There are two kinds of people in the world: those who like iPods...and everyone else. Now the folks who dislike Apple's MP3 player have lots of reasons for their opinion, ranging from a lack of interoperability with other music providers (true) to the gall of Apple to make something that's, ahem, "cool," instead of (insert your hyper-technical wishlist items here). Most complaints fall into these two categories.
Fact is, Apple did the world a lot of good by inventing iPods, by making older often cumbersome techie-only devices easy to use, attractive and fun. Unfortunately Apple does charge a premium for the pleasure of owning their products, and many feel the cachet just isn't worth the cash. But millions of iPod owners can't all be drinking the coolaid; iPods are indeed some of the nicest, simplest and, yes, coolest MP3 players you can buy. For the average citizen, an iPod is a great gift because there's almost no learning curve and the thing just works.
Since the iPod's debut, however, the other music player manufacturers have had to get in the game or lose whatever market share Apple's left for them. This means, Creative, Sansa, Archos, Microsoft and all the other companies have had to make their players better just to compete, which is great for everyone. So you will find players from the other makers that are cheaper, roomier, more flexible and have asked-for features like integral radios, recording capability, etc. And that's a good thing. Apple's making them produce nicer players just by being in the same room. However, no matter what their marketing departments promise, these other players do not provide the silky-smooth user experience of an iPod.
This is one case where following the herd can truly get you a great product instead of some compromised, lowest-common-denominator piece of mass-market junk (see GM cars). And yet you can still strike out on your own and find alternative players which can combine competitive pricing and better feature sets with a somewhat more challenging user experience, without settling for crud. It's your choice: premium product for the premier sensibility, or alternatives that deliver more value with a bit less bliss.