Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

How to Buy Smartphones and MP3 Players

On top of my column today, which focuses on how to buy computers, digital cameras and televisions this holiday season, here's a little more guidance on two other common gadget gifts.

Smartphones

Smartphones play multiple roles: They put the Web in the palm of your hand, let you check your e-mail anywhere, keep you on top of your calendar, play your MP3s and look cool. But not all fulfill these roles equally well. Here are some things to keep in mind while shopping:

* First, see which wireless carrier's coverage matches your own use. Some smartphones, such as T-Mobile's Sidekick models and Apple's AT&T-only iPhone, only run on one carrier.

* If the smartphone's primary job is to replicate your computer's contacts list, calendar and to-do list, it's hard to beat the comprehensive way Microsoft's Windows Mobile ties into Microsoft Outlook. Palm OS devices, such as the Treo and Centro, also pair well with Outlook--but if you want to connect them to a Mac, get ready to spend some extra money. Even Palm executives say they expect their Mac customers to drop $40 for Mark/Space's Missing Sync software, which syncs a Palm to a Mac's Address Book and iCal software.

* The iPhone, meanwhile, rules this category if you regard a smartphone as either an extension of your music library or as a pocket-sized window to the Web. But it's near-useless as a notepad and, for now, doesn't support add-on programs.

* If you most enjoy playing extra software, Palm OS devices--despite a serious slowdown in the development of new Palm programs--still offer the widest variety of third-party applications, many of them free.

* I think the BlackBerry is horribly overrated, between its ugly, clumsy desktop software, its atrocious Web browser and its inefficient interface. But the BlackBerry Pearl is one of the thinnest, best-looking smartphones around. And if you feel strangely compelled to have constant access to your work e-mail, a BlackBerry will do that just fine with some help from your office's IT department.

MP3 players:

IPod or not? That's where most people start their shopping, and they should. If you're not sure if a gift recipient wants an iPod, check! You do not want to guess wrong on this.

* Anybody who uses a Mac needs an iPod, period. Most non-iPod players rely on Microsoft software, either Windows Media Player or Zune, that isn't available for Mac OS X. The same goes for anybody who's shopped at length on the iTunes Store, since most of those downloads can only be played on an iPod.

* Conversely, anybody who has purchased or rents music from one of the major non-iTunes stores will need a player compatible with those downloads. A "PlaysForSure" model should support stores besides iTunes and Zune, while only Zune players--shockingly enough--work with the Zune Marketplace. And if you'd like to download audiobooks from your local library, you'll almost always need a PlaysForSure device to listen to them.

* If you want to listen to podcasts, get an iPod. The Zune's podcast support is embryonic in comparison, but far outclasses what comes with other non-iPod players.

* Unless you want to carry around your entire music library or watch full-length movies on a player, stick to models that use flash memory. The solid-state storage in these devices shouldn't conk out if you drop one on a sidewalk, unlike the hard drives in higher-capacity players.

* Among flash-based iPods, I prefer the iPod nano. The iPod touch looks flashier but is more trouble to use, thanks to its lack of physical controls for such basic functions as adjusting the volume. And the iPod shuffle is too basic for anything but workout use.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  November 22, 2007; 12:00 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Sites That Dig For Black Friday Deals
Next: Turkey-Day Tech Shopping Tips

Comments

Rob, "If you want to listen to podcasts get an iPod" --- oh come on now.

If you want to listen to podcasts get whatever you want and use free podcatcher software like Ziepod or Juice, or even iTunes if you really must have iTunes. There are plenty of not-iPods that are perfectly capable of syncing with podcatchers, or Windows Media Player, or WinAmp, or even RealPlayer.

You don't need "podcast support" in a device; you need software do do the heavy lifting, and a USB port to plug your not-iPod into.

Oh, and yes, I'm using Windows. But you already said if you have a mac you need an iPod. But if you don't have a mac, you don't need to limit yourself to an iPod or even a Zune.

I listen to the Washington Post Tech Podcast, among others. Ziepod downloads it for me automatically, it cleans up the ID3 tags for me, and transfers it to my 1GB Sansa SanDisk which I got for $50 last year.

There may well be other, more compelling reasons to shell out a lot of money for a pretty device with proprietary connections and requiring proprietary software, but if you have Windows and you want to listen to podcasts you absolutely do not need an iPod.

Posted by: Cate | November 22, 2007 1:33 AM | Report abuse

Cate: I entirely agree. Juice puts all the podcast files alongside my music and spoken word files, and they get synched with everything else.

No need for -pod-anything to be involved. We're just talking about MP3s and MP3-players.

Posted by: Mike | November 22, 2007 4:43 AM | Report abuse

The Sansa e200 series of flash-based MP3 players work across all systems (Windows, Macs, Linux) and are quite affordable. Their list prices range from $100 for the 2GB e250 to $150 for the 8GB e280. They play music (MP3, WMA, secure WMA, WAV), video, pictures, can record audio (WAV), and even have FM tuners.

Admittedly, for video and pictures, you need the Sansa Media Converter, which only runs under Windows, but that's what VMware is for...

Posted by: Miniver | November 22, 2007 5:34 AM | Report abuse

#1 Tip:
Look for the Made by Microsoft Label!
Zune, ZunePhone, ZuneCam, ZuneMedia store, ...

http://fakesteveballmer.blogspot.com

Posted by: steve ballmer | November 24, 2007 7:43 PM | Report abuse

Why does Apple even need commercials and PR when the press does it for them? There's no need to shell out extra bucks for an iPod when most MP3s players let you download podcasts to Windows and even Linux. I use a Transcend T.sonic 1GB I got earlier this year for $80. It also functions as a voice recorder. Earlier, I used a Creative Nomad MuVo.

It's time for personal tech columnists to get past their Mac obsession and look at the real world.

Posted by: Bradley J. Fikes | November 24, 2007 9:20 PM | Report abuse

"And if you'd like to download audiobooks from your local library, you'll almost always need a PlaysForSure device to listen to them."

While this is certainly true, it's important to realize that most libraries carry *far* more audiobook titles on CD or cassette tape than they offer in a downloadable format.

Audiobooks on CD are universally compatible with all digital audio players -- just import the discs, and transfer to your player (Google "itunes audiobooks" for instructions). For that reason, I recommend that audiobook fans politely request at their local libraries that they spend their scare funds on titles which can be used by all of their patrons, instead of a very few.

Posted by: Alderete | November 25, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Anyone familiar with the new Archos 5th generation PVPs with built-in WiFi?

Posted by: Mike | November 26, 2007 11:56 AM | Report abuse

My understanding is that DRM music from the iTunes store can simply be burned to a CD and then DRM is gone. If true, the real issue is the time required, not the loss of purchased music. Besides, some of us refuse to buy DRM music. iTunes Store and Amazon and Zune Marketplace all have many non-DRM MP3 downloads.

I have a Zune 4 and find that the Marketplace, Zune software, and the player are all fine for podcasts. That's my main use for it and there is no problem.

My Zune also has a radio receiver so I can listen to the TVs in the gym. Not everyone wants that, but if you do, the Zune has it.

I can't/won't put down iPods. I don't really care about them. All I can do is point out that my Zune 4 works fine for music, podcasts, video, and radio. It's a good if not excellent alternative.

Posted by: Brien | November 27, 2007 3:31 PM | Report abuse

I'm having trouble syncing my Palm Tungsten E with my Motorola phone. They seem uniquely incompatible. Even the Mot software developer (Smith?) threw up their hands in response to my asking how to sync the two together.

I don't want to do email on my phone, nor do I need a camera... or carry around something that requires a "Bat Belt". I suppose a Blackberry Pearl might do the job, although I'll likely wait until there are real products as a result of Verizon's decision to accept all devices, which won't will probably not happen until late in 2008, as phone (i.e., hardware) manufacturers will have to re-engineer their (few) CDMA phones to operate in the Verizon spectrum. No mean feat.

Can anyone help me in the meantime with a way to sync my Motorola phone with Palm Desktop?

Posted by: Downtown DC | November 27, 2007 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Brien, yes, you can burn a CD with iTunes and effectively remove the DRM. Content from the CD can be ripped to a computer, whatever. The big annoyance is that iTunes burning component doesn't co-exist very well with other burning software you may have on a Windows system. So, if you update your version of Easy Media Creator, Nero, or Alcohol 120%, you are usually forced to re-install iTunes before it will burn disks again.

Posted by: slgrieb | December 2, 2007 1:45 PM | Report abuse

'm having trouble syncing my Palm Tungsten E with my Motorola phone. They seem uniquely incompatible. Even the Mot software developer (Smith?) threw up their hands in response to my asking how to sync the two together.

I don't want to do email on my phone, nor do I need a camera... or carry around something that requires a "Bat Belt". I suppose a Blackberry Pearl might do the job, although I'll likely wait until there are real products as a result of Verizon's decision to accept all devices, which won't will probably not happen until late in 2008, as phone (i.e., hardware) manufacturers will have to re-engineer their (few) CDMA phones to operate in the Verizon spectrum. No mean feat.

Can anyone help me in the meantime with a way to sync my Motorola phone with Palm Desktop?

There is good news for audio book lovers. Being an audio book fan I come across a literary sensation book Possession which won the Booker prize. This is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance. Get your copy at http://www.im-listening-to-audio-books.com/

Posted by: Sheryl | December 7, 2007 3:34 AM | Report abuse

I'm having trouble syncing my Palm Tungsten E with my Motorola phone. They seem uniquely incompatible. Even the Mot software developer (Smith?) threw up their hands in response to my asking how to sync the two together.

I don't want to do email on my phone, nor do I need a camera... or carry around something that requires a "Bat Belt". I suppose a Blackberry Pearl might do the job, although I'll likely wait until there are real products as a result of Verizon's decision to accept all devices, which won't will probably not happen until late in 2008, as phone (i.e., hardware) manufacturers will have to re-engineer their (few) CDMA phones to operate in the Verizon spectrum. No mean feat.

Can anyone help me in the meantime with a way to sync my Motorola phone with Palm Desktop?

There is good news for audio book lovers. Being an audio book fan I come across a literary sensation book Possession which won the Booker prize. This is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance. Get your copy at http://www.im-listening-audio-books.com/

Posted by: Anonymous | December 8, 2007 7:29 AM | Report abuse

I'm having trouble syncing my Palm Tungsten E with my Motorola phone. They seem uniquely incompatible. Even the Mot software developer (Smith?) threw up their hands in response to my asking how to sync the two together.

I don't want to do email on my phone, nor do I need a camera... or carry around something that requires a "Bat Belt". I suppose a Blackberry Pearl might do the job, although I'll likely wait until there are real products as a result of Verizon's decision to accept all devices, which won't will probably not happen until late in 2008, as phone (i.e., hardware) manufacturers will have to re-engineer their (few) CDMA phones to operate in the Verizon spectrum. No mean feat.

Can anyone help me in the meantime with a way to sync my Motorola phone with Palm Desktop?

There is good news for audio book lovers. Being an audio book fan I come across a literary sensation book Possession which won the Booker prize. This is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance. Get your copy at http://www.im-listening-audio-books.com/

Posted by: Anonymous | December 8, 2007 7:32 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company