Buying a portable mp3 player is a significant investment, and one that shouldn't be taken lightly. Here are some issues that you should consider before purchasing an mp3 player. It is essential to do the research first before you buy a package; that way, you won't wind up with a player that doesn't fit your needs.
How much memory does this mp3 player come with?
Each megabyte of memory equals approximately a minute of decent sounding music. Since you'll want at least an hour of music, you should be looking for 64 MB minimum on your mp3 player. For just a little extra cash, you can get a player with 128 MB of memory, which equals two hours of decent audio. There are also mp3 players available that use a hard drive for storage rather than a memory chip which store substantially more information, on the order of 5 GB.
How fragile is this mp3 player? Will I be able to bump it around a little in casual use?
Memory chip-based mp3 players are very sturdy. The information contained within is not stored on a magnetic media disc, but instead embedded on a much more sturdy chip. Hard drive based mp3 players, although capable of storing substantially more information than a memory chip-based player, are much more fragile than chip-based players. Consider carefully what you are going to be using the player for before you make a purchase.
How much is this mp3 player going to cost me?
Prices are slowly dropping, but they are still quite high on a luxury item such as this. The biggest cost is, unsurprisingly, memory; the amount of storage that you will need is the real limiting factor. Hard drive based players are in the $400 US range; 128 MB chip-based players are in the $225 range; 64 MB chip-based players are around $150.
How big is this mp3 player? Will it fit in my pocket?
The big advantage of an mp3 player (besides the song access) is the size of the device. You should definitely expect to be able to stash it away in your pocket. Most chip-based players are about the size of a pack of cigarettes (11 cm by 8 cm, or 3.7 inches by 2.5 inches) and many are even smaller than that. Hard drive based players are usually too large to fit in a pocket, unfortunately.
Will I need new headphones or will my old ones work?
If you like your old ones, keep them; they will most likely work. Usually the audio quality increases with the headphone investment, however; don't be afraid to plunk down $35 US if you want to really hear some good audio from your portable player.
What kind of batteries will my player use?
Most mp3 players made today operate on AA or AAA batteries, which is definitely a plus given their convenience. I consider this a requirement for an mp3 player purchase. I recommend using rechargeable batteries because they cut down on the amount of batteries reaching landfills and thus help to protect the environment.
What port does this mp3 player connect to on my PC/Mac?
Unless you have an old computer, you'll want one that connects via USB to your computer, so you can transfer data at roughly 4 MB per minute. If you are unsure whether or not you can connect via USB, look for a player that can attach via a parallel port; it will be slower, but virtually all computers have a parallel port. And, of course, always make sure that the software will run on your computer; if you have a Mac, especially, be careful of this.
What file formats does the player recognize?
mp3 recognition is a given, obviously. A good player should be able to recognize WMA (Windows Media Audio, a proprietary Microsoft format) as well. A very good player will have even more formats, and a great player will be able to learn new formats through software downloads.
What software comes with the player?
Look for a player that includes software, such as MusicMatch Jukebox or RealJukebox, that can convert your CDs into mp3s. This is a nearly essential function that you'll find yourself using again and again, so make sure that it has a good CD-to-mp3 converter program like the two named above.
Any additional features I should look for?
A FM radio is nice, but outside of that, there are no essential extra features. In fact, I would shy away from any mp3 player that has a large number of additional features unrelated to playing audio; that just means more things can go wrong with it.