There've been two consumer revolutions since the early 1950s: the advent of clothing that is ready-to-wear. And the advent of clothing that is ready-to-read.
The hidden label that once testified to the provenance of the clothing has become the overt label that testifies to the provenance of the wearer.
Many wearers think that's great. "Look at me, folks. Look what I can afford because of the amount of money I've available to spend." Or: "Look at what I've got, folks. I'm exactly the person all those glossy ads were desperate to attract." (Insert: rich / discerning / sophisticated / young / attractive.)
There's just one word missing. Sheep. As in: "Look at me, folks, I'm a sheep that will follow any other sheep anywhere."
(Or even 'sheepish': because that's how you'd feel, were someone to insist you spent your life walking up and down Main Street in a sandwich board.)
To what extent the iPod's massive success is due to the number of sales to sheep is impossible to fathom. But sheep purchasers there most certainly are -- people who really are naive enough to think they are asserting their individuality through the adoption of ready-to-read clothing and consumer items.
When in fact, they've just lost their identity in the herd.
So: don't be a sheep. Don't be a sandwich board carrier. Don't buy anything because its advertising is glossy and the people in those ads, even glossier.
Buy an iPod for what it actually is, not the lifestyle-statement-of-a-sheep.
But only do so after identifying your specific individual requirements. And only after trying out, if possible, as many short-listed players from as many shortt-listed manufacturers as possible.
Me, I can't say if an iPod is good or bad nowadays. All I know is that when I looked for my first MP3 player, the iPod was out-matched by several rivals. And so I and my family plumped for a brand to which we've stayed loyal because we've stayed happy:
Cowon / iAudio.
It doesn't have the dubious cachet of iPod ownership. It doesn't have the $millionsworth of advertising the iPod has (advertising, ironically, that is funded from the excess profits Apple takes from the pockets of purchasers content, for whatever reason, to pay a price much, much higher than the darn things are actually worth.)
What the Cowon / iAudio range offered us was play-back file versatility, superb sound quality, radio reception infinitely better than anything Sony ever managed, and unfailing reliability.
I don't know if it still does because we've no reason to junk our existing equipment. (And certainly, we've no interest in looking at still or moving images on tiny screens. Not in the era of 50" TVs.)
Best thing, then, would be for you to Google for Archos, Creative, Zen, iPod, Cowon and iAudio (though the products are the same, the Cowon name only appears in some markets, only the iAudio name in others.)
Read the reviews. Don't rely on 'em exclusively though, rather view them as road signs along the route you're travelling to your hoped-for destination.
And if at the end of your journey, you settle on an iPod, then all well and good.
Because you'll know you really did follow your own star -- rather than the posterior of that big dumb sheep in front.