21st Sep 2012
Over the past few years, mobile phones have improved to such an extent that the line between them, and a dedicated PMP (Personal Media Player) has been blurred greatly. Only the ardent smartphone haters or the most fastidious audiophiles these days even consider the idea of owning a separate PMP. Since this is a niche segment now, this guide will consider PMPs concentrating on audio quality alone.
However, there are a few recommendations that aren't all that great performance-wise, but they do have other redeeming qualities such as excellent value (Zebronics Zebmate Cinema 4.3), great build quality, or just bling value (Apple iPod).
Budget (Less Than Rs 5000)
Don't be fooled by its size or price; this is the last word when it comes to audio quality. It is, in fact, so good that audiophiles benchmark other PMPs against it. Virtues of the Sansa Clip+ don't just end at excellent sound fidelity, but it also provides excellent value with a microSD card slot capable of accepting memory cards up to 32 GB. Combine this with a claimed 15 hour battery life, voice recording, and a built-in FM tuner - you have got an irresistible deal. What's more, this device supports all major audio formats, in addition to the free and open ones such as FLAC.
If you possess high-impedance headphones, then you have probably found out the hard way that they are harder to drive for non-amplified PMPs. Fortunately, Nationate's NaNite N2 packs in a MAX9722 headphone amplifier chip, which providess a healthy 130 mW of amplification that's good enough for high-impedance headphones. Like the Sansa, its 4 GB onboard memory is further augmented by a microSD card slot. Despite its low price, the N2 provides an OLED screen, BBE audio enhancement, and FLAC support. A 20-hour claimed battery life, makes it ideal for music on the move.
Not only does it feature a large 4.3" touchscreen, but the Zebronics Zebmate Cinema 4.3 also 8 GB of storage with room for expansion through a microSD card slot. The screen may be resistive, but that's not bad considering you get features such as TV-Out, for the price. Unlike most PMPs these days, it can handle 720p HD video in any file format you throw at it, that too with support for subtitles. The video or audio quality may be average, but the sheer number of features provided at a compelling price makes it an ideal choice for those who seek a no-nonsense PMP for cheap.
Mid-Range (Less Than Rs 10,000)
Like it's younger sibling, the Sansa Fuze+ incorporates the same unparalleled audio quality, at good price. For the extra money though, you get a 2.4" (320x240) screen, 16 GB of storage (expandable with microSD slot), and capacitive touchpad. While the latter is wonky, it works smooth once you upgrade the firmware. The build quality is considerably better than the Clip+. That is one of the reason, apart from a slightly better audio quality, to choose the Fuze+ over the former. I say that, because the quality or thje size of video doesn't really make it ideal as a standalone video player. However, it still outclasses considerably more expensive PMPs, when it comes to audio quality.
If you're not satisfied with stellar audio quality alone, the Cowon J3 features a brilliant 3.3" widescreen capacitive touchscreen display. Video playback is excellent with support for the DivX and XviD codecs. It's practical too with a generous battery life providing up to 64 hours of audio and 11 hours of video playback. The audio quality is top-notch and gives EQ tweakers plenty of options for customisation, in addition to its famed BBE enhancements. It also features a microSD card slot and support for Bluetooth headsets.
High-End (More Than Rs 20,000)
As an audio \ videophile, the iPod touch will sorely disappoint you. The audio quality is mediocre, whereas the display may be sharp, but its undone by it's abject lack of colour gamut. However, it isn't meant for those fastidious about quality, but for those who want to show off. The iPod's sexy aluminium chassis and an ultra-slim profile lets you do just that. It's excellent UI and unparalleled app support, redeem it enough for a mention in this list.
The Cowon D3 is a major bump up from the J3, thanks to its 3.7" AMOLED capacitive display with pixel dimensions of 800x480, and Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) OS. It can play Full-HD video and offers good sound quality, with support for a wide variety of formats. Thanks to its Android roots, the D3 Plenue can also make VOIP calls over Wi-Fi. The storage capacity of the device can be expanded with its microSD card slot. Its HDMI port lets you take your movies and videos on your living room TV as well.
Summer 2012 Buyer's Guide: Portable Media Players (PMPs)
Find the perfect media player to suit your pocket and needs.
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