It’s that time of year when we lay out our top picks for the year. 2009 was the year of the touch player- consumers demanded them and manufactures responded. If you notice that this year’s list resembles last years and that’s because many of the manufacture’s this year made some awesome incremental improvements in their current line of players. Without spoiling anything else, read on for this year’s top 5 list.
#5: Sony Walkman X-1000
The Sony would have been higher on the list, but the cost of the player is at the highest end of the spectrum of any MP3 player. The 16GB version debuted at $300 and the 32GB at $400 about $100 more than its competition! Its price has dropped 20-30% as of Christmas ‘09 but still remains at the top in terms of price.
Even though I think the price is a bit high you are getting a lot of player for that price with features like a web browser, Youtube app, and internet streaming though Slacker Radio. The feature set is something that rivals Microsoft’s Zune- in fact we might call the Sony X Series a more open Zune not being tied to one piece of software.
Build quality top notch and similar to Sony’s A series of Walkman’s with a beautiful OLED screen. The textured side paint job and metal skeleton give the player a substantial rock like feel, grounding it steadfast in your hand.
The user interface makes the player very approachable and easy to dive right into your music collection. The touch screen sensitivity is one of the best I have seen on any device with the Zune being the only other this ultra-responsiveness class.
The feature that I think hurt this player was the built in noise cancellation. While it did work well, not many people cared to have that feature and it ultimately drove up the cost of the player. Really, price is what the X-series centers around. It is one of the best players, but is the worst in terms of bang for the buck.
#4: Microsoft Zune HD
The Zune HD is a beautiful player though and though. An unbelievable attention was paid to every detail of the player. As a geek who likes to take apart players and look at the insides I was impressed with even the care that was taken to lay out the internal components- something that’s worthy of being framed and hung on the wall.
The attention to detail permeates to the other aspects of the player especially in the user interface. The subtle 3D UI is as smooth as they get thanks to Nvidia’s tiny and powerful Tegra chip. This becomes more impressive when you fire up one of the few available 3D games that match or beat other portable gaming devices.
The Zune HD is no doubt an impressive device but the reason we cannot place the device higher in the list is due to its ecosystem tie in with software and services. This is not necessarily a downside to most consumers since it does created a more refined experience, but here at ABI we have always been champions of choice in formats, software, and operation system.
There are many other features and aspects of the Zune such as applications and streaming music though the monthly Zune pass that is hard to squeeze into this top 5 list, so if you are interested read more about it in the Zune HD review or check out the latest price on Amazon. Zune HD Forum
#3: Cowon iAudio S9
Cowon has a place in audiophile’s hearts for its pedigree of great sound quality and highly adjustable sound settings. The S9 keeps with this theme but starts to show that Cowon is paying a bit more attention to design and user interface. This starts to become even more apparent in the recent i9. The S9 receives a place on the list right below the P3 because the UI still has some ways to go and it is lacking h.264 support comparatively but still does a better job in terms of sound quality.
The build quality is solid but a little on the light side but housed in this player is a gorgeous AMOLED screen putting it in the same class as the Sony X-Series and the Zune HD. The UI will take some time to wrap your head around but we really like that Cowon deciding to include tactile buttons for volume, track selection, and pause/play.
The S9 is a bit more complex and is more suited for the audio and gadget geek, but that’s why we like it. It is a very functional and very hackable player deserving a place on the list.
#2: Samsung P3
The P2 was a hit and here is example of a company that directly learns and builds upon what they learned from their previous products. They may not be as directly involved collecting user feedback as Microsoft, Cowon and SanDisk do, Samsung takes more of a “lurk and learn” approach taking much feedback from users on our Samsung forums. The P3 is definitely deserving of the +1 compared to the P2. Build quality has been improved along with UI responsiveness and a lot of little UI improvements and fixes here in there.
The reason the P3 is at the number two spot on the list is like the S9 it is very customizable but feels more refined compared to the Cowon S9 and is more flexible in video formats. This is where the P3 really shines- playing back most formats without having to spend hours converting video. Drag and drop and you’re ready to watch.
Additionally, Samsung nailed the Bluetooth support for the P3. Not much different from the P2 but fixes a lot of connectivity issues. The big story here is being able to tether your P3 to your phone to make and receive calls, transfer files, and use Bluetooth audio headphones.
There are loads of features on the P3 and it is very reasonably priced (UK) and would be first on our touch screen bang for the buck list. Read more about all these features in the P3 review, but also be sure to check out the P3 user community in the forums for lots of great tips on getting the most out of this player. The ABI Samsung forums are the biggest on the net.
#1: SanDisk Sansa Clip+
Yes we all still love the Clip and were totally thrilled that SanDisk produced a second generation. The Sansa Clip+ is a spitting image of predecessor, but with more refinement across the board in build quality, features, and user interface.
The killer feature however is the addition of a microSD slot- something that we wanted from day one of the first generation Clip’s release. Why this is awesome is now you can add a 16GB (and future 32GB) microSD card for a total of 24GB giving the Clip+ the best size to capacity ratio.
The Clip+ is a no-nonsense player, very predictable and easy to use. It is a player I recommend to anyone who has never owned an MP3 player before, but the Clip+ also appeals to the polar opposite of the spectrum being a must own backup player for even the most season MP3 player users. It’s highly regarded in this crowd due to the feature set, file support, and top end sound quality all at a dirt cheap price. So even if you do own another feature filled player we still recommend picking one of these micro wonders up.
The Year 2010
In 2010 we will see more touch screen based players with extended features like web browsers and streaming radio. HD video will also start to take center stage for more of the video based player, they will be nice accessories for connecting via HDMI TV on the go. We will also see manufactures put more emphasis in the build quality, sound quality, and design as the cost of components drops. The device line up in 2009 was hurt a little by the recession, but we should expect business as usually in 2010.