How small is a small MP3 player?

player sizes main How small is a small MP3 player?

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.

21 Comments

Harold on January 17, 2010 4:35 PM

I have a Zune HD, a Sansa Fuze and a Sansa Clip+. (I also have an iPod Classic, which holds all my music, but doesn’t go with me as much as the other players).I prefer the Zune HD above all others for video, and have been encountering the earphone jack issue with the Fuze recently, as well as finding the screen a little too small for these ancient eyes for video, especially when compared to the Zune HD screen.So, for small, I’m perfectly happy with the Clip+, which can and does go everywhere with me. The Zune HD only goes where I intend to watch it, for the most part.

Benjamin on January 17, 2010 5:10 PM

Good article, but I was wondering why the Cowon D2 hasn’t been considered. It is smaller than some of the list, and has plenty of features that some others don’t.

MarvintheMartian on January 17, 2010 5:14 PM

I’m actually considering buying an E340 come springtime, for outdoor use, given the smaller form factor compared to my S540. Are their relative sizes different enough to be noticeable?

brian t on January 17, 2010 5:38 PM

I picked up a Centon Craze 8GB at Fry’s on trip to the USA (Houston) last August, for about $45 then. I wanted a USB Stick type device, and got what I asked for. Windows Media Player 11 handles it nicely. However I think I’ve found the “too small” point. The screen is OK as long as you change the backlight colour setting to something more readable than blue, but the navigation is fiddly to use when walking, which I do a lot. I use it as a backup player, since my friends in the USA gave me a parting gift, which shall not be named here!

Andreas Ødegård on January 17, 2010 6:10 PM

@Benjamin: It’s not a “list”, it’s an example. The same concept applies to any other player. The players in the picture are simply some I had around that fit well for showing different sizes.

Benjamin on January 17, 2010 7:58 PM

@Andreas:Understood, and I should have probably said ^samples^. Thanks for clarifying it. Problably just that I feel a lot of appreciation for my D2.

Kpalsm on January 17, 2010 10:34 PM

The D2 is in fact one of the “editor’s choice” items. The D2 held in very high regard and there are plenty of glowing reviews and articles on abi as it is. If it had been in this article it might have turned into another rant about how good it is ;)

Shorty15c4 on January 17, 2010 11:24 PM

What about the Iriver? I mean the Clix series? Very compacted and sexy. I know they dont produce them anymore, but if you can find one, its definately a great all around player, either the clix or the clix 2. Unfortunately, the closest thing iriver has to offer that is closest to the clix is the L player -_-. Really a step down. But again, for a all around player, its great for someone who has 8GB of media.

Shorty15c4 on January 17, 2010 11:29 PM

But if I were to choose a player from the list, the Phillips Spark is what I would choose, considering its tactical button to screen size ratio.

pudsey456 on January 18, 2010 3:48 AM

For me personally, my cutoff point is 40grams and (sorry!) something the size of an ipod nano. That’s no longer small.In 2010, my main complaint with mp3 players is they’re not small enough. I love small gadgets and there are not enough players that weigh in at under 20 grams. The typical low-end stick form factor is 25-35 grams, and one step up is the 1.5 to 2-inch screen players at 40-60g. I’d like to see 20, 15, even 10, because that’s a kind of innovation too.I think there’s fertile ground for creativity in making a small player that’s not a low-end product: making it good for browsing, and so on, but I guess that goes against most people’s values, therefore the manufacturers don’t really take this road. Philips did the SA28 and 29, but it seems that they might abandon this route and just turn it into a sports player instead. Hrmm.

lebellium on January 18, 2010 7:55 AM

“Size does matter after all” says Rammstein (not about the same topic though :P )For me the size is not important. I was used to put a big Samsung YH-J70 (same size than Coxon X5) in my pocket so any current mp3 player is smaller enough for me. I like big screens even when it is not for video (like the 2,6″ of my Samsung R0) so it takes place.

Handa on January 18, 2010 9:37 AM

..Silly review with Zero info…waste of time..

Prinny on January 18, 2010 10:10 AM

Handa this isn’t a review but rather an article. I found the d2 much to big for me due to the width of it.

Nobody Important on January 18, 2010 10:45 AM

@Handa: It’s a discussion, not a review. Settle down.@article: Among the MP3 players I’ve had, the Version 1 Sansa Clip was probably the medium sized player (the smallest was the – gasp – iPod Shuffle, 2nd Gen, the square-ish one with the buttons). I used to have a Sansa…errr, I think it was a c250. I think. It was quite a nice size, but it wasn’t pocket-shaped, so I passed when that little thing coughed its last MP3.My trade-off, personally, is between screen space and size. I like small players that manage to convey a lot of information. The Clip’s screen makes it difficult to browse more than 4 GB of music without major attention dedicated to it. That’s probably why I don’t use it full time.As for thin-ness, the nearly-not-there weight and thickness of my (again, sorry) iPod Nano 4th Gen is probably the pushing point. It fits in my pocket and weighs practically nothing, but any bigger and I’d probably have some issues with carrying it with me everywhere I go. I’m a mobile fellow, and my MP3 player needs to be able to tuck away or spring into action at any moment. I tried using a relatives older, fatter iPod Nano and it just didn’t work for me – I need either thin and sleek, like the Nano, or just plain tiny, like the Sansa Clip.

Frankenbike on January 18, 2010 2:11 PM

The Clip+ is tiny, yet I can still use it with motorcycle gloves on. The built in mount (clip) makes it easy to attach to just about anything.It’s also so light, you can use a tiny 25mm USB/mini-USB dongle and hang it on USB ports in cars or netbooks without carrying a cable. I keep one of those dongle things in my wallet.And it’s inexpensive enough that I use it during high-risk activities: running, skating, working around the house (sanding, painting, using power tools, etc), without worry about destroying it.For me, the Clip+ is a “play while not looking at the player” player. If I need to see my list of songs, I have my HTC Imagio with a 16gig MicroSD card in it. I also use that for video.I originally got the Clip+ as an augmentation to my Sansa Fuze, but since I got it, I was never using my Fuze, so I gave the Fuze to my wife, who just broke her Sansa E260.I’ve thought about buying another Clip+ and cutting the clip off and putting sticky Velcro on the back for other improv mounting possibilities.

Scooter on January 19, 2010 3:36 AM

Andreas …You have an iPhone?Shame on you!(although, technically, this isn’t anythingbutiphone.com)

Andreas Ødegård on January 19, 2010 12:16 PM

@Scooter: I also have an iPod, a netbook, two digital cameras, an xbox 360, a dog, lots of school books, several sweathers etc. All of which are equally unrelated to this site. ABi is after all not an anti-apple site, if that’s what you meant

BattleBrat on January 22, 2010 3:19 AM

I consider anything the size of a jump drive “small” I consider anything with a screen but not capable of playing video “compact” I consider a player the size of a sony NWZ-S639 “Average” and I consider the Zune HD, the Creative Zen X-FI 2 and players of similar size to be “Full Sized”

uranutan on January 30, 2010 1:01 PM

I consider anything around the size of the iPod Classic to be small. If it fits in my pocket without constantly reminding me it’s there, it’s small enough.

duckeedoug on February 20, 2010 6:19 AM

I have a sansa Clip+ as well. I also have a huge selection of other MP3 players as well. The Clip+ is very small and fits nice with my daily activities. However the two primary selling points for the clip was the OLED screen which is very nice, as well as the SlotRadio feature.As soon as I purchased the Clip+ via internet I also went to my local RS store and purchased 4 Slotradio cards. They are on sale which make the songs 2.9 cent each. I also am expecting a Slotradio card purchased from ebay for $15.00 which make the songs 1.5 cent each. Each card has 1000 songs and it just make for hasle free quality listening.So far I am extremely happy with this player, but as I’m writing this the player is only one day new.I’m kinda of bumb out about the none replaceable battery that I have enjoyed with other Sansa players, but hopefully the battery will give many years of service.

will-kill-for-exclusivity on October 24, 2010 9:12 AM

i own a Philips GoGear Vibe

that battery lasts for a week

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