The best MP3 players, of all shapes, sizes, capacities and prices
In early 1998, Creative launched its first ever MP3 player. The Creative Nomad was a re-badged version of the Samsung Yepp YP-D40, and it had a colossal 64MB of internal memory.
Over ten years later, the biggest Apple iPod has a capacity 2,500 times larger - 160GB. The great thing about MP3 players today, is that there's something for everybody.
You can buy a 1GB Trekstor iBeat for less than £30. You can spend £320 on a 32GB super touchscreen iPod touch. Or you could buy any one of a thousand different players at price points between the two.
Here's our list of the top 11 MP3 players on the market today. All price points, all capacities and all sizes catered for nicely.
Creative Zen Stone 1GB - 4GB
We're so accustomed to Apple dominating the MP3 player market these days, that it's difficult for other players to make an impact.
However, with its 2GB of space and neat array of colours, the Creative Zen Stone is pretty neat.
It sits in the palm of your hand and weighs next to nothing. With clear and easy controls you can find your favourite tunes or simply choose to shuffle your songs randomly. Simply plug into your laptop and you can drag and drop files to it.
The sound quality is impressive, but even better is the remarkable battery life, as we managed to get well over 10 hours from a single charge.
SanDisk Sansa Clip 1GB - 4GB
This Flash-based MP3 player is pitched as a rival for the iPod Shuffle or the Creative Zen Stone, but manages to have a style all its own.
Measuring 56 x 36 x 13mm, it incorporates a 25mm screen that is far more usable than on the Zen Stone. The controls are simple, but it's the addition of a Home button that really stands out, taking you back to the start menu.
It gets its name from the clip on the back, so you can attach it to the collar of your coat.
Apple iPod Shuffle 1GB - 2GB
Of all the iPods in the 2007 range, the one that changed the least is the iPod shuffle; compared to its predecessor, it costs the same and offers the same capacity.
Compared to the Creative Zen Stone and the SanDisk Sansa Clip, the Shuffle really doesn't offer much as a low-end player. The other two both offer a screen, and larger capacities for a better price.
The Shuffle is the obvious choice for anyone wanting tight integration with iTunes, but really, the Zen and the Sansa are far better options here.
Creative ZEN 4GB - 32GB
While the world is obsessing over Apple's new iPod touch, let's not forget about all the other cool MP3 players out there.
You know, the ones that aren't locked down to proprietary file formats and limited to use with only one PC or Mac (ahem).
Like this one for instance. The new Zen. It's the new MP3 player from industry veteran Creative, and it's pretty cool too.
Let's get one thing cleared away right from the start: this is no iPod touch competitor. It's a flash player but it's designed to be compact and it's also £170 cheaper than the touch.
At the time of publication, the 4GB model was available online for under £70.
SanDisk Sansa Fuze 4GB - 8GB
We loved the original Sansa, it was the office darling in a world filled with more showy Apple reviews. It did what it did without fussin' or fghtin' and did it well.
It could play a multitude of formats and record clearly on the fly. For a good year, all the press briefings we attended were recorded on our wee Sansas.
The Sansa Fuze is an updated version of the older models; the family resemblance is definitely there but the refinement is just as evident. It's a very functional little player, and the sound quality is absolutely fantastic.
Apple iPod nano 4GB - 8GB
You'll not find a speck of plastic on the new nano; it's got a matt-finish aluminium top surface, and the now-classical stainless steal back plate underneath.
So the first thing you notice when you pick it up is that it has a size-defying solid feel to it.
Surprising for a 6.5mm thick (thin) device that weighs less than 50g, wouldn't you say?
The second thing that will strike you when you get the iPod nano out the box is that it almost seems like it's the 'wrong shape'. At 69 x 52mm it's almost square - not what we're used to from an iPod.
It's a great MP3 player - it looks and sounds fantastic - but the price might put some people off.
Sony Walkman NWZ-A829 16GB
Sony is moving on. It long ago conceded defeat in an unpopular war against Apple's iPod - a war Sony lost because it adhered to a silly proprietary format (ATRAC), listened too hard to the needs of its music and movie stablemates instead of its customers, and served up lukewarm chow when it should have been changing the world. This much we know.
The 2008 NW-A829 Walkman we have in our hands is an evolutionary step up from last year's NW-A800.
It pretty much boasts the same user interface, same wide compatibility with different music formats (from protected WMA to unprotected AAC) and plays back MPEG-4/H.264 video just like an iPod does.
What marks out the NW-A829 from its predecessor then is Bluetooth connectivity.
Creative Zen X-Fi 8GB - 32GB
The Creative Zen X-Fi is essentially the same size as Creative's last flagship MP3 player, the Creative ZEN. The semi-clunky interface is also pretty much identical. But there the similarities end.
Because while the Creative ZEN was a solid performer, it lacks a distinguishing feature. The Zen X-Fi, on the other hand, has four secret weapons.
The first is the aforementioned X-Fi audio processor, for superior sound quality. The second is a startlingly good Wireless LAN Wi-Fi function which allows you to wirelessly stream and download music from a web server, a PC on your home network as well as to and from other Zen X-Fi players.
The third is an internal speaker which makes the one on the Apple iPhone sound fairly pedestrian. And finally, the fourth is a pair of high-quality Creative Zen earphones which come as standard.
SanDisk Sansa View 8GB - 32GB
It's easy to see how SanDisk has managed to establish itself as a firm number two in the American MP3 market.
The iPod, of course, rules the roost over there, as it does in practically every country on the planet. But SanDisk's Sansa MP3 players have slowly been building a following, and with the View, that following only looks likely to get bigger.
The Sansa View takes over the mantle from the e280 as SanDisk's flagship player. And while there is probably nothing seriously groundbreaking about this new model, there's certainly a lot to love about it. It's a very lovable player, and startlingly good value for money.
Apple iPod touch
The original criticisms of the iPod touch were that it wasn't available in sizes over 16GB.
But now that Apple has introduced a new 32GB iPod touch, removing most people's main objection to the original player in one blow.
In iPod mode this player is sublime. Cover Flow makes total sense on the touch's large 3.5-inch screen, and rooting through your list of artists by flicking your finger on the screen makes it easier than ever to find what you're looking for.
As a video playing device it scores highly again. This is the simply the most elegant and stylish MP3 player ever built. It may not have the best sound quality. And it might not be small enough to fit comfortably into all pockets. And the screen my get very greasy. But still, this is sexy as hell.
Apple iPod classic 80GB - 160GB
With the entry-level capacity now 80Gb, and the top end a seemingly impossible 160Gb (more than most new laptops), it's - in a funny sort of way - the most practical video device around.
The need to prepare for a journey by whittling terabytes of video down to just 20 or 30Gb of what you might fancy watching is gone entirely. With 160Gb, you're sorted for every occasion and relived of the irritations of constantly deleting and uploading.
True, the Archos 605 comes in 160Gb at the top-end too, but it's a much larger and pricier device. The widescreen shape of the also new iPod Touch may make it appear a better bet as a video player than this, but the screen resolution's little better and a maximum capacity of 16Gb places ridiculous restrictions on your options.
Yes, the screen's very small, but four generations of colour LCD down the line for the iPod range and it's become quite a beauty. The display is brighter and clearer than many rivals with four times the pixel count.