Small World

RCA Lyra RD2760
$249; 1.5GB
Pros: Bonbon-size, and smart enough to organize music without a desktop jukebox program. Sporty types will like the arm strap.
Cons: “Ear bud” headphones look silly and are hard to put on. Volume could be higher and sound fuller. The chromelike casing feels cheesy.
User: Gym bunnies.

Rating: Three stars

Philips HDD 060
$199; 1.5GB
Pros: Minimalist two-tone design makes it easy to fool people into thinking you have an iPod.
Cons: This one’s a little too law-abiding: It plays only MP3s transferred with the included software (for copyright-protection purposes). Not Mac-compatible, either.
User: Lawyers, industry types.

Rating: One star

Iriver IGP-100
$249; 1.5GB
Pros: Refreshingly round and easy to load: Just drag and drop files between desktop folders. Sound is loud and full; there’s a built-in FM radio.
Cons: A little big for the average pocket, especially with the case. Cueing up your music is complicated—unless you use a jukebox program to create playlists on your computer.
User: Students with backpacks.
Rating: Four stars

Rio Nitrus
$199; 1.5GB
Pros: Fits easily into front or back pockets, with a detailed, easy-to-read interface, user-friendly joystick control, and well-designed software. A 4GB version arrives this summer.
Cons: Treble-heavy sound that doesn’t quite go to 11, especially with the disappointing Sennheiser headphones. Not Mac-compatible.
User: Retro-eighties fetishists.
Rating: Three stars

iPod Mini
$249; 4GB
Pros: Petite, available in five gorgeous colors, and handbag-friendly. The new click-dial feature is better than the original iPod controls.
Cons: Doesn’t play WMA files—the iTunes store uses the AAC format—and you can’t download tunes from your friends’ computers. Good luck finding one in stock.
User: Aesthetes who travel light.
Rating: Four stars

Creative Nomad Muvo²
$200; 4GB
Pros: The iPod mini’s only rival for storage capacity at this price point—for now. And it’s loud enough to set at less than full volume for a change.
Cons: Who cares if you have 1,000 songs when you have to scroll through them on a one-line display? Tiny buttons are hard to maneuver.
User: Value shoppers.
Rating: Two stars

Insider Advice
Musicmatch CEO Dennis Mudd on picking a player.

1. Storage Do you want to carry an album or two, or your entire collection? The more gigabytes (GBs) a player has, the more music it holds. Each GB translates into about 250 songs (in MP3 format; 500 for WMAs).

2. File Format Almost all players support MP3s. But if you purchase downloads from an online store, be sure your device will play the format. Many players—though not the iPod—support the Windows Media format, offered by most music stores.

3. Battery Size How long do you want to listen: for the duration of a transatlantic flight or a weeklong camping trip? Pick a player with appropriate battery life.

4. Sound Quality Some players are louder than others, which matters if your tunes are competing with an airplane’s engines. Make sure your player has high-quality headphones and produces superior sound.

5. Price Shop around—prices vary widely at different stores and Websites. There are some inexpensive players that could leave you disappointed later. Weigh needs and affordability before you plunk down cash.

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