iPod Killer Graveyard: Failures Equal NIB Bargains

By Richard Menta 5/11/07

Last holiday season MP3 Newswire said in its semi-annual digital portable roundup "We have run the iPod Killers for Christmas/Summer series since 2004. In that time we reported on 149 portable players and NOT one iPod killer from the bunch". As we were finishing up our Summer 2007 edition of the series it occurred to us - what happens to all the unsold stock after these players fail? Do they get crushed in a big...crushing thing, melted and recycled?

That's when it dawned on us that all of these players were most likely sold for pennies on the dollar to overstock vendors who then pawn them off cheap to the public, all New in Box (NIB) items, albeit a couple of years old. Now add to this all the portables given as gifts and never opened and that open bazaar we know as eBay can hold some hidden gems. This means there are some old players that if cheap enough could offer excellent value, even when compared against today's units and prices. So we spent a couple of weeks checking out eBay to get some idea of what is out there.

The trick is to find players that are well under their original price, but are not yet obsolete. For example, Creative just announced the 1GB Zen Stone for $39, so it makes no sense to buy a 512 MB Sony Walkman Bean, which was in our Christmas 2005 guide, for $59. That's the price we saw Overstock.com peddling it.

The other trick is to identify reasonably good players. Some of these units died a quick death for good reasons. Despite heavy advertising, including a million dollar Super Bowl ad, the Olympus MR500i from our Christmas 2004 guide garnered poor reviews and disappeared quickly.

Value is a subjective measure and for some an old player is just that, yesterday's news. Improvements have been dramatic over the last couple of years too, so a cutting-edge portable in 2004 may just barely be average by today's standards.

The digital savvy know what features are most important to them and they can tell right off if an older player at a steep discount makes a compelling option. A good way to gauge value for any user is to measure them against a contemporary player that's popular and well priced. In this case, we will use the iPod shuffle, which is a basic 1GB player with no display for $79.00. If a older player can offer more and do it for a price equal or less than the shuffle's it certainly becomes an option. The iPod shuffle is particularly good for this, because there are many users who find significant value in just the iPod name alone. It is also very tiny, a feature that is important to some users, but inconsequential to others.

For those who have any interest in this New Old Stock (NOS) market, below are some examples of old stock alternatives to the $80 shuffle that we think might be of interest. Check out all your old favorites to see what they offer. We only saw a limited supply of some makes like Cowon and we could find nothing on others, at least during the brief time we monitored this. One player we were particularly looking for, but could not find, was the SoniqCast Aireo2, the first Wi-Fi DAP from late 2004.

A couple of more notes, a few of the units we found on eBay were reconditioned units. The overstock vendors were upfront with this in their posts and, for the most part, these units have been fixed and retested so they should be fine. Still, factor that into to your value assessment when you make a decision, especially since some companies like Rio don't exist anymore so there is no warranty. We noticed some overstock vendors are asking at or near the original list price for these old units. Just ignore them, they'll catch on the hard way eventually. Finally, bear in mind that Li-ion batteries decay with time, even when unused, so non-reconditioned players using these batteries may or may not be able to draw a full charge out of the box.

Virgin Player VM-500 5GB (2004)

Released for the Christmas 2004 season, Virgin's CEO Richard Branson has high hopes for this little player. Targeted against the iPod mini, the Virgin Player was a little smaller and lighter and used the same 5GB Hitachi Microdrive.

The following March the entire Virgin DAP line was discontinued due to very poor sales, despite the fact that the VM-500 garnered good reviews from the likes of CNet and PC Mag. On eBay several NIB units started at $39 - and closed with one or zero bids.

Virgin Player VM-500 circa 2004

Toshiba Gigabeat F40 (2005)

This unit was part of Toshiba's first generation Gigabeat line, which came in 10GB, 20GB, 40GB and 60GB capacities. Toshiba Gigabeat F40 offered 40GB of space, an in-line remote, a dock, photo capability and a brushed aluminum finish. The player drew high praise from the digerati who in 2005 drooled over the F40's 2.2-inch QVGA color display, though they weren't particularly happy with the unit's transfer software.

The overstock/backstock people are asking around $125 for the player on eBay, but the bids were flocking to user-sold NIB players, which sold for between $80 and $90, a compelling price for a 40GB hard drive unit.

Toshiba Gigabeat F40 circa 2005

Rio Carbon 5GB (2004)

After SonicBlue was acquired by Denon & Marantz it looked like the maker of the Rio finally had a parent with deep enough pockets to help what was once the number one player in the US at least reach double digit sales against the iPod. Instead, D&M decided to eventually shutter the whole division and get out of the digital portable market all together. Biggest casualty was the Rio Carbon C, also known as the Rio Cubic, which promised to bring one of the best portables at that time to the Christmas 2005 season. The Carbon C was not to be, but the excellent (again, for the period) Rio Carbon is available.

New-in-box Rio Carbon's pull quite a few bids on the eBay market, but the bids generally close for around $60. We are assuming D&M no longer honors the warranty (though we have not confirmed this), but for 3/4ths the cost of an iPod Shuffle it's worth a look.

Rio Carbon circa 2004

AlienWare CE-IV (2005)

Measuring 3.1 x 2 x 0.7 inches and weighing just 1.3 ounces, the AlienWare CE_IV was that computer makers attempt to follow in the footsteps of the Dell DJ. The unit offered an FM tuner, 3D sound and an SD/MMC slot for expansion. What was most interesting about the player is that it offered a matching speaker system as an option that also served to recharge the player.

Reviews on the CE-IV ranged from excellent to so-so, so do your research. Mostly it is here because one overstock shop on eBay is selling factory sealed 1GB CE-IVs in a package deal with the sound dock, and is getting between $50 and $80 for the set.

Alienware CE-IV and Sound Dock circa 2005

Dell DJ Series (2005)

An NIB 512MB Dell DJ Ditty went unsold at $14.99, probably because the eBay seller tried to hit the buyer for $12.50 to ship a player that weighs less than the paper that wraps the package. If you can pay actual shipping costs this player makes a nice stocking stuffer for under eighteen dollars total.

The hard drive-based Dell DJs aren't badly priced either. There seem to be quite a few NIB DJ-20s (20GB) around with a starting bid of $49.99. Keep the final bid under the price of the iPod shuffle and you are doing OK.

Dell DJ circa 2005

Creative Zen Series Refurbished (2005)

Did you know that Creative has its own store on eBay to sell their reconditioned electronics? And did you know they come with a 30 day warranty from the manufacturer?

The Zen Micro was Creative's answer to the iPod Mini, offering 6GB of space on its Microdrive, an FM tuner, replaceable battery, and voice record. A refurb model in orange has a "buy it now" price of $69.99. How about a 1GB Zen nano for $19.99 or the 20GB Zen Touch for $99.99? They also sell reconditioned players of more recent vintage as well as non-refurbished units for list price.

Zen Micro circa 2005 refurb

Archos AV700 Mobile DVR (2005)

For a little perspective we thought we would include a very high-end player. Archos is actually one of the more successful iPod competitors, it just serves a smaller niche of high-end users. The AV700 has a monster 7-inch 16:9 display and comes with a dock to time record your TV programs (who needs to BUY episodes of Lost?). So when we saw an NIB unit with 40GB going unnoticed on eBay for $180 it caught our attention. This is a huge player though, weighing in at over a pound, so it's not for everyone. We found some overstock vendors were asking prices of over $400 for this model, which is silly as you can buy Archos' new Wi-Fi 604 for that money.

Archos AV700 circa 2005

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