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Archive for Monday, August 19, 2002

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August 19, 2002

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"Oh. I want one!"

Loren seemed pretty enthusiastic as she answered my question  "What do you guys think of MP3 players?"

Bonnie continued pulling the frozen pizza out of the package to pop into the oven. She gave me a look indicating she wasn't too interested. Or maybe the look meant, "Dad, would you mind leaving now?"

No matter. I'm putting down one "yes" and one "no."

I was just doing a random survey of the teen-agers coming into our house to see what they think about MP3 players, which can hold thousands of songs in digital format in a portable device.

A couple of days earlier, CBS had a segment on gadgets this year's college students would be packing off to their dorm rooms. MP3s were high on the list.

Since I'm sending two off to college, I wondered three things: What's out there? Do teens really want them? And how much is it gonna cost me?

Small, powerful and pricey

MP3 players are sort of like portable CD players on steroids.

They're not only smaller, but they also hold more songs, including the songs lots of ethically challenged people used to swap for free on Napster.

(OK, I did it too before I was enlightened by our court system. And Limewire never has what I want anyway. So no letters, please.)

Out of the MP3 players on the market, the one that seemed most impressive to me  and to many other reviewers  is the Apple iPod, now available in a version for Windows and Macintosh versions.

It's about as big as a pocket calculator, but holds 4,000 songs in MP3 format on its 20-gigabyte hard drive. The top-of-the-line, 20 GB model, which costs just under $500, also comes with a calendar menu to help you store your appointments. And it can double as a FireWire drive that lets you easily transfer other documents from your computer.

It also has a 10-hour rechargeable lithium polymer battery. The iPod comes in 5 GB ($294) and 10 GB ($394) models.

Songs are organized in Apple's iTunes software. And the innovative scroll wheel on the cover makes finding them easy. It uses FireWire for transfers, which makes for speedier downloads from your computer.

Two from Creative Labs

Another hot MP3 player is the Nomad Jukebox 3 by Creative Labs. Don't have a FireWire cable? It uses both USB and FireWire connections. The latest generation of the Jukebox also has a 20 GB hard drive and its user interface has improved.

The prices I saw ranged from $350 to $400.

Creative Labs also has a little brother to the Jukebox that's less for the audiophile and more for the casual listener.

It's called the Nomad MuVo. It's genius is in its simplicity. It's about the size of a cigarette lighter, coming in two snap-together pieces.

You plug the memory part into your computer's USB port. It shows up as an icon on your computer desktop. Then you drag and drop your files or MP3s onto the icon.

The 64 MB module stores data files or about 15 MP3 songs.

You then unplug the memory part from your computer into the MuVo's battery pack, which is attached to player controls. It works on one AAA battery for 12 hours.

The cost is about $130.

You can view the Creative Labs players at www.nomadworld.com.

An iPod buster?

Another 20 GB MP3 player is Sonicblue's Rio Riot, which costs between $270 and $360, depending on the retailer.

It's about the size of your palm, has a good display and includes an FM radio tuner. It runs on a rechargeable lithium ion battery that lasts 10 hours between chargings.

Some have called it the iPod buster because it easily works with Windows or newer Mac systems. Its software includes Apple's iTunes for Mac users and Real Jukebox 2.0 for PCs.

One of its downsides is that it uses a USB connection rather than a fast Firewire connection like the iPod and the Jukebox, so your downloads will be slower.

You can read more about it at www.sonicblue.com/audio/rio/rio_riot.asp.

Dodging the bullet

The survey continued:

"You mean a little thing that holds 1,000 songs? Yeah. I would want one," Julie said.

Rachel looked a little puzzled. She had never heard of them  but it sounded like something she would like.

My path finally crossed Katy's as she breezed into the kitchen after getting off work.

"Do any of your friends have MP3 players?

"Not that I know of," Katy said.

She was in a hurry and was heading upstairs. I asked if an MP3 player was something she or her friends needed.

"If it was cheap, because obviously not a lot of us have a lot of cash right now," she said. "Maybe, if they made them similar to a Discman. I know I definitely do not have that on my priority list right now."

I felt like I had dodged a $300 bullet. I wonder if I can get that in writing.

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