Pocket Jockey

Published Date
01 - Jun - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Jun - 2007
 
Pocket Jockey


Music is on go, tiny, in your pocket, and with high fidelity sound - the portable media players available today are hard to choose from. Let us help

Music is the harmonious voice of creation; an echo of the invisible world.


Thus spake Giuseppe Mazzini, Italian patriot, philosopher and politician once said. Come to think of it music is the universal idiom that transcends all boundaries, man-made or otherwise. In fact music has bridged unfathomable opposites, and is truly a universal language irrespective of its creator.

It's also been said that the history of a people is found in their song. While quotes on music can run several pages, perhaps even longer than this article, the point is nearly all of us are into music, in some form or the other.

The phrase "listening to music" is synonymous with a comfortable couch, a decent music player and perhaps most significantly, spare time. The humble portable media player (often, but incorrectly, called the MP3 player) owes its origins to the lack of the latter in this day and age.

Today, Portable Media Players (PMPs) aren't just about a passion for music or seeking a temporary haven from noise, but a fashion statement. In fact, many PMPs are designed ground-up as a nice extension of your wardrobe, be it formal and suave, or let-your-hair-down casual. They also aren't just the tiny jukeboxes they were originally meant to be. Like any technology product of the past five years or so, they've matured into user-friendly, infinitely customisable devices. It's not uncommon to find a PMP that allows you to tune in to FM radio channels, maintain contacts and appointments and even play games when you're bored, or watch a movie!

This time we did a market survey and hand-picked PMPs that we felt would suit every possible audience among our readers-for different budgets. We covered 13 brands, and looked at PMPs suitable for mobile warriors who want movies and music on the go. We have the gimmicky players for the show-off in you, and the fashionable "as hot as you are" players! We even have suitable workout companions. We selected 36 PMPs to test from amongst the multitude of options available. Creative couldn't send us any models for this test, but you can be sure that we'll cover them in the coming months.

Lately, Flash memory has become a lot cheaper, and everyone is basing products on it. Sharply declining prices coupled with steeply rising densities may mean hard drive based PMPs will become extinct soon. Of our contestants, 33 were Flash-based, and only three were hard drive based, including one microdrive-based player from MobiBlu.

Tiny might!

Up to Rs 4,000
By far the most populous category featuring 12 players, this was also the "hot" category as far as price goes, and most of our readers taking the portable media plunge will be shopping within this price bracket.

Surprisingly, features weren't in short supply here, and some of the contestants offer superb value for money.

As we discovered performance and features
weren't always mutually exclusive


Features
It's all about the look...
The tiny Intex Aura is the smallest player in our shootout to feature an LCD. Despite this, it is built to stand the rigours of daily use well. A tiny bit larger is the MobiBlu DAH-2100-equally well built, this one. But the smallest of the bunch is the very iPod Shuffle-like Eurone Upro AMP-777. Built like a little tank and featuring a clip-on style fastener, this player's button layout is identical to that of the Shuffle. The colour combination risks dirt-pure white and silver-but we liked it.

The Mitashi MPF1001 resembles a USB pen drive albeit with an OLED screen-compact yet practical. The Root VJE-1GB has a beautifully chromed rear that should be an unparalleled scratch magnet. This player's weight also led us to suspect the rear was solid steel-not bad. Speaking of weight, the YMP-18 (YES) is the lightest of the bunch by far-in fact, without its AAA battery, this featherweight seems insubstantial in one's pocket.

YES managed to squeeze four players into the sub-4000 category-three different capacity avatars of their YMP-18 and one unique-looking YMP-35, that looks like it's folded in the middle.

The YMP-18 has a single colour LED screen that would have looked bland if not for the changing backlight colours at every press of a button. A siren to some, garish to others-our opinions were about even. The screens on the Mitashi MPL-1004, Eurone 838S and the YES YMP-35 are all quite good and easily readable. Not surprisingly, this trio also plays video, which explains both the relatively better quality of the screen and the larger dimensions.

What Can You Offer Me?
In keeping with the times, all the players in this category feature FM tuners, except for the diminutive Upro AMP-777. The YES YMP-18 supports multiple recording possibilities, from the inbuilt microphone, line-in and the FM radio. Dual headphone jacks mean there's enough music for two! The 1 GB Mitashi MPL 1004 is the only player to feature expansion; this is a welcome add-on, since the bigger screen and interface will hint at emphasis on the space-gobbling video-player capabilities. Its cheaper sibling, the MPF-1001, features an audio cassette adapter-something to keep in mind for car owners who like music. You can hook up your PMP to your cassette audio system-save space by dumping all those cassettes lying in your glove compartment. All these PMPs can be used as plug-n-play USB drives: convergence at work again…

Performance
Performance has always been a function of price. We were interested to see if any of the minnows could buck this trend. In terms of sheer music performance, nothing beat the YES YMP-18 in this category. This little player had no issues driving the Bose intra-ear headphones, and producing some good highs and deep bass. The Mitashi MPF-1001 also deserves a mention for good sound, as does the MobiBlu DAH-2100 and the YES YMP-35. Although just behind the YMP-18 is terms of quality, the MPF-1001 did have a slightly higher maximum volume, which is a good thing for noisy environments. The YMP-35 has relatively lower maximum volumes, although it has an excellent equaliser which does boost volume quite a bit (from normal settings), all this without any noticeable distortion in quality.

A word on the default earphones on our little maestro (YMP-18): they're not quite the best. If you enjoy clear, well defined sound, you might want to consider getting a better set.

The Eurone 838S and the Root VJE-1GB are a little short on sound quality-if this is an important consideration, overlook these two options.


MobiBlu DAH-2100
Small sight, big sound


The other half of performance is battery life. After all, no-one wants a good PMP that gives out on you within a couple of hours. And this is where YES loses out to the likes of Mitashi and MobiBlu-at nearly one third of the music time of the MobiBlu player, the YMP-18 is definitely not marathon material.

Boiling It Down
For its combination of features, sound music performance and stellar battery life, we've awarded MobiBlu's DAH-2100 with our Digit Best Buy Gold award. The combination of good MP3 playback capabilities, a great equaliser, and a cool screen catapult the YES YMP-35 into second spot and earn it a well-deserved Digit Best Buy Silver.

If music performance is of primary importance and you can do without a colourful screen, the YES YMP-18 makes a decent deal-just remember to add the cost of a good set of earplugs, Creative's EP630 for example! We'd say it was a terrific deal if only it didn't have the double whammy of poor battery life and costly AAA batteries. However, in this price category, nothing beats it acoustics-wise. If you want a good balance between looks, performance, and features, including a decent screen for movies, the Mitashi MPL-1004 makes for a good buy.

 
The Intermediates
Rs 4,001 to Rs 6,500
Populated by eight players, this category hits the sweet spot between performance and price. Although nearly all the sub-4001 rupee players already boast of most of the features we thought we'd only see this category onwards, there's the little matter of quality to deal with, both in terms of build and sound. This is the category where performance starts to get as important as features. Although definitely not in audiophile territory, it's a milestone on that path.


YES YMP-35
Snazzy looks, jazzy sound


Features

Pretty, pretty
Perhaps the most traditional looking (as in what a PMP should look like) players of this lot are the Transcend T.sonic 610 and the Philips SA3125, albeit in vastly different threads-the former favouring a smooth finish, off-white, while the latter is decked in a smudge-prone and glossy piano black. The T.sonic 630 was heralded as the successor to the long-running 610; it is much smaller, but it's not as attractive. The "Lil Monsta"-as it's called-from Sandisk (the Sansa c240) looks unassuming, though build quality is top class. The unique-looking YMP-35 makes another appearance here in 1 GB guise, while the YES YMP-30 is a solidly built, but plain-looking device.

Both the Transcends have issues with navigation buttons, while the 5-way menu button on the T.sonic 610 is a major pain. To use the small, hard-to-press buttons on the 630 is an ergonomic nightmare! The Mitashi MPS 1002 has a good array of well-laid-out buttons. The Philips SA3125 also has very hard-to-press, tiny buttons that weren't fun to play around with.

Gimme More…
The Transcend T.sonic comes with a transparent plastic case and an armband. A neck strap is an accessory in common with both the Transcend players. This makes it an out-of-the-box companion for workouts. With MicroSD expansion, FM support, and a clear and crisp screen, the Sansa c240 is loaded on the features front. In fact, the screen is one of the highlights on the c240-it's also the best priced in its category.

Once again, all the players in this category don't miss a trick with FM radio support. The Eurone Upro PMP-MM5 also includes a 3.2 megapixel camera-the only PMP bold enough to take this convergent move. The display, however, could have been a bit better. Incidentally, the camera is very ordinary and performs inadequately as compared to the 3.2 megapixel camera on the Nokia N73 phone.

On a slightly negative note, the Upro PMP-MM5s metal body got quite hot while charging via USB, though this wasn't so apparent while charging using the AC adapter. We tried another USB port only to face the same problem.

Many of the PMPs come bundled with average earphones.
Make sure to test players with a standard set as well


Performance
The Philips SA3125 and the Transcend T.sonic 630 were the barely legal boys-just brushing the upper limits of the category. The former offers decent sound, but lacks decent volume levels on the Bose earplugs (due to driving issues). To Philips' credit, the bundled earphones are pretty good.

The T.sonic 630 was followed by its (Rs 500 cheaper) sibling, the T.sonic 610. We feel the internals of these players including the codecs used are identical. There is one issue, however: the default earphones on the 610 are much better than the ones supplied with the 630; these distort quite a bit. Sound quality with the Bose in both cases is nearly identical.

The YES YMP-30 also performed commendably, stealing Transcend's thunder with sheer audio quality. The Mitashi MPS-1002 also did quite well, though we noticed a slight lack in bass depth, particularly in U2's With or Without You.

If you're looking at good music quality and features above everything else, the simple and compact "Lil Monsta" (a.k.a. the c240 from Sandisk) makes a very good deal-good quality with the bundled earphones, but didn't perform well on the Bose reference earplugs. Especially noticeable was the sharp, clear treble. Of course, the YMP-30 (YES) and the MPS-1002 (Mitashi) provide a better overall sound experience. The attractive looking Eurone PMP-MM5 didn't do too well here-it wasn't driving the Bose earphones well enough, and didn't come bundled with a good set of earbuds itself.

 How We Tested
For our PMP test, we first categorised the players into price brackets as follows:
1. Up to Rs 4,000
2. Rs 4,001 to Rs 6,500
3. Rs 6,501 to Rs 10,000
4. Rs 10,001 and above

Features
The following parameters were looked at when it came to features:
1. Capacity (GB)
2. Size of Display
3. Upgradeable Memory
4. Presence of FM Tuner
5. Voice Recording
6. Photo Viewing and Video Playback

Besides this, we looked at player features like support for custom playlists, screen brightness adjustments, number of equaliser modes, support for custom equaliser settings, and inbuilt speakers. We also looked at useful features like inbuilt stopwatch functionality, as well as support for contacts, calendar and alarms. Extra points were awarded for extra features like camera functionality, games, and gimmicky but useful features such as touchscreen interfaces.
Performance
To gauge performance, we used a mix of test tracks that test the aural capabilities of any music device at varying frequencies. We listened for certain nuances present in the tracks that many audio devices have problems reproducing. All the audio test files were encoded at high-quality settings to MP3 format at 320 kbps. We used CBR (Constant Bit Rate) to ensure quality.
Rather than use the bundled headphones, we tested all the players on a set of reference headphones-the Bose Intra ear headphones, which offer superb quality and comfort. After rating each player, we tested their bundled headphones and rated them as compared to the excellent Bose on a scale of 10.
To test the performance of the players while transferring data, we used a set of 10 files each of 10 MB. The MBps figure is achieved as follows:
Transfer speed (MBps) = (total file size (100MB in this case))/(seconds taken for the transfer)
For our battery life test, we played the same MP3 test files (320 kbps) on each player, with the screen powered off and the bundled headphones plugged in. Music volume was kept between 50 and 65 per cent of the maximum on the basis of what sounded good to the ears on each player (not too muted). All equaliser settings were turned off.

Where Do I Go From Here?
For its combination of good build, a great set of features, and exemplary music experience we're giving Digit's Best Buy Gold award to Sandisk's "lil monsta"-the Sansa c240 (Rs 4,975). For a slightly lower set of features and a little drop in acoustic quality, you can pick up our Best Buy Silver winner-the Transcend T.sonic 610-for Rs 4,500. As attractive as the newer T.sonic 630 looks, we suggest you go with the older, more proven model-although there's a negligible difference, the 610 sounds better on its bundled earbuds, and the accessory list is a little better.


Sandisk Sansa c240
A real lil monsta!


If you want a little better sound quality, opt for the loudspeaker-bearing Mitashi MPS-1002 or the simple-looking albeit rugged YES YMP-30. These sound slightly better than the Sansa c240 and the T.sonic 610, but miss out on quite a few features like expansion, a customisable equaliser (important for music buffs), and intra-track repeat.

 
The Incredibles
Rs 6,500 to Rs 10,000
This is the least populous category in our mega PMP shootout, and in some ways, the most interesting. Enter the big players-Apple, Sony, Samsung, Cowon, and Sandisk. This is a category where people usually shop for something very specific. You wouldn't spend upwards of rupees 6,500 on just "any" PMP now, would you? Prospective buyers tend to get very discerning here-they know their iPods from their Zens.

Features
Drop-dead Gorgeous
If one player symbolises the catchphrase above, it has to be the Samsung YP-K3. We can guarantee looks from just about every non-myope around by simply taking this player out of your pocket. It's slim, it's shiny black with a classy looking chrome bezel, and the single colour OLED screen is ultra clear. Did we mention illuminated touch controls (another finger print and smudge magnet, though…)? While macho stereotypes are sure to call it a "chick-only device," we beg to differ. If the look is all-important to you, and you want a suave and sophisticated device, the YP-K3 is your answer.

If you're the sporty type, then you'll want to look at the Sony NW-S203F... another visual stunner. It's shaped like a pen, and comes with a holder / armband assembly that will keep it in place while you pump iron or try to burn away those tyres.


Transcend T.sonic 610
Rock solid old timer

iPod nanos have been around a while, and we tend to forget just how stunning they look to someone who's seeing one for the first time. Slim and sleek seems apt-and light. Then there are the flashy colours that attract some and outrage others.

The other two occupants were relative plain-janes here-Cowon's Iaudio F2 and Sandisk's Sansa e250. The F2 is reminiscent of a tiny cell phone. The Sansa e250 has the best-built back we've seen-titanium alloy, absolutely scratch proof!

All That I Have
The iPod nano has never been conventional-in fact, Apple is all about a statement (synonymous with contra-convention)-the nano loses FM radio functionality. It also loses voice recording capabilities. Then there's the fact that the nano doesn't play video, and you can't use it as a pen drive. Shocking omissions? Let's see.

The Sansa e250 almost buckles under the feature load it bears-FM radio, voice recording, video playback, photo viewing, customisable equaliser and expansion... whew! Drop in a really good screen, and the Sansa is very practical. Another very practical offering is Cowon's F2, which has dual headphone jacks-what was that about the best things coming in pairs?

The Sony NW-S203F has only three equaliser settings; however, two of them are user-customisable, so you can save and use those settings. A few customisable settings for different music genres would have sweetened the deal. This player also has the ability to up the tempo of the music to suit your workout pace driving you to achieve more in the gym. Sony also claims it's water resistant.

The iPod nano has a few features that some of the other players missed out on-it has a fully functional calendar, contacts, and stopwatch inbuilt. We'd have loved an alarm! itunes used to be bundled with all iPods, but we've heard the newest iPods come without it; Apple encourages users to download it.

 A Can Full Of Sound
If you thought headphones were just headphones, you're dead wrong. Portable devices are personal, and PMPs even more so. Remember, no two ears are alike, and choosing the right "cans" for them is no easy task. A pair of headphones has to feel comfortable, sound good, and look neat as well-in that order.

Headphones have been classically divided into three broad categories, which may have further subcategories.

Let's start small. "Earbuds" actually fit inside your ear and are typically tiny, and suitable for portable devices-especially PMPs. Earbuds also deliver sound right into your ears, and right on to your eardrums, which is why some love them, and others hate them. It's a personal choice, because some people find it horribly intrusive to have something poking into their ear canals. Regardless, this type of earphone is suitable while on the move, working out, etc., because of their size and the fact that they're actually anchored to your ears.

Variants of earbuds include in-ears, whose shape actually mimics the ear canal so they fit snugly inside your ear. Most of these feature soft rubber or silicone material to avoid irritation to the delicate insides of our ears. They're also called "intra-ear" headphones, earplugs, or simply earphones. They usually block out a lot of external noise.

The second type of headphones is the Supra Aural variety. Supra aural headphones just cover your ears; however, they don't envelop the entire outer ear. Some of the most famous names in the headphone industry, including Grado and Bose, swear by Supra Aural earphones. Due to their unique acoustic models, Supra Aurals are said to offer the best balance of sound (audiophile-grade sound), but some find the pressure they create on the outer ear and cartilage uncomfortable after a few hours. A more comfortable variety of Supra Aurals are the clip-on types, which don't have a headband for fastening. Rather, they have clips that hook on behind your ears.

This category also features most of the active noise cancelling models. They can be used for travel because of their size (they're portable), but they're not suitable for use while working out, unlike earplugs.

The third category consists of the biggest headphones called circumaural headphones. These are comfortable for most people, as they feature a large, heavily padded ring that completely ensconces the ear within. In short, they rest on your head and engulf your ears. They also have the potential for large drivers because of the sheer size. Brands like AKG and Sennheiser use circumaural designs for their audiophile range, though they have products in other segments as well.

Performance
Somebody once said that in music, one must think with the heart and feel with the brain. If you belong to this school of thought and are extremely finicky about sound, the iPod Nano is the only way to go-Apple doesn't compromise on what they clearly feel is the only thing a PMP should really excel at. Nothing comes close to the auditory experience the iPod nano 2 GB provides on the Bose headphones. This is also the player for you if you like heavy bass, since none of the others could provide that resounding, low punch. It also had the highest volumes amongst all the players, and doesn't distort any frequency even at peak volumes. The iPod nano also has a very crisp 1.5 inch screen. How we wish for video support on this one…

The little Cowon F2 also sounds good, and comes with a good set of earbuds. The Sansa e250 sounds excellent with its bundled earbuds: clear treble, well-defined mids and good bass. In fact, the treble is the highlight, making these suitable for classical music. Plug in the Bose reference headphones, and the sound is a let down-however, as we've explained, this is a problem with mismatched impedances, and not a player issue.


Sandisk Sansa e250
Unbeatable conglomerate of features, performance and price


However, at Rs 9,800, we feel the Cowon is a little overpriced; the Sansa e250 offers more features and double the storage space for a substantially smaller amount. There are the better performers, better lookers, and better built players amongst the competition. If only the Cowon were Rs 1,500 cheaper...

Sony's Walkman NW-S203F also performed well, though the bundled earphones look a little different. They also aren't that comfortable, and don't provide very good sound. The Bose Intra Ears were an entirely different story, and this little player will come into its own with the right pair of headphones…

Samsung's YP-K3 proved that sometimes, just sometimes, beauty can have brawn too. It sounds good on the bundled earbuds and extremely good on the reference earplugs. Good bass (though not nano-class bass), and very good vocal reproduction. Treble was sharp but not too rich-just right!

All the players in this category are very good performers. Although differences in performance are clearly noticeable to trained ears, any of these players would suit you if music quality is the only qualification. There's no clear all-round winner here, and every one of these players left some sort of an impression on us.

Freedom Of Choice
One of our biggest fears has always been making decisions, particularly in the absence of hindsight. So you've 10,000 odd bucks to burn; you want something compact, smart, and most of all, your ears crave audiophile-grade sound on the move. You might want to check out our Digit Best Buy Silver winner, the Apple iPod nano 2GB, priced at Rs 9,800. It is a sound decision (pun intended) to make.

A little cheaper, a lot of features richer, and a little lower on the audiophile scale is the Sandisk Sansa e250-2 GB of functional fun, all for Rs 8,150. Digit Best Buy Gold belongs here.

For something really funky and thoroughly unconventional, go the Sony NW-S203F way-the sound is good, and it actually looks good tucked into a sweaty armband. A lifetime workout partner at a bargain price of Rs 7,990.


Apple Ipod Nano
Aural excellence par nano


You prefer your chauffeur to do the driving; you've been there, done that, you also like to dabble in a little music between board rooms, but as always, quality and impressions count. Samsung YP-K3 all the way-a gorgeous looking, great sounding PMP. At Rs 9,000, even good old Giorgio would approve of an YP-K3 peeking out of that Armani's pocket.
 When Size Matters…
Hard drive based players have nearly died off, with manufacturers relying more and more on Flash. Why not? It's infinitely more dependable, cheaper to manufacture, and how much storage do you need anyway?
If you're one of those who like to lug their entire music collection with them, or carry a bunch of movies on your player, then measly 6 or 8 GB players aren't going to cut it.

MobiBlu DH-200

                        
Our search revealed three portable media players based on hard drives-a 1-inch microdrive-based player from MobiBlu, the DHH-200, an 80 GB fifth-generation iPod video, and Cowon's A2 30GB. While the MobiBlu was the minnow, it looks good, decent with light and dark blue tones. The screen is an 18-bit affair, though not as good as the screens on the other two. The Apple 80GB looks every bit the part, but it leans towards music rather than movies with a screen that is just 2.5 inches diagonally. Make no mistake however; this 65K colour screen is much better than the one of the DHH-200, and far more suited to movies.
The Cowon is perhaps the best looker, despite its colossal size. The player has an off-white colour tone, with a band of dark steel grey running around all the sides. A neat, flush fitting cover hides the USB port and the video connectivity (AV out). The screen-a massive four inches-is clear, crisp, and vivid. Watching movies on the Cowon is fun, simply because of the wide aspect ratio and screen size.
Apple's 80GB iPod has very similar features to the nano series, except for as mentioned a larger screen and video playback support. It's a good bit bulkier too, and heavier. Sound quality is top notch on the iPod video; in fact, this player seems to drive the reference earphones better than do the nanos. Its bundled earplugs are also better in terms of sound quality, though if you settle for this player, do try to get another set of cans for more bang.
The Cowon A2 is a capable multimedia companion and handles all the MP3s you can throw at it without breaking a sweat. Sound is

Crown A2

good, but not as good as the iPod video, mainly lacking deep bass. The bass you do get is clean and low, but lacks thump. Mids are good (something we've noticed Cowon's good at), while treble is easily on par with the iPod video. In comparison, however, we were disappointed that the Flash-based D2 sounds better. MobiBlu was somewhat of an unknown entity, and pitting it against the giants seemed utterly ruthless. However, this is a decent media player, with good music capabilities even with the default headphones.

Apple IPod Video 80GB

At Rs 9,000, the DHH-200 from MobiBlu is by far the cheapest of the hard drive based players, although it loses a fair bit of storage (8 GB as opposed to 30 GB on the A2, and 80 GB on the iPod Video) to both other drives. If you want to cart around a huge music collection with a few movies, the Apple iPod will give you the best bang for your buck at Rs 23,600, not to mention the best price per GB.
If you want a large screen to watch all your movies, you'll have to make do with 50 GB less space than the iPod video, though in return you get a marvellous screen. This one is less suitable for a music enthusiast simply because of its sheer bulk, and the fact that the iPod sounds better across all genres.

We will Rock you…

Rs 10,001 and above
This is the category for the rich or for the enthusiast. We doubt many in India will bite, coughing up more than 10,000 for a few odd MP3s and videos. However, there is a niche audience-"gadgetophiles," if you will-who have enough to burn on costly PMPs.

Eight players fell into this price bracket; reminiscent of the previous category, the big brands slug it out here…no quarters given and none asked for!

The contenders consisted of two Apple nano's, a couple of Samsungs, two Sansas from Sandisk, and a solitary participant each from Cowon and Sony.

Features
Oh, Beautiful
Hiding between the fashion-statement-making nanos and the simple but extremely functional Sansas was beauty, pure and unmatched. Sony's NW-S705F is a gorgeous looking player, period. Uniquely sculpted, with an excellent matte finish, a maroon and glossy chrome body, this player has the best build quality we've seen so far. The OLED screen is tiny but ultra-crisp, and adds to the classy look. The player has a click-type slider to toggle between track and folder views-similar to its cheaper sibling in the previous category. The quality of the bundled in-ear type earplugs is also excellent.

Cowon's D2 is another looker-the large screen looks good, and is a touchscreen to boot! Although made of plastic, the build quality is very good.

Samsung dropped in another bombshell-the YP-K5. Although this player looks like a solid brick at first, it's a slider that opens to reveal reasonably powerful inbuilt speaker. Once again, the tastefully backlit touch button interface appears, although we must say the YP-K3 is much slimmer and looks better. Comparing the YP-K3 to the YP-K5 is like comparing a Miss Universe to a Miss World-who cares, we like them both!

The other Samsung (YP-T9) looks similar to the Philips 768 cell phone we reviewed last year-the sides curve in towards the edges. This is another sleek player, slim enough to fit your pocket without a bulge, and light enough too.

It's A Materialistic World
Feature-rich was synonymous with Cowon here-the D2 adds more features than you'd ever likely use, and then some. Besides a large 24-bit screen that you can operate entirely with your fingers, there's expansion (SD), photo and video support, and a number of track-playing options. The D2 is also the only Flash PMP here to feature an alarm, though it misses out on the calendar and contacts option.

The feature-rich Sansa players also score really high on the feature count-identical to the e250, except these have more storage. Another feature-rich little thing was Samsung's YP-T9, which handles photos and videos in addition to music, FM radio, and voice recording, besides having support for games.

The hot-looking Samsung YP-K5 comes with a decent feature set and ever better accessories. The least-loaded model would have to be the Sony NW-S705F, although in all fairness, we have to say it's a brilliant PMP in its own right.

Cowon's D2 was another looker-the large screen
looks good, and is a touchscreen to boot!


Performance
At Rs 10,000 , you'd expect all these PMPs to excel at their bread and butter-playing music. With two customisable equaliser settings, the Sony NW-S705F is a great-sounding player with its bundled earplugs. Plugging in the Bose Intra Ears gives a further sound upgrade. Volumes are also good.


Cowon D2
 An emphatic winner


But then it gets better. Cowon's D2 actually manages to (gasp!) sound better than the iPod nano duo on the Bose earplugs. Excellent treble, completely neutral highs, and well-modulated vocals. Note that the nanos still have the edge when it comes to ear-pummelling bass; they go lower and give more of a rumble, and the D2 sounds a tad clearer. The difference between these players in terms of sheer audio quality is minute, and who the winner is depends largely on the genre of music you listen to. The nanos make Mark Knopfler's guitar come to life in Sultans of Swing, while Sony brings the tabla thumps and vocals in Chand Sifarish to life.

The Sandisks cannot help but trail the trio above in terms of quality, and Hotel California was less delightful an overall experience as we remember it. The Samsung duo bring up the rear here, with the YP-K5 outperforming its feature rich sibling the YP-T9. The A2 has another ace up it's sleeve-the battery life is a stellar 38 hours, absolutely unmatchable! The nanos also have good battery life-a little under a day.

Perfect Dreams
If you plan on burning 15,000 odd bucks on a PMP, you better know exactly what you want. We also suggest investing in a good set of in-ear type earplugs like our reference set or Creative's EP630, another much cheaper yet good-performing set of earphones.

Then, take a serious look at Cowon's D2: at Rs 15,000, we'd have to be plumb crazy to put our gold elsewhere. It's got the looks, it's got the gimmicky touchscreen among a host of features, brings Beethoven into your living room for a song, and bags Digit's Best Buy Gold award.
With a combination of features, practicality and solid build, not to mention oodles of space with expansion to boot, Sandisk's Sansa e260 is Digit's Best Buy Silver.

If you want something slim that makes a style statement, look no further than the acoustic marvel known as the nano-either model will do; they sound identical and have the same features.


Sandisk Sansa e260
Practical and solid

Equally stylish (in fact, more so in our collective opinion) would be the Sony NW-S725F, but you decide… style is a very subjective thing. Regardless, performance will be nearly identical, though you do get 2 GB less than the iPod nano 4 GB at a steeper price and no fewer features. Nanos are more Nikes and Levis, while the NW-S725F is more Louis Vuitton and Chanel…which threads do you prefer to be seen in?

The Samsung YP-T9 offers a lot of features, but isn't as showy as the YP-K3, which is the numero uno attraction. The YP-K5 is cool, but the form factor is a little too hard for your pocket.

Our Conclusion
The end of this test saw each of us with a PMP on his desk, click-clacking away to the sound of his favourite tunes. One thing's for certain-PMPs are as cheap or as expensive as you want, courtesy the falling price of Flash as well as magnetic media, coupled with wider consumer acceptance across the product group. While many will haggle over features, a few will put quality over value for money. Irrespective of your needs, and what your demands are, there's something for everyone-we've got newcomers and grizzled audiophiles alike well and truly covered.  



Michael BrowneMichael Browne