MP3 Player Buying Guide

What's the right MP3 player for you?
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Nothing turns a long ride, walk or jogging routine into a more enjoyable experience than an MP3 player streaming a supply of your favorite music at the push of a button. Although pocket-sized, an MP3 player can carry hours -- even days -- worth of music for portable listening enjoyment.

The first MP3 players were introduced in the late 1990s, and Apple’s iPod premiered in 2001. Since then, as they’ve become cheaper, smaller and lighter, and they can hold a lot more music. They’ve also become nearly ubiquitous. It wasn’t long before cell phones came out that could also double as MP3 players. In fact, by 2006, more phones with MP3 playing capabilities were sold than simple, standalone MP3 players [source: Plunkett]. But that doesn’t mean standalone MP3 players went extinct. For multiple reasons, including reserving battery life, better usability and storage capacity, many people still like having a separate device just for the purpose of playing music [source: Kwan].

If you're in the market for an MP3 player, you have plenty to choose from and multiple factors to consider. Although Apple's iPod line is enduringly popular and generally gets good reviews from experts, it does have serious competitors that you should consider. And if price is an important consideration for you, you definitely want to explore the cheaper options that might be able to satisfy all your needs.

Besides price, you'll also want to consider issues like usability, durability and extra features. A large part of your choice comes down to your listening style and how you plan to use the player. For instance, if you don't need to be in control, you can consider the simple, screenless iPod shuffle. If you exercise with it, you'll want one that's durable, or one that at least comes with accessories to protect it from sweat and pavement drops. If you have a vast library of music, plan to use it on-the-go for long periods, or want to be able to watch videos on it, you should consider storage capacity and battery life.

Speaking of storage, we'll be talking about that specifically on the next page.