28gift guide tunes
By Rachel Metz
Portable media players are almost essential for any music, video or photo fan — which could be just about anyone on your holiday gift list.
Whether you’re looking for a tiny player that can fit in a back pocket or something with a larger screen and memory capacity for watching videos, there are plenty of reasonable options.
Here is a sampling of what is out this season:
Microsoft Zune ($139-$250)
It’s no iPod, but good looks and a wide range of functions make the latest Zune a nice, affordable media player. The device comes with 8 to 120 gigabytes of memory, depending on whether you want flash memory or a hard drive. And a $99, 4-gigabyte model that is being phased out is still available. The device sports a touch pad and sharp screen that make it easy and fun to find your way around the player and check out all your music, photos and videos. One of its coolest functions is the ability to download music wirelessly from the Zune Marketplace online music store, and if you pay $15 per month for Microsoft’s all-you-can-eat Zune Pass music subscription, you can also stream songs over Wi-Fi.
Apple iPod Nano ($149-$199)
The latest iPod Nano is longer and leaner than the previous model, but keeps the same 2-inch screen by turning it sideways. The device, which is available in an array of bright colors with 8 or 16 gigabytes of flash memory, includes an accelerometer so that turning it on its side while listening to music enables you to scroll through album covers. Or you can shake it to shuffle songs. Be careful when shaking, though — the Nano’s curved sides may make it a bit slippery. Videos look great in landscape mode on the crisp, bright screen, and photos can be viewed this way or in portrait mode. You can also check out the "Genius" feature, which helps you build playlists by taking one song as a starting point and suggesting other tracks with a similar sound or feel.
iriver Lplayer ($70-$100)
If you like your portable media players simple, affordable and fairly bite-sized, iriver’s Lplayer will fit the bill. The sleek device comes with 4 or 8 gigabytes of flash memory, and its face consists only of a bright 2-inch screen. You press the sides of the screen to control the device. At first, the controls were a little confusing, but I found the simplicity appealing once I got used to it, and overall the player is fairly easy to navigate. Videos and photos look crisp on the tiny screen, and music sounded good, too. I also dug the iriver software on the device, which was uncluttered and simple, like the player itself.
XMp3 ($250, plus monthly fee)
It has a slightly clunky interface, but Pioneer’s XMp3 might intrigue people who love the radio and want portable access to tunes. With a subscription (they run from $10 to almost $17 per month), you can listen to a wide variety of commercial-free XM satellite radio channels that can be recorded for listening later or paused and played back live. The XMp3 also has a slot for microSD cards so you can listen to your own music. And if you want to enhance the device’s signal indoors, it comes with an external antenna that plugs into an included charging dock. The XMp3 comes with a remote control, too, so if you attach external speakers you can control it from a distance. I just adjusted the volume, though, since the 2.2-inch screen is hard to read from more than a few feet away.