigorous testing we reveal which media players:

  • Are the easiest to use
  • Have the best sound and video quality
  • Have the longest battery lives
  • Are the most durable.

On this page you'll find:

For more information about Portable media players, see Phones and Mobile devices.

Video: How we test media players

An insight into how CHOICE tests media players.

Digital music or MP3/MP4 players have evolved over the last decade to the point where the latest models provide an intuitive interface and a simple, effective way to get music from a computer into your pocket.

Most of the models tested are flash memory devices, using either removable cards or internal storage, supporting memory sizes from 4GB to 32GB.

Apple still dominates this market, with the Nano and Touch devices still available. While the Nano is quite basic, the Touch offers multiple functionality via apps. Following requests from some members, we’ve included some devices that only play audio in this test, and at the other end of the spectrum, we’ve also looked at two popular smartphones, the iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy III, to see how they compare with dedicated MP3/4 players.

For a device that in many cases does only one or two things, you shouldn’t expect to pay more than $300 for a decent MP3 player, and much less for a no-frills player.The smartphones included will cost a good deal more - but they pack more features in.

Models tested

Apple iPhone 4S
Apple iPod Nano
Apple iPod Touch
Archos 24b Vision (A)
Coby MP800-4G (A)
Cowon iAudio 10
Cowon X7
Cowon X9
Cowon Z2 Plenue
Creative Zen X-Fi 3
Philips GoGear Ariaz MP4 Player
Philips GoGear Connect 3 (A)
Philips GoGear Raga
Philips GoGear SoundDot (A)
Philips GoGear Vibe
Samsung Galaxy Player 3.6 (A)
Samsung Galaxy Player 4.2 YP-G1C (A)
Samsung Galaxy S III
Sony NWZ-E475
Sony NWZ-F806 (A)
Sony NWZ-Z1050

(A) These players are not directly distributed within Australia, but can be ordered online.

How we test

Ease of use Our testers check instructions, how easy the players are to set up, play music and video and rip and transfer music and video files with the software provided or, if none is supplied, using Windows Media Player (or iTunes with Apple products). They also evaluate how easy each player is to navigate and its basic functions and how much sound leakage there is from the devices.

Sound quality Our technical experts listen to each player through both the supplied headphones and a high quality pair of headphones. They listen to a variety of types of music.

Video quality They watch the video and assess it for colour, clarity and accuracy of rendition, as well as assess display size, compatibility with video formats and battery life under video.

Battery life The media players have files loaded and are played until they no longer function - this is done for audio files. They are also tested for charging time.

Durability We put the media players through a tumble test, letting each model rotate over 80cm for a minute, or around 20 falls. We also subject both the face and body to a scratch test.

 
 

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Controls You may want to fast forward or rewind through some of your media files, especially videos. All media players on test have this ability but some have these main controls as easy-to-access buttons, rather than buried deep within a touchscreen menu.

Rechargeable battery Most media players have a built-in rechargeable (Li-ion) battery pack you can recharge from your computer’s USB port or an AC adapter. Batteries generally charge faster from an AC adapter than from a USB port.

Inbuilt memory Media players with inbuilt flash memory can take more of a knock than models using a hard disk drive. However, hard drives are available with up to 160GB capacity while flash memory tends to be limited to 32GB.

Removable memory card support allows you to store photos and video clips and transfer them to a computer. You can also keep separate music/movie collections on multiple cards to use when needed.

Computer connection type A USB connection of any type allows you to transfer files to your computer. Some models use a commonly available mini or micro USB connection and can appear on the PC as an external drive. 

Headphone connection A media player with a 2.5mm or 3.5mm jack will allow you to use a standard set of headphones to listen to music if you don’t like the set it comes with. 

Touchscreens make for a sleek design and are generally easy to use. However, they can make fine control difficult in some circumstances and some users may find the finger marks irritating. Most media players use a resistive touchscreen, where a finger or stylus can be used to make menu selections. The Apple products and Samsung Galaxy III use a capacitive touchscreen. This reads the electrostatic charge of a finger, and does not need as decisive an imprint as the more commonly used resistive screen in order to perform a task.

Creative

With varying degrees of success, most models (apart from those listed as 'NA' in the comparison table) tested can play music and video and show photos.

Digital video and audio is compressed using different codecs (short for coder-decoder). Most codecs, such as the MP3 audio format, are designed to create a file size that is as small as possible while keeping most of the inherent audio or video quality intact.

Unfortunately, different companies have different priorities on what they want in a media file, which means media players are now coping with several different audio and video formats.

Difficulties playing video

Most of the models tested have difficulties playing certain video formats, with some models even unable to play a file they claim to support. The problem is that even though a file may appear to have the correct file type, as indicated by its name (*.mov, *.mp4, *.mp3 and so on), the actual codec used to create it may be different from the common standard.

Playing movies can be even more problematic than audio, as a movie file contains video and audio content, with both bundled together into a single file. This type of file is called a “container”, generally shown with a name ending in *.avi, *.mov, *.wmv or similar.

However, just to confuse things, containers can often support a variety of codecs; for example, it’s possible to have an *.avi file that contains video compressed with MPEG or XVID and audio as a *.wav file. Therefore, while some media players may say they support a wide variety of video file formats, they may not cope with the different types of files contained within a video file format.

If you find a file won’t play on your application or media player, you may be able to convert the file to a suitable format using a free transcoding program such as Mediacoder.

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