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TECH GIFT GUIDE: PORTABLE MEDIA PLAYERS

IPod rules, for a reason

Offering a popular range of products, Apple is the only stop for most shoppers looking for the right mobile music device.

November 22, 2009

In most cases, this comes down to deciding which iPod to buy.

Apple Inc.'s wildly successful, user-friendly media players overwhelm all others.

According to research firm NPD Group, 73% of the players sold in the U.S. this year, through September, were iPods. Even big names such as Sony Corp. (3%) and Microsoft Corp. (2%) barely made a ripple.

Here's a look at the four iPod models and an outsider.

Shuffle ($59-$79): This audio-only iPod comes in 2- and 4-gigabyte models -- the larger of which holds about 1,000 four-minute songs.

It's amazing how fast it can fill up.

"It's cheap, which makes it a good entry-level device," said Mike McGuire, an analyst with Gartner Inc.

Nano ($149-$179): The biggest seller in the iPod line has a screen for video and viewing song lists. But it's still a relatively small unit that can slip into an armband for exercise, and it holds up to 4,000 songs or 16 hours of video (or a combination of the two).

Also, it's the only iPod with a built-in FM radio, and it has a video camera for taking off-the-cuff video snapshots.

For many, it's the sweet spot.

"There is something about this form factor that people really like," McGuire said.

"It's great for people who don't want to carry around tens of thousands of songs."

Classic ($249): For those people, there's this iPod that can carry about 40,000 songs or 400 hours of video.

Touch ($199-$399): In addition to being a player, the top-of-the line iPod is a mini-computer.

In the presence of Wi-Fi it can browse online, e-mail and instant message.

And it can use the same apps as the iPhone for games and a huge array of other functions.

The most expensive model can hold up to 14,000 songs or 80 hours of video.

Zune HD: Probably the best-known alternative to the iPod is Microsoft's Zune line. The latest model, the Zune HD ($220-$290), can pick up HD radio, and it sports an excellent video screen. It's also Wi-Fi enabled.

Unlike an iPod, it can also be used in conjunction with a music subscription service (about $15 a month) that allows the user to choose from millions of songs to listen to (but not own).

But the Zune HD is not as user-friendly as its main rival, the iPod Touch.

-- David Colker

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