iPod Killers for Summer 2006

By Richard Menta 5/18/06

Looking for an MP3 player and you are open to units other than the iPod? I doubt any of these units will be iPod killers (that silly term their marketing departments continue to use), but they do offer a lot of features not (yet) found on an iPod. As we said before, individually there is no such thing as an iPod killer, but together these players can slowly chip away at Apple's market share. That's making the assumption that the iPod's ability to sell three out of every four players is not sustainable. iTunes does lock a lot of users into Apple's DRM format, so it may be a really slow chipping away.

Toshiba Gigabeat S

The Gigabeat S is a Windows Portable Media Center unit that comes with 30GB (model S30) and 60GB (model S60V) capacity. The unit sports a 2.4" QVGA color screen, an FM tuner, and supports MP3 as well as the latest versions of Microsoft's DRM-laden audio and video codecs. The Gigabeat S claims a 20 hour battery time for audio and a 5 hour duration for video. The Toshiba can be hooked up to a Tivo or an XBox 360 for those so inclined.

The Toshiba Gigabeat S30 weighs in at 4.4 ounces in a 2.3" x 3.9" x 0.5" case. The Gigabeat S60V is slightly larger holding 5 ounces in a 2.3" x 3.9" x 0.6" body. The Gibabeat S also comes in three colors; white, red and black

The Gigabeat caused a bit of a stir with the digerati when introduced at CES last January. The player will become available by the end of May.


Toshiba Gigabeat S


Samsung SBH-300 with Bluetooth

Samsung SBH-300 Bluetooth

Rumors that Apple is planning to release a bluetooth iPod sometime in the near future have been flying around for several months now. The problem with Apple rumors is that since there are so many of them it is hard to validate the accurate ones against the myriad that are just acts of wishful thinking by fans. Sometimes, though, you can look to what the competition is producing to get a hint a what technology is viable now and therefore a compelling bet for Apple.

The Samsung SBH-300 is a DAP with Bluetooth for wireless headphone activity. The SBH-300 is a 2GB flash unit that sports a 262k color OLED LCD display, voice recording, FM tuner, and A2DP stereo Bluetooth, which allows the unit to function with Samsung's Anycall SBH-100 earphones. Samsung also says that the unit can function as a Bluetooth stereo headset for handling calls linked to Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones.

Sony NW-A1200 with 8GB

A few weeks back Sony SVP Takao Yuhura announced an upcoming iPod killer and a new service to replace its fading Connect music download site. Unfortunately, Yuhura gave no details as to how or why this Sony player would be any different? Could this unit be it?

8GB of flash memory would certainly gives this unit a foot up from the iPod nano and would be the key compelling draw for higher end users. Unfortunately, this player turned out to be a hard drive unit, so it is less compelling. The unit is also the first Sony to use the AAC format over Sony's own ATRAC3 codec. This doesn't mean the player can handle tracks purchased by iTunes as those files, while AAC, have Apple's DRM to contend with. The NW-A1200 gets 20 hours of lif on the charge and is expected to ship in the US in June.


Sony NW-A1200


LG MFJM53

LG MFJM53

IT looks like LG is another new entrant into the PMP category, though rather than call their new portable the LG 1 the company gave it this cryptic moniker, the LG MFJM53.

The LG MFJM53 is an 8GB hard-drive unit, like the Sony NW-A1200, but with a little more. First, that is a touch-sensitive OLED screen the player sports there. Second it plays MPEG-4 AVI video, as well as WMA and OGG on the audio side. LG claims 4 hours of video and 30 hours of audio on a single charge.

The LG MFJM53 has an FM tuner, an ever popular feature these days. It also includes a voice recorder/in-line audio jack as well as a microphone. The MFJM53 comes in at 10.1 x 4.8 x 1.4cm, weighs 88g and should be in stores as you read this.

NEC VoTol

The NEC VoTol, short for a moderately pretentious moniker they label Visual On-demand Tool of Life, is modestly notable for the fact that an English to Japanese translator is packaged into the thing.

A PMP unit, the VoTol is capable of handling MPEG 2 and 4 video and DivX. On the audio side, the VoTol adds Ogg Vorbis and ACC (not Apple's proprietary version, but you probably already knew that) to the commonly used MP3 and WMA formats.

The NEC VoTol holds 30GB in a 1.8" drive, has an SD port for added memory and transfers, and sports a 2.7-inch 320 x 240 LCD. And that water graphic on the screen shot? It's a fancy battery level indicator (points for flair). The VoTol shipped last March for $340.


NEC VoTol


Sansa e200 series is available on Amazon

Sandisk Sansa e200 Series

SanDisk has now released its 200 series players. Announced in January, these iPod nano competitors offer up to 6GB of memory, trumping the nano's 4GB top end. The unit's 3.5" x 1.7" x 0.5" dimensions compares well with the iPod nano's 3.5 x 1.6 x 0.27 figure, though the Sansa is twice as thick.

The e200 series offers some compelling features. This includes a removable battery - a must as we found out recently - built in voice recording, an FM tuner and a MicroSD slot to expand the memory further. The unit also has photo and video playback capability, the latter feature being a curious addition for the small 1.8-inch TFT display. The SanDisk e200 line include the 2GB Sansa e250 for $199, the 4GB Sansa e260 at $249 and finally the 6GB Sansa e270 at $299.

Oregon Scientific MP121 Measures BMI

In the bustling world of MP3 players, where your choices are the iPod v. everything else, Oregon Scientific has focused on the active set as its niche audience. The company continues the trend with its new MP121, a unit that is waterproof, shockproof, and will measure how many footsteps you take on that hike through the Columbia River Gorge, courtesy of a built-in pedometer. The features offered by the pedometer include target setting (step, calories, distance) distance calculator, calorie counter and body mass index (BMI) calculator. The pedometer is the most unique feature in this 1GB unit, whose earbuds are even waterproof. That doesn't mean you should be doing pool laps with this player like the SwiMP3, but if cought in a heavy rain while visiting Klammath Falls, there is no need to tuck it away in your jacket.

The MP121 measure in at 2.72" x 2.07" x .83" and retails for $179 for the 1GB unit. A 512MB unit is also available for $139.


Oregon Scientific MP121


Samsung YP-U2 is available on Amazon

Samsung YP-U2

As we get closer to summer another Samsung DAP has arrived. Samsung's persistance clearly sends a message that the iPod may be king now, but we'll chip away year after year. Of course, the iPod had to go ahead and gain even more market share the last six months, so Sam sung has to reverse that trend first. But hey, it was Samsung who designed and built Creative's first MP3 player, the original Nomad, in 1999 so these guys know what they are doing.

So let's get to the details. The Samsung YP-U2X is a 512MB player with a 4-line LCD display, voice recording, FM tuner, and a reported 13 hour bateery life. The unit measures 24.4 x 87.6 x 12.6mm and handles WMA / ASF / WAV audio along with MP3. The unit is already available through Best Buy's site for a very reasonable $70. The 1GB U2Z version of this portable and the 2GB U2Q are expected to hit US shores before early summer.


Viliv P1 PMP

Viliv P1

The Viliv P1 PMP is the latest contender coming from Asia. Yes, the Viliv is sold in the US and making its entry last March.

The Viliv P1 offers the widescreen abilities missing on the Apple with a 4" 480 x 272 pixel color TFT display, and comes with 30GB of storage and a CF slot for file transfers. The Viliv P1 also sports an FM tuner and DivX and Xvid support. The unit's battery will run 6 hours on video and 11 hours when pushing audio only.


Viliv P2 PMP

Viliv P2 with GPS

Viliv has announced its second portable media player for the US market. The Viliv P2 complements the Viliv P1, announced last February, with a similar array of goodies, but a different look.

The Viliv P2 comes with a larger screen than its predessessor, sporting a 4.3 inch color LCD widescreen. The P2 also offers a 60GB storage option, twice that of the P1. Both units handle a wide array of codecs, formats, and standards including MPEG-1/2/4, H.264, DivX, WMV 7/8/9, XviD, MP3, WMA, OGG, AC-3, and WAV. But what makes the Viliv P2 stick out just a little bit more is the addition of GPS to the options list for this unit.

iRiver E10 Subs as TV Remote

The E10 has many of the usual features such as FM tuner, voice recorder, and image viewer. The E10 also has an unusual feature in the form of an infrared port so the player can be used as a TV remote.

The unit sports a 1.5" TFT display fit inside a 45mm×96mm×14mm body. Another detail that seems a bit suspect to us is the claim that the E10 will get 32 hours off of its Li polymer batteries. 32 hours is excellent for a flash player, but an HDD portable? I have my doubts, but we'll just have to wait and see.

The iRiver E10 will hit the Korean market April 28 and should find its way to the US by summer. The unit should retail in the states for somewhere between $199 and $250.


iRiver E10



Panasonic D-Snap SD 330 series and SD 500 series

Panasonic D-Snap SD 330 series and SD 500 series

Despite being a very marginal player in the MP3 portable market, Panasonic has refused to bow to the dominance of the iPod. Panasonic has offered a player since 2001 and despite their lackluster sales the company is upgrading their D-Snap line with several new entries.

All of their players use SD cards as their file storage and support MP3, AAC and WMA formats. The SD570 and SD510 pictured on the right are pendant-styled players differentiated by the fact that the SD570 also includes an FM tuner. The same difference separates the SD370 (FM) and SD310 also pictured on the right.

Archos 104

This Archos 104 comes with 4GB of hard drive storage, yet despite the use of non-flash technology it manages a profile similar to the iPod nano. The difference is that the Archos 104 is a quarter of an inch thicker and an ounce heavier. That's pretty good, particularly since flash memory supplies are tight these days keeping costs up. The reward is that the Archos 104 will set back the shopper just $149, a hundred bucks less than the similarly endowed iPod nano. Our experiences with Archos products have always been excellent, so it is well worth considering.

The Archos 104 sports a 1.5 inch OLED display and handles PlaysForSure media for you Napster/Rhapsody users. The player ships in May.


Archos 104 is available on Amazon



Venzero One

Venzero One

A few years back when I was reviewing the Neuros MP3 portable it came with a service called HiFi, short for Hear it, Save it. HiFi would identify the songs the unit recorded from the FM band (through some form of fingerprint technology) once you connected it to your PC and the Net and then populate that info into the player. It worked fairly well for popular songs, but the services library at the time was still limited and had difficulty with more obscure music. Anyway, MusicMarker offers a service somewhat similar to that and they have now released their first portable to take advantage of it.

The Venzero One is an 8GB Microdrive-based player that offers such now standard features as FM Tuner, voice recording and plays tunes in the Play MP3, WMA, WMA DRM and WAV formats. The Venzero One sports a 2" color TFT display to view pics and videos, the latter which the unit can handle if it is in the AVI format similar to the early Archos PMP units. The player comes in at 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.55-inchs and weighs in at 3.4 ounces. The unit is available in June for $289.

MobiBLU Cube 2

MobiBLU has also announced a cubed mp3 player as a followup to a cube portable it released at the beginning of the year, the MobiBLU DAH-1500i.

The MobiBLU Cube 2 (who needs fancy model numbers anymore) is diminuative 1.1 x 1.1 x 1.1 inches and handles MP3 and WMA files. It only weighs 18 grams or 0.63 ounces for us Yanks. It also includes an FM tuner for those in a reasonably populated area with good strong FM transmission. Yeah, they promote it as the world's smallest MP3 player, but so do a dozen other player manufacturers. Since we don't care who really makes the smallest it is all moot anyway.


MobiBLU Cube 2


MobiBLU B153 is available on Amazon

MobiBLU B153

For years iPod owners have complained about the skimpy battery times offered by Apple and grumble as the company repeatedly tell consumers that it will get better soon. Meanwhile, Sony is already pumping out 32 hour power capacity so we know we should not have to wait. Here is more evidence as MobiBlu has announced a whopper of a playtime spec for its latest MP3 player.

The 153 in the MobiBLU B153 moniker means the player has a 153 hour battery life. It also has the usual features (unless you are an iPod owner) of an FM tuner, voice recording, as well as MP3 and WMA support. The unit comes in several capacities topping out at 2GB.

RCA Lyra X3000

RCA is the creator and owner of the MP3 codec and released one of the first portable players back in 1999. They were also the first to incorporate MP3 into their lines of stereo receivers, DVD players and other electronic products. Despite the fact that I always could find their MP3-flavored products in the local department store, I rarely see them in the wild.

Fortunately for us the company has not let my observations curtail their activities. Lest we live in an iPod-only world it is good to see the likes of Archos, Creative, iRiver, RCA and even the much maligned Sony keep trying.

The latest batch of RCA units include the Lyra X3000 personal media player. The X3000 uses a 320x240 LCD display, plays MPEG-4 files and can record broadcast programs from the television. The unit sports a 20GB hard drive, small these days for a unit that records and plays back video, and will retail for $399.


RCA Lyra X3000



Delkin Revel

Delkin Revel

With the somewhat success of flash media maker SanDisk with its own MP3 portable, it makes sense that other flash makers should try their hand. I have to put a caveat on the word success, because SanDisk's claims of being the number two MP3 manufacturer are probably grossly overstated. Still, it looks like they are moving a reasonable number of Sansa's and that's reason enough for Delkin to introduce a player of its own, the Delkin Revel.

From the outset, it doesn't look like a very interesting model. The case is un-inspiring, if not ugly, and there is no display ala' the iPod Shuffle. The cost of the 1GB Revel is $109, ten bucks more than the Shuffle. There is a 256MB model for $50, but 256MB these days is less than compelling.

JVC XA-F107 and XA-F57

Here are two new JVC players for you, two minor league units offering 512MB (XA-F57) and 1GB (XA-F107) respectively. Both support MP3 and WMA PlaysForSure and have inline recording. Expect to pay $99 for the 512MB player and $149 for the 1GB unit.


JVC XA-F57 & XA-F107

Acer MP-500

The digerati continually trade rumors on what the next Apple iPod with video will look like. Word is it will finally get the widescreen available on competing portables and it will have touchscreen controls too. While Apple may not have any such offering just yet, makers like Acer are more than happy to oblige those who desire such features.

Enter the Acer MP-500, a personal media player that sports a 3.5" 320 x 240 pixel touchscreen display and stylus. The unit offers either 20GB or 40GB of storage space, handles the MP3, AAC, as well as the several flavors of WMA formats for audio, and offers a voice recorder. As the red/white/yellow cables on the photo demonstrate the unit offers input and output lines that allow users the option of running their shows on the TV. The unit is expected to start sales in Europe and sell for $315 to $450.


Acer MP-500


Dada Code M

Dada Code M

Normally we don't throw wearable DAP players on this list for the same reason we rarely include mobile phones, there are just too many such items out there so we try to stay focused. Naturally some devices we simply can't resist.

In this case it's a sneaker and yes, those are built in speakers sewn into the side that will pump your latest theme song for all to hear as you walk down the boulevard. Think Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. You too can strut to the sounds of your own theme music. The Code M can either play music through the speakers or to a wireless headphone. Dada claims a 30 foot radius for the wireless, which means friends with wireless headphones can groove to your tunes too! Wow, this is making me giddy. If that is not enough the shiny silver surface just screams pay attention to me. Hey, it's a safety thing! You want speeding cars and airplanes to be able to see you at night, don't cha?

I am totally entertained by this thing. Just toss a mobile caller into it and you have Maxwell Smart's shoe phone. Don't laugh, the wireless headset can be programmed to take calls from your existing cell phone, so the folks at Dada thought about this. The Dada Code M loads tunes via the USB port (that cable in the photo), which also recharges the device/footwear. The controls are in the tongue of the shoe and Dada claims the Code M will play 6 hours on a single charge. The company says the Code M holds 100 songs, which probably means it holds a very skimpy 256K of memory.

iRiver Clix

In Asian countries, where the iPod barely manages an appearance on the top 10, iRiver has about a third of the market. Now it takes its next stab against the iPod here in the states and this time it is working with a few friends. The new iRiver Clix will be the first unit to support Microsofts just released Windows Media Player 11 and it will designed to synchronize with MTV Networks' also new URGE digital music service. iRiver hopes that MTV's branding will draw enough of its TV audience to feed it like iTunes feeds the iPod.

The iRiver Clix offers 2GB of memory in a player that is not that much larger than it 2.2 inch TFT display. Along with WMA 11 the Clix supports OGG and MP3. Throw in the now common FM tuner and voice record capabilities and you have a feature set that is good, but needs a little more. So iRiver gives you a little more. The screen allows the user to select to display items in both portrait and landscape mode and the Clix offers support for FlashLite games. The iRiver Clix will sell for $199.


iRiver Clix


Samsung YP-Z5

Samsung YP-Z5

Samsung has released its direct competition to the iPod nano with this slim line design designated the YP-Z5. Coming in at 1.66" x .45" x 3.54", the Samsung YP-Z5 comes in two flavors, each representing a different capacity to again match the nano. The YP-Z5A is the unit's 4GB persona, while the YP-Z5Q is the 2GB version of this flash unit.The model numbers that are listed lower in the press release tag an additional "S" (for silver presumably) at the end suggesting other colors will be introduced in the future. A 1.8" TFT display serves as the player's screen.

Where the Samsung differs from the iPod nano is where most iPod competitors differentiate themselves, with expanded features. The Samsung YP-Z5 supports the MP3, WMA, WMA-DRM10 (PlaysForSure) and OGG format. The YP-Z5F adds an FM tuner and voice recorder to the mix.

Maxfield Max-Joy Protects the Ears

The risks to hearing from listening too much to MP3 portables continues to circulate the news. Maxfield has a solution by introducing its Max-Joy (a name that sounds just a tad creepy to me. Pray it does not have a vibrate mode), a player that adds an an audio limiter restricting the volume to 60DB.That is significantly less than the near-100 db sound pushed out by most MP3 players. The unit also comes with Koss headphones, which they claim are designed to reduce potential damage. The May-Joy is encased in a rubberized shell to keep out dirt and moisture with rounded edges to better absorb the inevitable drops, the latter feature a compelling one to us fumble-fingered adults. The unit comes with only 256MB of memory, but has an SD card slot to expand it. It gets 19 hours on a AAA battery.


Maxfield Max-Joy

Lenovo Easy Cube MP500

Who says that MobiBLU gets to have all the fun with little cubes. The Lenovo Easy Cube M500 is 2 3/4 inches on all sides, which is a nice size for a unit with a built-in speaker on the side. Despite the fact that these speakers usually offer tinny sound at best, they can be quite useful at picnics and trips to the beach. In fact, I wish more players offered this practical option as a feature. As Engadget explains, the Easy Cube has no display and storage is strictly handled through any SD cards you have lying around the house, but at $50 the Lenovo makes a reasonable impulse buy.


Lenovo Easy Cube MP500


Kiss MP3 Player

Kiss MP3 Player

Ok this one is a little cutesy, but it will probably score huge points with your 10 year old daughter. That's assuming you aren't afraid of making your young child deaf with one of these things, but I suspect big girls will like it too. It is a nice heart-shaped portable for that loved one who already has a penchant for heart-shaped baubles around their necks. It's sweet and it comes with up to 1GB of memory. Yes, nothing says romance like small electronics from your lover. The Kiss MP3 player is available in red, white, and silver, which appears to be the only feature besides the player's shape. There's no price on the Kiss MP3 yet, but expect it to hit English-speaking countries by summer simply because the word kiss is, well, in English.

Sony Thumb-drive Player

This Sony offering looks like a simple USB thumb drive, but Sony's new E-series MP3 portables are really just going after Apple's iPod Shuffle niche of stripped down DAPs.

According to ATRACLife the new units will possess a single line display that runs like a seam down the E-Series body. The player comes in several colors and capacity ranges from the NW-E002 with 512MB, the NW-E003 with 1GB and the NW-E005 with 2GB of memory.

Sony hinted that these players would be cost comparable to the iPod nano, a higher-end Apple player that offers a full, though tiny, color screen. That already puts Sony at a disadvantage


Sony E-Series


Tomy Bear MP3

Tomy Bear MP3

Everybody is getting into the MP3 business, including toy manufacturers. Hearing risks aside, I guess they see a viable niche market targeting your kids. Yes, it is cutesy this digital music player from Tomy. It has to be as it aims for are those at the cusp of school age. Now your little tikes can listen to music like the big kids and feel all grown up and the like. Actually, I can see this tiny device becoming popular among early teenage girls, though even there I am not so, as many young teens are already waiting for their mobile phone contracts to expire so they can upgrade to a more feature-laden phone.

So what are the basics for Tomy Bear? It is a 128MB portable, quite modest in today's iPod nano times, but still enough to cause the hearing damage audiologists fear earphones are causing. The Tomy bear MP3 plays music in both MP3 and WMA, gets 8 hours to a battery, and weighs in at 1.8 oz. Dimensions are 3.7" x 2.5" x 1.6".


Inkel Widetouch 5.6

Inkel Widetouch 5.6

The only reason the Inkel Widetouch 5.6 is listed here is to show how far the Korean brands have already come. The Widetouch 5.6 has touchscreen controls, a huge 5.6" widescreen LCD display and can receive digital media broadcasts, an asian broadcast format that does not exist in the US (we are stiill struggling with HDTV, which is a compatibility mess over here).

Oh yes, one more thing, the Widetouch 5.6 is also a GPS unit. It is players like this that give some validity to those seemingly bizarre iPod rumors. There is nothing bizarre about a GPS or Bluetooth iPod other than we haven't seen one yet.

Sharp Music Carry QT-MPA10

The boombox isn't dead, its just getting a makeover. This 5lb player by Sharp offers 1GB of memory to go with the AM/FM for those picinics. The Sharp Music Carry plays MP3 and WMA and records from the radio. The unit is powered by 6AA and comes in several colors.

The QT-MPA5 is the same unit with 512MB of memory.


Sharp Music Carry QT-MPA10


Memorex MMP8565

Memorex MMP8565

Memorex is best known for its tape line and a 1970's TV commercial stariing Ella Fitgerald. Of course this means little if you are from the post-cassette, post All in the Family generation. Frankly, this little MP3 player will do little to endear the company to generation X, Y and whatever.

The Memorex MMP8565 is a low-end unit without even the decency of a color display, as if a color display makes the music sound any better. The 6 line monochrome display may not make those tiny album screens look any better, but the player does offer 1GB and 2GB capacities and a 20 hour battery display, which bests a certain iPod nano we all know and love. The unit offers MP3 and WMA PlaysforSure support, which already may be behind now that WMA 11 is out. The unit measures a thin 3.1" x 1.8" x 0.6".

No pricing is available yet on the unit, but it will probably be reasonably cheap.

Memorex 8550 and 3774

Memorex also introduced two lower end models. The circular 8550 is an attractive player with its simple lines and very modest 256MB capacity. The 2.3" x 2.3" x 0.8" player offers no screen and aims for the iPod Shuffle market.

The 3774 possesses 512MB of memory in its stick design and offers an SD/MMC memory card slot for expansion. The unit also adds an FM tuner in its 3.5" x 0.8" x 1.3" dimensions.


Memorex 8550 and 3774



Shiro AS

Shiro AS

What I have always felt is one of the advantages of digital audio players is the fact that they can take any fun shape without being limited by hard insertable recording media like cassettes or vinyl records. The Shiro AS is a case in point. For you soccer fans (I know, football everywhere else, but the US) Singapore outfit Shiro has released the Shiro AS.

The Shiro AS is a 1GB portable with an FM radio, OLED screen and claims 10 hours of battery life. It plays both MP3 and WMA (PlaysForSure?) formats. The unit will become available this spring. Maybe, next week we'll catch a couple of golf ball DAPs for the links, or possibly a Frisbee MP3, or.......

Evergreen DN-2000 sells for under $10

This is the most primitive, simple, basic MP3 portable you can buy today. It doesn't even come with memory, you have to use your own SD/MMC cards. So why is this player so important? Because the manufacturers of the little credit card DN-2000 were able to bring the cost down so much it RETAILS for only $8.50. That says a lot about what it really costs to put a basic MP3 player together and how cheap basic brand name units will be in a couple of years.

At a price point under $10 the Evergreen DN-2000 will probaly be most visible in the states as the next big conference booth giveaway. You personally will probably acquire one by mailing in 5 boxtops and $3.00 S&H to....


Evergreen DN-2000


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The 30GB iPod Video is available on Amazon

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