4GB and 8GB Compact MP3 Players: A Purchasing Guide

What is the first name brand you think of when the phrase, “Portable MP3 player,” is spoken? For most, it is Apple’s iPod, which certainly has dominated the market for quite some time and threatens to become the word used to define these very devices, akin to a Xerox copy. The iPod has been strategically advertised to make it the leading choice for those that are hip and Apple has created a near-cult following. I dare not try to sway its most enthusiastic followers and would be more successful in resolving our national debt by rolling pennies, counting them manually.

My purpose is not to sway my dear reader in either direction, necessarily, but point out the facts that could. Friends, Americans, and countrymen, I come to give truths about the iPod, not to necessarily praise it. And sure, Steve Jobs is an honorable man. Let us take a look at not only the Apple offering but also those of Microsoft, Sony, and Creative Labs in the affordable 4-8GB class of MP3/mini-Video player.

Price: The Buck Stops Here

Using the lower price of two sites, Amazon.com and Newegg.com, that are always competitive in the electronics arena and quite dependable, we can get to brass tacks, foregoing the MSRP at each of their respective websites. The following prices are as of 07/25/08 from the sources mentioned:

  • 4 GB iPod Nano 3rd Generation $144.00
  • 8 GB iPod Nano 3rd Generation $179.00
  • 4 GB MS Zune 1.8″ $121.13
  • 8 GB MS Zune 1.8″ $149.99
  • 4 GB Sony Walkman $ 99.99
  • 8 GB Sony Walkman $127.47
  • 4 GB Zen $ 76.96
  • 8 GB Zen $114.99

Wow, you must get many more features and a better player for the iPod, Zune, and Sony respectively. After all, the 4 GB iPod is nearly double that of the Zen, Let us take a peek at those features, shall we?


Size matters and the smaller the better, in this case, and lighter players have the advantage as well.

  • 4  amp; 8 GB iPod Nano 2.75″H – 2.06″W – 0.26″D – 1.74 oz.
  • 4  amp; 8 GB MS Zune 3.60″H – 1.60″W – 0.33″D – 1.70 oz.
  • 4  amp; 8 GB Sony Walkman 3.75″H – 2.13″W – 0.38″D – 2.10 oz.
  • 4  amp; 8 GB Zen 3.26″H – 2.16″W – 0.44″D – 2.10 oz.

Does the difference here make enough sense to pay more for the smallest? Maybe, but let us explore other options before we jump to conclusions – hey, that would make a great game for kids!

Screen Size/Audio Formats Playable

  • 4  amp; 8 GB iPod Nano 2″ Screen
  • Audio: AAC – Protected AAC – MP3 – MP3 VBR – Audible 2, 3, 4 –
  • Apple Lossless – AIFF – WAV
  • 4  amp; 8 GB MS Zune 1.8″ Screen
  • Audio: AAC, MP3, WMA, Protected WMA
  • 4  amp; 8 GB Sony 2.4″ Screen
  • Audio: MP3, WMA, AAC-LC, Linear PCM
  • 4  amp; 8 GB Zen 2.5″ Screen

Audio: MP3, WMA, non-protected AAC, WAV and Audible 2, 3 and 4

Each has about the same battery life, so there is no real advantage in that department. This information is all well and good, so you would figure most would be sold on the Zen but for those with an entire MP3 collection should download Lagu mp4, or a large portion of it, in protected AAC format (i.e. bought from the iTunes store). In that scenario, the iPod may still have appeal. But, one of these devices has not only the largest screen, but it also boasts a few additional features that just about anyone could appreciate. One of which is that it will sync with Windows Media Player and iTunes Plus, which is a minor positive when compared to its other conveniences the others mentioned do not afford.

Additional Zen Features over the Competition

If you see any benefit to being able to listen to FM radio for pleasure or in the event the power is out and you would like to hear what may be going on in the event of an emergency situation, the Zen is the only one to give you access to the outside world in that capacity. It allows for 32 pre-set stations which can be configured manually or auto-tuned. You can seek as well as go up incrementally, hitting every FM number in existence in the event a station comes in, but not strongly.

Do you need an alarm when you travel? The Zen has one built-in and the ability to record dictations that you may want to speak into its microphone. Great for a campout when the smaller an object the better off you are.

How about additional memory? With each player, besides the Zen, you need to purchase an upgraded product. The Zen, however, can be expanded by the ubiquitous SD Cards used in many cameras. It has a slot just begging to increase your storage capacity.

Bottom Line

If you need the iPod name to be with the “in crowd”, be my guest. If you would like a high-quality player that gives nothing away in sound quality, you enjoy spending less money for more features and can lug around a device a little over a third of an ounce heavier than the iPod, you might give this little player a trial. I did my homework before I purchased mine and have not a single regret! Creative Labs, the maker of the Zen, is a long-established company in making wonderful audio products for PC’s, such as audio cards. The company has been around a while and from the looks of the quality of its MP3 line, Creative Labs will continue to thrive.