Hundreds of millions of Apple iPods have been sold worldwide , while SanDisk's flash-based Sansa players are the indie-boy's gadget nomad of choice. We've pitched two of our writers head-to-head to decide, once and for all, whether the Apple iPod is better than the competition. This is Rob Mead vs James Rivington. iPod vs Sansa. Let the fighting talk begin!
In the red corner: the SanDisk Sansa
For me, the choice between an Apple iPod and a SanDisk Sansa is really no choice at all. Regarding the iPod, how this severely handicapped device ever became so popular is a mystery to me. Sure, the iPod is sexy as hell, it looks great and it's pleasant to use. But that doesn't change the fact that the iPod is a wheelchair-bound geeky freakfest of a device.
The iPod queues at the gadget world post office every Friday morning to pick up its disability allowance. And it's not this way due to some tragic accident, either. Steve Jobs and his Apple cronies have deliberately locked down the iPod and its iTunes software so that it's incompatible with other services and products. They've crippled it because they want to squeeze as much cash out of you as legally possible. That's not cool.
If you buy an iPod, you're instantly limited to using only the iTunes Store as a source of online music, and if you use the iTunes Store you're instantly limited to only using an iPod. You won't be able to use it with more than one computer either. As soon as you've used it with your home PC or Mac, then that's the only computer that the iPod will recognise forever. Or until you reformat it. To buy an iPod is to severely limit your gadgety MP3 enjoyment.
Which brings me nicely on to the merits of SanDisk's Sansa MP3 players. While the iPod is the communist Joseph Stalin of the MP3 world, the Sansa is the liberal indie-style Mahatma Gandhi. It shares all the merits of the iPod but sports a feature list which puts its Apple cousin to shame. It's free in a thousand ways that the iPod is not.
For a start, it has its own clickwheel-style navigation method and a menu system every bit as intuitive as the iPod's. It's a pleasure to use and that's a good start. But looking past these factors, the Sansa begins to show its deeper strength. It's not locked down like an iPod. It acts as a mass storage device, so you can use it with any Mac or PC, and copy tracks onto and from any source. Can't do that with an iPod. It plays a variety of DRM formats too. Can't do that with an iPod. Plus, you can use it to store any file type you like, just like a USB memory stick. Want to do that with your iPod? Tough, you can't.
And apart from that, it's also a flash player which makes it lighter and more compact than your average iPod. It has superior battery life, and it plays videos (which the flash-based iPods cannot do) and has an integrated FM radio, which the iPod doesn't have either. You can use its internal microphone to record audio and radio songs. You can also expand its 8GB memory with the microSD expansion slot in its side. Plus, the new Sansa Connect has Wi-Fi, which means you can download music wirelessly from the web. And compared to the iPod, it's cheap too. Winner!
In the blue corner: the Apple iPod video
OK let's get the bad stuff out of the way first - yes the iPod is so popular it's verging on the naff. Yes the early models were plagued by terrible battery life. And yes, the latest models are far too scratch-prone. But I still love my iPod anyway. Here's why:
I like its simplicity. You get all the features you need and a lot that you don't. Seriously, why do you need a crappy FM radio in an MP3 player when you can create your own radio station using playlists? No adverts, no DJs, just the music you love. The jog wheel/menu system is so simple even my 5-year-old can use it.
Those accessories. There are thousands of them. Yes some of them are terrible, but when you get the big boys of the hi-fi world offering up iPod docks you know Apple is doing something right. I'd no more stick a CD in my hi-fi now than I would put my hand in a blender. I drop the iPod into its Arcam rDock and bingo - instant musical goodness. I'm currently saving up for an iLoo.
Ask yourself this: why is the iPod so successful? Could it be because the competition is terrible? Look at the Microsoft Zune, the Sony Connect music store, Sony's Walkmans: absymal failures every one. Plus as a Mac user I've been deliberately excluded by Microsoft, Sony, Napster and others because my choice of computer isn't compatible with their hardware and their online stores. That's their loss, not mine. If they don't want me as a customer I'm fine with that. I'm sure the Sansa's OK. It's just not on my radar. Move along...
It's all about the music... and the videos, the photos, podcasts, games. If it weren't for the fact that I need to make and take phone calls occasionally, the iPod would be the only gadget I'd carry around. I'll remedy that too when the iPhone comes out. In the meantime I can enjoy CD-quality music (using Apple Lossless) and watch movies on the iPod's admittedly too small screen. The battery life on my 5.5G model is good, and the sound quality's excellent as long as you use decent cans.
The Apple experience. I'm a Mac fanboy through and through. I love the way it all works together, the way the iPod seamlessly works with iTunes, which works beautifully on my Mac. I like feeling like an outsider in a PC-centric world. It reminds me of the cult bands I used to like that no-one had ever heard of. I like the way the Mac/iPod experience makes you feel. Comparing the iPod to other music players is like comparing an M&S sarnie with a curly, out-of-date bap. I like being wrapped in my Mac/iPod cocoon. That way I don't have to put up with PlaysForSure, renting - not owning - my music; malware, bloatware and all the other stuff that goes with Windows. Vista. WTF? Even PC users don't like Vista. I'm glad I don't have to put up with that.
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