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Christmas Gift Guide

Microsoft Zune

A fantastic podcast option, the Zune even ekes past the iPod for the top spot. The software is excellent for podcasts: You can manage how many episodes you want to sync to your device on a subscription-by-subscription level, meaning you can update three episodes of Buzz Out Loud, but only one of MP3 Insider and so on. You can also unsubscribe from podcasts directly from the player, and there's an option to wirelessly sync new podcasts when you charge your player at night. The Zune also offers accelerated fast forwarding and passive bookmarking to automatically remember your spot in each podcast.

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Apple iPod Touch

Ah, the forerunner. iTunes gets a lot of credit here: It's a great program for managing podcasts, aside from some minor quibbles (automatically unsubscribing you after several missed downloads, for example). The iPod also offers passive bookmarking, and the Touch is great for video podcasts, which you can delete immediately after watching. You can also update podcasts on-the-fly if you're connected to WiFi, and there are three listening speeds for spoken word content (which includes podcasts).

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Samsung P3

Samsung handles podcasts a bit differently from the rest, using RSS feeds rather than its own podcast aggregation software. The plus side is that this allows you to fine tune your content (and get data feeds as well as audio ones); however, the process is not as straightforward as that of the Zune Software or iTunes. As a bonus, the P3 offers six levels of variable playback speeds, which lets you speed up or slowdown audio, and it has a bookmarking function.

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Sony X-Series Walkman

The Walkman is another unique device when it comes to handling podcasts. Rather than creating its own management software, Sony elected to make the player compatible with podcasts that you drag-and-drop directly from iTunes, which itself has the most extensive podcast library on the Web. The X-Series also supports on-the-fly deletion and offers passive bookmarking. Using the integrated WiFi, you can download new podcasts on-the-go.

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Cowon D2+

This player is pretty unique in the way it manages podcasts. The D2+ comes loaded with PodcastReady's MyPodder software, which runs directly from the device itself. Every time you plug the player into your computer, podcasts are updated based on your specified settings, of which there are many. I think that's pretty neat: lots of customization and no app cluttering up your hard drive. The D2+ also offers variable playback speeds (at 10% granularity), so you can listen to podcasts faster or slower than normal.

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SanDisk Sansa Fuze

The Fuze doesn't come with its own podcast software, but it, too, will work with MyPodder. There's a dedicated podcast section in the music menu, accelerated fast forwarding, and passive bookmarking. Like the iPod, the Fuze offers a variety of playback speeds: slow, normal, or fast. You can also delete files on the fly.

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