How time flies – I’m nostalgic for my old mp3 players. My current, trusty iPod classic (the 160GB behemoth that some deride as not being my phone) holds every damn thing I could possibly want to listen to, and more, on the go; there was a time, mainly at university, when a combination of cost, anti-Apple sentiment and a more exciting and fragmented market meant I went through a number of different portable digital audio players.
Now, I can’t remember the order in which I bought these, so this list has no real taxonomy – it just is.
I definitely remember having an iPod, in white, bought from a bloke who advertised his unopened boxed device on the university message board. It sticks in my head not because of the device itself, but because it was the first time I’d bought anything from a message board, hanging around the northern end of the campus with a ton in my pocket to give to a stranger. It must have been the 4th gen iPod, not the colour one, as I remember when I got the current classic being amazed at the difference. I also had a 4th gen iPod nano, which was a lovely piece of kit, although the edges were a little sharp. Whilst well designed, insanely light and really responsive, it never held enough music to be worthwhile.
There was the Rio Carbon Pearl – the 5GB model, which, ironically, was cheaper than the hard drive inside it – was a great piece of technology. It was attractive, and from what I recall, had pretty decent sound quality for its price point. Not being compatible with Apple file formats didn’t matter much to me as I didn’t start buying from the iTunes store until I went back to iPods with the nano.
Probably the best of my non-Apple devices was the Sansa Fuze. This was brilliant – a microSDHC slot to expand the memory at a time when hard drive based players were mind-bogglingly expensive for a poor student; a sensible and intuitive interface; top notch sound quality; and if I remember rightly, pretty good file format support. It was also small, light, well made and competitively priced. I miss this wonderfully useful, nay, strangely friendly device, but alas, capacity and compatibility drove me back to the iPod line.
Last, least, but most curiously, was the Creative Muvo. This was a low capacity, decent sound quality, cheap and cheerful flash player, but it had two killer design features – both connected. The first was its detachable design, wherein the computing bit was all on one, really well designed little USB stick (jog wheel, hold switch, couple of buttons, little screen) that meant you could store documents on it (so really easy to cart essays around as well as music, and harder to forget); the second, a battery pack that provided the power, and took a treble-A battery. Probably not as efficient as charging from the mains, but crucially, you got a lot of juice out of it and could carry a couple of spare batteries or get them cheaply from just about any supermarket or cornershop.
I lament the passing of these devices, as the market is essentially iPods and mobile phones – whilst a few companies still produce portable audio/video players, I have not seen, in the past few years, anyone use anything other than the iPod or their phone. The Sansa was probably the best pure audio player, the Carbon a cute little device and the MuVo a brilliant piece of multifunctional gadgetry at a ridiculously cheap budget price. I’d never go back, though.