General discussion

Archos vs Zune vs iPod

Hi everybody, I'm going to be purchasing a hard-drive based mp3 player rather soon and am looking for a little more insight on some of these players.

I want the best player that suits my needs. I need at least a 120gb hard drive because I'm buying the player primarily to play my music collection. Battery life and good software are another two important considerations that I have. Cost is probably one of the last big categories, but it's also an important one. Anyway, I've owned a very early gen. iPod before, and my Zune 2 got stolen in April.

Here's what I'm thinking about the three so far:

iPod classic: iTunes had decent software when I last used it, and none of my friends seem to mind the software either. I believe it has the longest battery life of the three for playing music. I also like how it has an eq that you can change while listening to music to suit whatever style you're listening to. The iPod, however, is getting a little bit stale. They've renamed it to the "classic" and really doesn't look as pretty as the other two.

zune: As far as the zune goes, it looks much sexier than the iPod. The screen is bigger, and I like how the interface looks as well. I'm not really either pro or anti M$ like many people are, so that doesn't affect me too much. I did have some problems with my zune locking up every once in a while though. My biggest gripe with the zune was the software. I'm very nitpicky about my mp3 tags. With the zune I had to manually change all of my songs to a particular mp3 tag format in order to get my album art to work as well as sort the music correctly. It also takes forever to update and seemed pretty bloaty. This was all when the 3.0 software came out, however, so if anyone could let me know if 4.0 fixed any of these problems be sure to let me know. If anything kills the zune for me, I think it would be the software.

Archos 5 Internet tablet: I don't know much about the archos. It has a lot of extras, but I just got a laptop which can do most of what it can do. I do like the touchscreen, the large hard drive, and the screen, however.

If you're still reading, let me know your opinion. I need it. Thanks!

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iPod classic

If you are only interested in playing music, then I think your best choice is the iPod classic. It is the best $/GB value and it's not even close.

Helping you love your music more, one blog post at a time:

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HD-based devices

They're getting rarer these days. I like the SQ of the Zune 120, and though they're still around for reasonable pricing they aren't known for good battery life. Personally I'm not a real fan of the Zune software; 4.x broke a few things on my XP Pro box that 3.x had no problems with. The Archos is a huge form factor, and from my brief experiences with one @ Best Buy I didn't think it was all that impressive from a sonic standpoint, and there were times that its touchscreen absolutely refused to respond.

Then there's the iPod Classic. Really lackluster sound to my ears, but it does seem to do everything else pretty well.

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Thanks for the replies. Does the iPod classic really have worse sound than the zune? I've never really had a chance to do a fair comparison. Also, how much better is the iPod's battery life for music.

I guess there were two more factors. My zune's screen didn't really get scratched up very easily. Does the iPod? Something good about the iPod is that it's pretty versatile. A ton of people have iPod docks, so if I had one I could play some tunes for people that have crappy playlists.

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SQ is always subjective and...

...YMMV. But from my own experiences, I've found that Walkman, Samsung, Creative Zen, most Zunes, and Sansa (particularly the Fuze) and sounded more convincingly like the original CD content than iPods have. Whether it's in the d/a conversion process or some lack of dynamic range with the amp section I don't rightly know, but what irritates me most about the iPod sound is in its inability to articulate nuance audio information as well as the players I listed above. iPods tend to sound rather bland to me, whereas any number of devices from the above list seem to perform with greater richness and depth. I tend to think it's in the d/a conversion that is where my irritation lies, but regardless there are any number of devices that sound more pleasing to me than the current lineup of iPods do.

Actual battery life again varies. But the Classic has been reported to be great with lots of users in getting 30+ hours; from what I've been told the Zune 120 isn't much better than my Zune 80, which for me in actual use has been anemic at best. The most I've EVER been able to get out of a single full charge is about 16-17 hours; typical has been more like 12-13 hours for music only and minimal LCD on-display time before I have to toss it back on the charger. As for the LCD, both the Zune 120 and iPod Classic use actual glass these days, so durability of the LCD overlay these days should be about equal between the two and far better than plastic.

And yeah...when it comes to accessories, there's no denying the power of the iPod eco-system. But then for me, I've never let that determine which DAP/PMP I'll buy, since almost all of my listening is done through cans.

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one last thought

So I have almost decided to go for the Zune. Now there's only one last thing that might persuade me to go for the iPod. I just read that the Zune 120s are being discontinued. I couldn't find them on and I planned on using a $40 giftcard to help pay for it. Now, I would probably still buy it if the sound quality gain over the iPod is worth it, but I'm slightly worried about M$ continuing to support it. Should I be?

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After purchase support

Up until now, Microsoft has been extremely good about continued product support for their Zune lineup well after the particular device has been discontinued. For instance, the original first-gen Zune 30 has recieved a lot of significant OS/firmware updates that were originally created for later models, a fact greatly appreciated by owners of that first model. Cupertino has rarely gone that extra mile with their iPod models no longer in production.

The 120 is still available online (as of this posting, Amazon has them @ $203.97 for the black model), but you're correct; it's a discontinued product. Brick and mortars have pretty much run through their remaining stock, or sent them back to Microsoft for redistribution to other takers. And all copies sold now are new old stock.

Whether this sort of support is still forthcoming is hard to say; the Zune HD goes off in a different (though vaguely similar) direction from past Zunes, so how MSFT handles any trickle down effect with updates to its current active platform remains to be seen. But there's bound to be basic support as Redmond rolls out new versions of its Zune management software down the road. Since the 120 still is Microsoft's storage champ, I can't see them abandoning it anytime least until a 128GB solid state device shows up in their inventory.

Discontinued iPod support from Apple really only goes as far as making sure that the legacy devices work with the latest versions of iTunes. Firmware updates beyond that are few and far between, if ever. Then of course when there ARE significant firmware changes that add usability (like there was for my 2G Touch early last year), Apple charges you for the privilege. But the one good thing about iPods is that because so many of them have been sold, there's plenty of 3rd-party support when it comes to hardware repair. Aside from battery replacement, I haven't seen much in the way of 3rd-party service support (screen repair/replacement, etc.) for Zune devices, though with the popularity of the Zune HD that model could possibly change things up.

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