In a device world where many are lining up behind app stores and music players on phones are taking a portion of the portable audio market, the dedicated MP3 player is far from dead. 2010 was a little bit of a slow year but some really interesting shifts towards these App centric non phone media players is happening. We got a little taste of it this year but will see a lot more of it for 2011.
As for 2010, here are there players that were at the top for 2010.
#5: Creative Zen X-Fi2
Honestly, I’m still disappointed with Creative for not following up what I believe to be one of the best MP3 players of all time, the Zen Vision:M. A sore spot for many Creative fans, but it still hasn’t killed the enthusiasm for their other compelling players. The Zen X-Fi 2 is an OK player- typical to Creative but with an average resistive touch screen. What puts this player in the number 5 spot is the hobbyist development community that sprung up around it. This development community’s success can be attributed to Creative opening up the player with a simple Lua scripting language and promoting it. Equally important was the ground of developers that really creative yet simple apps for the device. Creative has even featured some of these apps on their official site. Buy one. X-Fi 2 Forum. Download XFi-2 Apps.
#4: Archos 32
Archos has always been bitter sweet to me. The hardware and price points have always been great, but the software/firmware has always lacked. It became quite a mess when Archos tried to overly customize Andoid for the last generation devices- See the Archos 5 IMT review. However, I think that Archos is at a turning point for the better. Their 8th generation of devices have been pretty impressive on both the hardware and their once Achilles – firmware. It might not quite be top notch yet, but it is certainly leaps better.
While Archos is cranking out some nice large sized tablets, they have not ignored the portable audio market. The Archos 32 is an Andoid 2.2 (at the time of this article it is a rather current build) PMP. It is at the low end and I would certainly call it a budget or lower end player, but it has great performance for its low $150 price point. Archos has also greatly improved the sound quality over previous generations. It won’t quite go head to head with Cowon, but it is certainly above average. Buy one. Archos Forum.
#3: Microsoft Zune HD
The Zune HD returns to the list this year with a few updates and a lot more apps. Zune’s strong point is undoubtedly its user interface, but what is also very attractive is the $15/month subscription and social aspects of sharing and discovering new music. During 2010, many more applications were released even though the Zune HD still remains centered around entertainment and not a full blow app centric device. Though why the Zune HD didn’t make it higher on the list is because some of its features do count on the monthly Zune Pass subscription and the Zune HD hardware plus this pass is what makes Zune a remarkable portable entertainment device. Buy one. Zune Forum. Zune HD Review.
#2: SanDisk Sansa Clip +
The Clip didn’t get an update in 2010 (Clip++ ?)but still remains one of the top purchased players on this site so we had to put it back on the top 5 list this year. There will always be a special place in our hearts for the Clip+ due to its high quality sound, memory expandability, and Rockboxability at an amazingly low purchase price. The Clip+ is easily the player that will give you the most bang for the buck. Ask any one of our regular forum members what players they have and more than likely it will include a Sansa Clip- it’s a staple in ABI member’s gear bags often in multiples. Buy one. Clip+ Forum. Clip+ Rockbox. Clip+ Review.
#1: Cowon J3
Cowon’s S9 made the list at #3 in 2009 for its amazing sound quality and its fantastic looking AMOLED screen. The J3 builds and improves on the S9’s firmware, features, design, and UI- so much so that we felt that it needed to be at the number one spot for 2010. Cowon stays true to its audiophile roots with some of the most comprehensive sound tweaks including BBE sound enhancements, and a very robust EQ. Despite lacking some codec and container support video playback looks great on the AMOLED screen.
We love that Cowon stayed with a pure audio / video playback platform and stayed away from the Android mess of 2010, but we are looking forward to see how the Android based D3 device will play out in 2011. It would be great to see an audiophile centric Andoid player. Buy one. Cowon J3 Forum. Cowon J3 Review.