When choosing what MP3 player to buy, size plays a role for a lot of people. If you’re going to watch a lot of videos you will probably need a decent sized screen, but if music is your main priority you have a lot more choices. But between usability, features and physical size, how small is a small MP3 player?
The smallest mainstream player these days is the Sansa Clip+. There are smaller players, but most are not very popular, out of production, or lack features. The Clip+ packs both a screen and a microSDHC slot into a very small package, making it very portable. However, adding about 15% volume will bring you up to a Philips Spark which gives you almost double the battery life and a color screen. The size difference between the two is so small that few people would dismiss the Spark for its size, and features and price become the deciding factors. The next step up is the Philips Vibe, which actually supports video (although useless due to the resolution and format). It’s taller than the other two, but has about the same volume as the Spark. Also identical in size when looking at it from a volume point of view is the Sansa Fuze, which packs a larger screen and noticeably better build quality into what looks like a bigger player, but is so much thinner that it matches the Spark and Vibe for volume. Add another 20% to the volume and you have the Philips Aria, which has about the same technical specs as the Fuze but lacks a microSDHC slot (and a stable firmware). At about the same volume as the Aria is the Sony E340, which adds a QVGA screen resolution to the mix. Between the Clip+ and the E340, you only add about 50% to the volume to go from a small player with a dual-color screen to a player with a full 240×320 color LCD screen which you could actually watch videos on without it looking like crap. The question is: when is a player no longer small?
The answer is different for everyone. I myself find that the thickness of the player matters most to me when I carry it around, as that’s the “direction” that my pocket is limited in size. I recently cut the clip off my Clip+ to make it thinner and easier to carry in a pocketwith my cellphone, as the device is as thick as my iPhone with a rather solid case on it due in part to the clip on the back. I used to use the Sansa Fuze for audio books on the go but it had serious issues with the temperature here in Norway, so I moved to the Clip+. Ironically, that was like moving to a much larger player because it created a noticeably bigger bulk in my pocket. If you clip it somewhere however, it comes off as a lot smaller than the Fuze. This is a perfect example of how the volume distribution can mean a lot more than the actual volume of the player, at least in some situations.
Screen size is also a factor that varies with physical size, and the players I picked as an example here are all players with a screen size no bigger than 2”. One noticeable difference between the players is however the resolution, as the Fuze and Aria are both 220×176 while the E340 is 320×240 (in landscape mode). The latter is about twice as many pixels as the first, which means that if you compare the Aria/Fuze and the E340 you have the same physical volume, same screen size (more or less), but double the resolution on the Sony. This difference is critical when doing anything that uses the screen, as you have much more screen real estate to work with both for the interface and video playback. If you increase the size further and move to a Sony S540 you gain a 2.4″ screen but as it has the same resolution the picture quality isn’t any better and will in fact look less clear than on the 2″ screen. The difference in physical volume however is 25%, so it’s noticably bigger. There you have three devices where the E340 shares screen resolution with a physical bigger player and shares screen size with a lower resolution, same-sized player. You can get 2.6″ devices with the same resolution as 3″ devices, and 3″ devices with the same resolution as 4.3″ devices. With lines this blurred, it’s hard to to organize players into groups based on features or size alone, as the grouping will differ between the two and people will prioritize differently.
So the question remains: when does a player become big enough to make it a factor in the buying process? Is a Clip+ too thick for a pocket, or a Fuze too wide and tall for a belt? Is it better to have a 4.3″ device with a low resolution, or a 3″ device with a high resolution? Share your opinion on MP3 player sizes in the comment section below.