Rich Warren: Very few alternatives to iPods

Rich Warren: Very few alternatives to iPods

The battery of my first-generation Apple iPod Nano charged for its final time. I also bought the next generation of Nano but left it in a drawer, so the battery completely died after five years of disuse. Apple makes replacing the battery nearly as expensive as buying a new player.

While Apple makes a desirable piece of hardware, I've never been comfortable locked into iTunes. So I decided to buy a different brand of MP3 player.

I stopped into a big box store and discovered my choices were exactly one: A low-budget RCA player for about $35. Its most desirable attribute is a built-in USB connector that folds out to connect it to a computer.

So I went online. The Sony website now only officially offers a single model, although Amazon continues to offer a previous model. The current Sony model builds the MP3 player into the earbuds — which rules out using high-quality or noise-reduction headphones. The previous Sony model looks more like a conventional iPod and costs about $60, half the price of a Nano.

Further burrowing into the Amazon store revealed SanDisk, a reputable brand known for its thumb and flash drives, still marketed a couple of models for about $35 and $55. There also were two or three off-brands that I skipped. I ordered the SanDisk Sansa Clip+ 8-gigabyte player for $55 including free shipping.

I'll let you know how it works out. I hope loading music will be easier than using iTunes — and that it sounds as good as an iPod.

Most people now use smartphones and tablets that incorporate MP3 players, which explains the limited number of stand-alone models. But even after the first iPod appeared a little more than a decade ago, Apple faced minimal competition. By comparison, within a year after the first Sony Walkman about 20 companies offered competing models. At the height of Walkman/Discman mania in 1990, at least 100 models flooded the market, with a vast array of sizes and features.

By the mid-1990s Sony became obsessed with its expensive, flawed and backward MiniDisc technology — to the neglect of everything else portable. Other companies toyed with flash memory MP3 players with modest success.

So Apple swept the market not merely because of its exquisitely designed iPod, which used a miniature hard drive for capacious storage, but because its iTunes store fostered legal music downloads to the iPod. Trying to use iTunes to load music onto competing brands required some computer smarts. Thus, Apple walked away with the market.

Some of us still desire a cheap, small, easy-to-use MP3 player that easily loads from any source, rather than using a smartphone, but that option soon will be gone. Even better would be a player that comes without cheap, flimsy earbud headphones.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be reached via email at


Topics (2):Music, Technology

Comments embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

jdmac44 wrote on August 22, 2013 at 10:08 am

I won't go into hardware, I'm one of those smartphone users who mostly enjoys using Slacker Radio to provide my music programming for me.  But I will say that Amazon's MP3 store is my favorite source for music that I'm going to buy.  They have one of the highest bitrate quality levels, they're inexpensive and have frequent sales, there are no copy protections and best of all, your music is always available on their site for download or streaming (they also offer about five gigabytes of storage for music that you didn't buy from them!).  I haven't used iTunes in years, but I know back when I did, I hated the fact that they let you download the song once and then you were on your own to maintain it! If you lost your copy, you'd have to buy it again!  Down with the Apple empire!

choco640 wrote on August 22, 2013 at 11:08 am

I have a Sony Walkman MP3 player and I love it!  It is marvelous and I can drop and drag from I-tunes and my Windows player to load it.  I highly recommend it.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on August 23, 2013 at 6:08 am
Profile Picture

For running music, I've always preferred the cheapest thumb drive MP3 player. Philips, Coby, etc.  It can get drenched in sweat, and jostled around. If it breaks, it cost $10-$20.

I use Sansa Fuze and/or GoGear Vibe for audiobooks because the MediaMall (Urbana & Champaign's regional online eBook and audiobook repository) does not recognize cheaper thumb drives.


The Apple iPod is the best rip-off ever invented. I can't believe how many suckers paid hundreds of dollars for that hunk of junk. They don't even seem to mind when it freezes/dies.