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Five years of CNET Australia: MP3 players

CNET Australia didn't leave its mark on Australia's cyber landscape until 2004, by then the iPod had well and truly become the MP3 player of choice throughout the developed world. Here's looking back on five fabulous musical years.

1 of 12 Apple

Are there any other MP3 players?

CNET Australia didn't leave its mark on Australia's cyber landscape until 2004, by then the iPod had well and truly become the MP3 player of choice throughout the developed world. Here's looking back on five fabulous musical years.

We could turn this five-year retrospective into an iPod love in, but we won't. If you want that, check out the family album instead.

Needless to say, with every half-decent MP3 player we've looked at over the years, we've asked ourselves the question: is this the iPod killer? And despite the Sony Walkman NWZ-S738, Archos 5, iRiver T6, Cowon O2 and Creative Zen Mozaic are all very fine MP3 players — in many ways better than Apple's ubiquitous pods — nothing has yet managed to kill it off. Indeed the way things are looking right now, the only product that looks like it could dethrone the iPod is another Jobsian product bearing the "i" prefix.

2 of 12 Creative

The pretenders: Creative

Although Apple's iPod has come to be a genericised trademark — think Hoover, Biro, Band-Aid, Coke, Escalator and Walkman — it wasn't the first MP3 player on the market, indeed Creative's Nomad range beat it by almost two years.

Creative's sound quality has always been great, but no matter how much love we've shown products like the Zen X-Fi (above), Zen Mozaic, Zen Touch and the Zen Vision:W, only the dedicated few have noticed. Now the company is in dire straits and has retreated from having a direct presence in the Australian market.

3 of 12 Sony

The pretenders: Sony

Everyone knows the story by now: Sony's Walkman dinosaur roamed the Earth for decades (just over two in fact) spreading portable music goodness like a bee does with pollen and then, in the still of the night while everyone's wondering what to do in the wake of Napster's legal problems, up comes Apple with its pod of tunes and slays the mighty dinosaurs. Now all that's left is an ever-expanding sea of candied apple and some large flightless birds picking at a few half-ripe apples.

Thankfully, the Walkman still reigns supreme if you treasure fidelity, but the Japanese behemoth always seems to find a way to ruin a perfectly acceptable "iPod killer". Take the Walkman NW-A806: beautiful not just to the eye but also to the touch, easy to use and with beautifully crisp sound, but let down by hopeful pricing and the awful SonicStage software. Or the Walkman X-series that features an OLED screen that's sharp and bright from almost every angle and naturally good for the ears, but laden with eye-watering prices, a dearth of apps and a few years too late.

The picture above is of the NWZ-S738, one of the few MP3 Walkmans to go a full 90 minutes without scoring its own goal.

4 of 12 Samsung

The pretenders: Samsung

The company may play second or third fiddle to Apple in Australia, but still can't come close to stopping the iPod from being the default choice. Like the other pretenders we've outlined here, it's not for want of decent product, like the S2 Pebble (above) or YP-T9.

5 of 12 Sony

Past tech: MiniDisc

Popular throughout Asia, MiniDisc was a rewritable compact disc housed within a cartridge. It was originally devised by Sony as a replacement for cassette tapes, but, unlike tapes, MiniDiscs were random access — so you could skip straight to the gold without minutes of fast-forwarding. Tracks were encoded and compressed in ATRAC format; original MiniDiscs were able to hold up to 80 minutes of music, and by the time

6 of 12 Sony

Past tech: MP3 on CD

When portable hard disks, and the iPods they were housed in, were still too pricey, some of us, craving more portable music than an audio CD or a Walkman could offer, flung themselves into the arms of portable CD players capable of playing MP3 files, such as the Sony D-NE10 and Philips eXp322.

7 of 12 Apple

Vale: hard disk

Flash-based MP3 players now stretch up to 32GB and beyond, but for sheer capacity and value for money nothing comes close to the humble hard disk. So, it was with great sadness in our hearts that we heard rumours swirling around that the iPod Classic may not live past the next iPod refresh in September.

If you're a rabid digital music collector or just prefer albums to singles, then get typing and mail Steve now, because none of the other major players (iRiver, Creative, Samsung or Sony) currently offer hard disk models and aren't likely to in the near future.

8 of 12 Panasonic

Curious hybrids

iPhones and Nokia 5800s mixing music and telephony might make perfect sense now — thank you cheap flash memory — but, prior to this, electronics makers were trying to fuse the humble MP3 player with all manner of contraptions. Definitely worthy of a fail whale or two are the cameras and camcorders that thought they could DJ, like Panasonic's D-snap SV-AV50 (above), the Vivitar Eek and Samsung's Miniket VP-M110.

9 of 12 Olympus

Touchscreen, BiT (before iPod Touch)

Before the iPod Touch and iPhone made touchscreen the thing to have, others, like Olympus with its M:robe 500i, gave it a fair shake without ever coming up trumps.

10 of 12 iRiver

Video on the go

For every great portable video player, such as the Creative Zen Vision:W and Archos 5, there's an equally bad attempt, take for instance the iRiver PMP-120 (above) and the iZak Portable Multimedia Centre.

11 of 12 B&W

1001 accessories

There aren't enough numbers known to humanity to describe the quantity of iPod accessories available, so we'll just single out the most expensive and audacious one: B&W's Zeppelin iPod speaker. Not only does it sound fantastic and cost the best part of a grand, but it lets us use the word "dirigible" — it's like the early 1900s all over again.

12 of 12 Nokia

What does the future hold?

The age of the smartphone with built-in MP3 capability is well and truly upon us. Sure many will opt for the convenience of having their music on a device that they always carry with them, but it doesn't mean that the stand-alone MP3 player is dead. For instance, many of us aren't on plans that afford us a free MP3 phone, while others value fidelity over convenience, and some just want to buck the trend and be individuals. Plus there's a myriad of instances, like the gym or training for a half-marathon, where it's better to leave our iPhone or Nokia 5800 XpressMusic (above) at home and take, say, our Walkman W-series instead.

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