Players Tested - Part 3

June 08, 2007

Well, here I am back after a one year hiatus. I must say the music scene has changed quite a bit. Fewer and fewer people are buying dedicated MP3 players and more are getting convergent devices like the (almost) mainstream iPhone and Sony Ericsson Walkman phones. It seems convergence is here to stay and that's definitely a good thing isn't it? After all, weren't you lugging around a phone, an MP3 player and a camera not too long ago? Right now, we see many products where all these features are integrated into one. The future certainly looks bright especially if we can expect battery life of consumer products to take some leaps and bounds forward.

Speaking of which, we were previously talking about how to gauge audio players now weren't we? We've already covered a. Audio Quality and b. User Interface. So now, let's get back to the topic, shall we?

c. Battery Life
What's the most annoying thing that could possibly happen to you with your state-of-the-art music player? Have you experienced having James Blunt crying out how beautiful you are only to be cut off suddenly? Does this happen especially when you've only just left your house? I've got news - you're not alone. Now it certainly cheeses me off to find that the power is cut because I had forgotten to charge the device the night before. It could either make or break your day.

The problem is not so much 'when do you charge the unit?'. A more appropriate question is: how do you minimize this battery dying occurence? The answer is simple - Get a player with a decent battery life.

Battery Life of Selected Players
Supports Year of

Life (MP3)

iPod nano (v3) MP3/Photo/
2007 Up to 24h
iPod nano (v2) MP3/Photo 2006 Up to 24h
iPod nano (v1) MP3/Photo 2005 (Sep) Up to 14h
iPod mini (v2) MP3 2005 (Feb) Up to 18h
iPod mini (v1) MP3 2004 Up to 8h

Before looking in to what these figures mean, it is important to note that the Apple iPod mini was discontinued and replaced with the iPod nano. In a sense, the table shows the history of Apple's mid-range MP3 players.

Now, this table illustrates two things -
1. If you note the formats the player supports from 2004 to present, we see that MP3s were supported in the original version but now, we see photo and video support. In a nutshell, it is obvious that convergence is already here and that an increasing number of manufacturers will have to embrace this in order to survive the fast-paced consumer technology market.

2. Now what's our main topic of discussion? You're spot on - Battery life! Now in 2004, the iPod mini could only play for a meagre 8 hours. This was actually quite mediocre even for its era when compared with Sony Minidisc players that could easily hit a 30+ hours rating. Apple probably listened to the consumers and came up with their second iteration which boasted 18 hours. This was a very welcome increase in juice but then you will ask - how come the nano, 1st version scored a poorer rating of 14 hours than its predecessor, the mini?

To understand this, one would have to understand the storage mechanism behind the mini and the nano. The music in the mini was stored in a microdrive which had moving parts. These moving parts, while robust, were nevertheless prone to failure. The nano used flash memory. While not a new technology, flash memory was expensive and high capacities of 4GB were still quite premium for its time. The good thing was that flash memory doesn't involve moving parts and hence music skipping could be prevented.

Anyway, the nano was improved and hit an impressive high of 24 hours of battery life with its 2nd version.

Now, what do we see in the future?
Convergent devices are becoming more widespread but the battery life isn't keeping up. While clearly there have been significant increases, this isn't enough when you use devices for multiple purposes. If cellphones are to be doubled up as handsets and video players, users should expect a higher battery life but instead the battery life remains the same. If convergence is to take off, power is something that needs serious consideration.

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