iPod Killers for Christmas 2005 Part I

By Richard Menta 10/5/05

When Sony execs crowed a few weeks ago that their latest MP3 players were THE iPod Killers one thing was obvious. They were oblivious to the fact that the term "iPod Killer" had already gone from clever market-speak to running joke. Think about it. Last year we ran a five part article covering dozens of iPod Killers only to watch Apple gain even more market share. This grouping of portables, many of them flash-based players, did nothing to dent the iPod Juggernaut. The proof was Apple's introduction of the iPod Shuffle - its first flash unit - two weeks after last year's holiday sales season was over. In a few months Apple went from 0% of the flash player market to over two-thirds of it. So much for iPod Killers.

But hey, let us keep the joke going, because with so many competitors someone has to eventually come up with a player that sustains sales into the double digits. Now that the Rio brand has been retired - a name that managed to keep Rio a distant second to the iPod in overall sales - someone else can go for number two. Will it be iRiver or Creative or Archos? Maybe it will be Sony or Samsung. We'll just have to wait and see.

Of course, as the Charles Arther of the Register pointed out astutely, some of these firms will be claiming increased market share very soon and without having to sell more units. With Apple replacing the hard drive-based Mini with the iPod nano - and shifting there biggest selling player niche (2-6GB capacity units) over to flash memory - everyone else's percentage of the hard drive-based player market will automatically grow, some into the double digits. They will thus boast of a higher market percentage for a shrinking market niche.

But enough already, below are the first fifteen newcomers to challenge for the Digital Audio Player crown.

Creative Zen Sleek

Again Creative sends out a slew of new players to challenge the iPod. The Sleek was announced last June and started hitting store shelves for the Labor Day weekend.

The unit is slightly smaller and lighter than the full sized iPod and offers 20GB of storage. No color screen, but it does have an FM tuner and voice record capabilities. The unit handles the MP3 and the Microsoft WMA codecs (Microsoft's PlayForSure is supportesd for you Napster fans). Like all previous Creative portables it is probably a pretty good unit. Is it enough to lift creative above the single digits in sales? We'll have to see.


Creative Zen Sleek

Creative Zen Micro Photo

In contrast to the Zen Sleek's icy exterior the Creative Zen Micro Photo exudes color from the 262k color OLED screen that displays your color jpgs to its faceplate, which comes in a number of colors (of the 10 available colors so far we have seen salmon with blue trim, lime green and black, ahhh fashion, fashion, fashion).

The Zen Micro is, of course, a competitor of the late iPod Mini and it will be available in an 8GB version. Battery life is also supposed to get a boost to 15 hours over the regular Zen Micro's 12. The unit is also a tad slimmer than the original.


Creative Zen Micro Photo


Sony Walkman Bean

Sony Walkman Bean

I am not sure if I like the looks of this player or not, but give Sony credit for trying to have a little fun and bring shape back in as a market differentiator. This is nothing new for the company. Sony's first flash DAP, the Sony MC-P10 Music Clip, came out in 1999 and looked like a Parker pen on steroids.

The Bean comes in multiple colors and three versions. a 512MB unit the NW-E205, a 1GB unit the NW-E207 and the NW-E305, a 512MB unit with the addition of an FM tuner. Sony is claiming the battery can run three hours on only a three minute charge, an obvious shot at the iPod whose weakest feature has been battery time.

Samsung NeXus XM

The iPod Satellite - the mythical first MP3/Satellite radio portable that was to supposedly pair Apple with Sirius - did not happen, but Sirius competitor XM was working its deals with other manufacturers to release an MP3Sat of its own.

XM found that partner in Samsung who together will release the NeXus XM MP3Sat. The NeXus XM comes in 512MB and 1GB versions and handles MP3 and WMA audio files along with the satellite radio feeds the unit pulls from a docking station. This is the compromise with this NeXus XM. To keep it reasonably small the radio feeds cannot be drawn directly from the air into the player, ala XM's MiFi portable, but through a dock that receives the feed.

The dimensions of the NeXus XM are 3.4 x 1.9 x 0.7 inches, bigger than the full iPod's 3.3 x 0.98 x 0.33 inches. That's pretty large considering this is a flash memory unit. The unit is Microsoft's PlayForSure compatible (a marketing moniker more spin than true) and users can flag songs they hear off of XM and purchase them off of Napster. The NeXus XM is due to ship sometime after October 1st.


Samsung NeXus XM


Sirius S50

Sirius S50

So Sirius was not able to entice Apple to produce an MP3Sat with the words iPod on it. At least Jobs was talking to Sirius and not their larger competitor XM. That's because the iPod halo effect could possibly have launched number two Sirius to the number one satellite service.

Sirius couldn't wait to do something as its stockholders were clammoring for an iPod Satellite once rumors hit the Net last winter. XM already had it's MiFi portable unit out - a rather large and clunky shaped player - but that unit doesn't play MP3s. Sirius did announce their player before the Samsung NeXus XM so this qualifies as the first MP3Sat (though both players plan to be released the same month so delays could change that). Like the Nexus XM the Sirius S50 does not pick up the satellite feeds direct, but through a docking station that records the broadcasts to the player. The unit handles MP3 and WMA files and runs 1.9 x 3.9 x 0.7-inches in dimensions making it slightly bigger than the Nexus XM.

Philips Active PSA612 Blue (4GB) and PSA232 Red (512MB)

It is Philips who now makes the Nike MP3 sport portables that Rio originally designed. The latest version comes in the form of two players, the PSA612 that utilizes a 4GB microdrive and the flash based PSA232 that holds 512MB of memory.

Both units come with an FM radio as well as the usual sports player layout that wards of sweat and straps to the bicep. The players handles both MP3 and PlayForSure WMA files adding two more players that can play Napster downloads.

The PSA612 sells for $199 and it is assumed that the unit offer extra buffer space in case the hard drive suffers enough buffering to skip. The PSA232 sells for $119, just slightly above that of the popular, but spartan, iPod Shuffle.


Philips Active PSA612 Blue and PSA232 Red


Archos Gmini 402

Archos Gmini 402

An update of the original Gmini, Archos have always been a favorite maker of ours. The inventor of the Personal Media Player (or portable media player, we still don't know who the real creator of that term is) this Archos unit is small light and represents the non-DVR side of their portable video units.

The Gmini 402 sports a 20GB hard drive with a 2.2" TFT LCD screen. The player handles several audio, video and picture formats including MPEG-4, AVI, DivX, WMV9, , MP3, JPEG, USB On-The-Go and for you Napster fans the PlaysForSure version of WMA.

Archos AV500

This is an updated version of the AV500 widescreen PMP. The unit has a four inch 262K color display with a 16:9 cinema screen ratio. These larger Archos PMPs can record from TV for those of you looking for a portable Tivo. This will interest mass transit commuters who wish to tape the precious nights show for the ride into work.

The Archos AV500 offers both 30GB and 100GB capacity. The unit also offers a removable battery so a perfectly good player doen't have to die when the battery does.This is a feature we would like to see in all future digital portables.


Archos AV500


Sorell SF3000

Sorell SF3000

Sometimes smaller is not better, especially when one is trying to watch TV on a tiny display, so the Sorell is a mixed bag. This doesn't mean that the 1GB portable doesn't score points on it diminutive size (2.6 x 1.2 x 0.6 inches) and weight (under an ounce), attributes that are a plus for an audio portable. But video tends to demand a larger screen and storage capacity for practical everyday use so this one may be up to the user.

The SF300 handles MPEG4 and MP3 as well as JPG for photos. Add in there PlaysForSure WMA, OGG Vorbis, and ASF.

Selling price for the unit will run about $250

Sony Walkman NW-A1000 and NW-A3000

Looking for anything that will give Sony a leg up against the iPod the company has revived the Walkman name as added leverage for the holiday season. Most recently they officially declared that this player is their iPod Killer. I don't know how much this may help especially after what happened when these players were announced on the same day as Apple announced the iPod nano and iPod Phone. Sonys big news was mostly ignored. Oh well, what matters will be actual Xmas sales and the Sony players look to be good alternatives to the Apples.

The NW-A1000 comes in three colors and sports a 6GB hard drive and a 1.5" OLED screen. The identically shaped NW-A3000 is slightly larger with a 20GB drive and a 2 inch display and only comes in violet and silver.


The Sony Walkman NW-A1000


iRiver U10

iRiver U10

iRiver updates their line with their new video unit the U10. Going head-to-head with the Archos Gmini, iRiver like Creative is likewise turning to video/audio players to differentiate themselves from the iPod. This unit is flash-based offering a 1GB unit for $250. You can play your MP3s on this player as well as whatever video files you collect online. The U10 possesses a 320 x 240 color screen, and an FM tuner.

Alienware CE-IV

Not to be left out of the crowded MP3 player market, Alienware has decided to join Dell, HP and that other PC manufacturer that starts with an A (Avacado, Asparagus... whatever) with a unit.

The Alienware CE-IV is a flash-based player that comes in 512MB and 1GB flavors and can be extended with memory cards (which format we don't know yet). A few weeks ago when this unit was pitted against the iPod Shuffle it looked good. Now against the 4GB iPod nano...well it is going to be a tough Christmas for small manufacturers this year if their goal is to steal market share from Apple without taking it from each other. What makes this unit interesting is a large dock that serves as external speakers for the player as well as a place for recharging the battery and file transfers.

The Alienware CE-IV handles MP3 and PlaysForSure WMA files.


Alienware CE-IV


Adamond XK1

Adamond XK1

Nothing says I love you like a diamond, in this case a diamond in an MP3 player. For those who thought Jens of Sweden's gold-plated MP3 player was glittery (see last years iPod Killers IV) fellow Swedish company Adamond is offering a black player with a single diamond imbedded. As the first company to release a 2GB player, Adamond goes for the high end market the way the now bankrupt Jens went for the female market.

The choosey shopper can start with a .11 carat diamond or go all the way up to a half carat. (hmm... I will take a quarter carat with VVS1 clarity please). For those who care about the stats, player capacity starts at 256MB and go up to 1GB. Features include direct line-in recording, an FM tuner and MP3/WMA capability. Prices start at $299 US.

Philips GoGear HDD1630 and HDD6330

Philips owns RCA (inventor of the MP3 format) and build Nike's MP3 portables so they have been at this for a long time. That said, they have never been a big player in this market under their own name, even in the pre-iPod days. Will these players change that? Without anything unique to them probably not.

The GoGear HDD1630 ($199) and HDD6330 ($299) offer 6GB and 30GB of capacity respectively. Both players offer color screens, FM tuners and several dock options. The units handle MP3 and PlaysForSure WMA. They will be in stores sometime in October.


Philips GoGear HDD1630 and HDD6330


Qoolqee i

Qoolqee i

Warning, the following is not suitable for young children. It is one thing to concoct an iPod killer through unique styling, but somehow this one may have gone too far. For those who haven't figured it out, yes Virginia, it is shaped like an erect penis right down to the...um...body curve. Ahhh, I can see the commercials now with a beautiful young girl holding the unit firmly in her hands as she changes tracks by rubbing the...er...round...nib...ok, ok, you get the point.

Otherwise it is an average flash player with MP3, WMA, and OGG support, a monochrome screen, and runs 20 hours on one AAA battery. The unit also has an FM tuner and other stuff, which at the moment I can't seem to...recall...hmmm.

Mothers, if your daughters ask for one of these make sure you give them the talk first.

Other MP3 stories:
iPod Killers for Christmas 2005 Part II
iPod Killers for Christmas 2005 Part III


The 4GB iPod Nano is available on Amazon