Welcome to MP3 Mailbox Monday, a recurring feature where I answer a selection of questions about MP3 players and accessories, such as headphones, speakers, and music services and software. Each week, my in-box is flooded with questions from around the world, and while a handful of them are very particular to the individual asking, most apply more generally to a certain use or scenario to which many people can relate. Check back often to see if the advice presented here might be of some use to you, or send your questions directly to me. (Note: We never include last names, but if you prefer to remain completely anonymous, please state as much in your e-mail.)
This week, I'm addressing a question that I get a lot...and never have the perfect answer for. Note to MP3 player manufacturers: there is a market for extremely simple MP3 players with large screens and large, easy-to-read fonts. It's called my mom. Plus, find out why practically identical players may sport different MSRPs, and learn a little about stock earbud sound quality.
Q: I was wondering if you know of any MP3 players (2GB and up) that are suitable for older people. I got my mom a Sansa Clip 2GB for her birthday last February so that she can listen to MP3 audiobooks (normally requires more than 1GB). She really loves this since she now has a difficult time reading books. I bought the Sansa Clip since it seemed to be the simplest MP3 device with the most basic features. More sophisticated features just confound older people. As I said, she loves listening to the audiobooks, but this relatively simple device still seems complicated to navigate (my mom is 70-plus), and the digital display is too small. Do you have any recommendation or know of any development in this area? -- Susan, via e-mail
A: Unfortunately, the general rule for MP3 players is the larger the screen, the more complex the device. Also unfortunate is that no one is really addressing the market need for supersimple, large-font MP3 players. The one player that I know of that has large font--on the main menu screen at least--is the Microsoft Zune. The inner menus have a smaller font, but the color screen should help somewhat with visibility. It's definitely easy to use, though I would recommend turning off the touch sensitivity for the control pad.
A more affordable option is the Sansa Fuze. Although the font is not that large, the color screen and large main menu icons should help with navigating. The issue that I can see arising with both of these players is that they offer a lot more features than your mom is going to need to use, so it will be necessary for her to just "ignore" them to get the most basic use out of the device.
Q: I just recently watched/read your review on the Sansa Fuze. MP3 players (and other electronics) aren't my thing and thus I rely heavily on reviewers (both professional and consumer). I'm trying to figure out what difference between the 8GB Fuze and the 8GB View (outside of dimensions) justifies a price difference between the two players. Can you shed any light in this area? Why would one be more expensive than that other? (The View has a $150 MSRP versus the Fuze's $130.) -- Tony, via e-mail
A: For MP3 players, the MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price) is quite dependent on the time when the device was released. For example--in this case--flash memory was probably more expensive at the time the View was released than at the time the Fuze was released. It also may be based on how the company views the current market--SanDisk almost certainly took each players' closest competitors into consideration while setting the pricing. The fact that the View is marketed as a portable video player (PVP) with a larger screen whereas the Fuze is considered an MP3 player with video capability may also have something to do with it. In any case, you can generally expect to purchase a product below the MSRP after a certain amount of time has passed, although the actual amount of time varies from product to product. (Some MP3 players are available below MSRP from the get-go.) Right now, you can find the 8GB Sansa View for around $120 online, so it's actually cheaper than the Fuze at the moment.
Q: My question for you is: How good is the quality of the earphones provided with iPods? I have these. The audio quality sounds fine to me, but I have never ever used high quality or in-ear earphones. -- Jason, via e-mail
The answer is: not very. But not many people notice the average sound quality of stock 'buds if they have never used a high quality pair. Once you do, though, there's no going back! In any case, I always recommend replacing stock earbuds, if only for the comfort issue. There's no need to spend a lot, either. You can get a decent pair for less than $50.