With the Christmas tree chopped up and the New Year's resolutions made (and probably broken) the holidays are officially over and the new year has begun. But if you're on the receiving end of a gift from one of the 60% of Americans who purchased a gift card as a present this year, the Christmas season may not be quite over. Now you need to decide what to do with those gift cards and they probably won't be to a place like Newegg where you can geek-out on exotic hardware; instead you're shopping retail.

So what do you do with those gift cards before they begin to self-deduct? If you're thinking of an MP3 player, then you're in the right place. We're re-launching our coverage of MP3 players here at AnandTech, and to start things off we have a roundup of high-end MP3 players from juggernauts Apple and Microsoft, who between the two control the vast majority of the high-end high-margin market for MP3 players in the United States.

Apple of course needs no introduction in the MP3 player market, as while they were originally a couple of years late to the game they have managed to become the unlikely 800lb gorilla in the MP3 player market. iPod has very nearly become synonymous with "MP3 player" in common vernacular, a short-but-succinct summary of Apple's dominance (and a possible trademark nightmare for the company in the future). They're the company to beat, they have no desire to hide this, and they have no intention of letting it happen.

Meanwhile we also have Microsoft, a far newer competitor that has done surprisingly well or surprisingly poor in the market so far, depending on who you ask. Their first Zune was panned by critics for various perceived inadequacies and the Zune did not dislodge Apple from being the king of the hill as Microsoft had hoped. Yet on the other hand, the first Zune was enough to catapult Microsoft to the #2 supplier of hard drive based MP3 players in the United States, shooting past entrenched players like Creative practically overnight. They came nowhere close to beating Apple in the MP3 player market, but they got closer than anyone else in recent years and are willing to throw the money and leverage that is Microsoft to try again and again.

It has been no accident that Microsoft has chosen the past year to break in to the MP3 player market. Issues of company diversification aside, as an established market the MP3 player market has in the past year finally matured. For Apple this is a troubling news, as they must now compete with themselves to sell new iPods since they can no longer bank on market growth to keep their sales high. Meanwhile for Microsoft this is great news, as Microsoft's is often at its best when it's time to compete in a mature market where breakthroughs are slow and the risk of competitors blind sighting them is low.

The MP3 players we will be looking at today represent the shifts in product styles that come with that maturation. From Apple we have the old guard and the new guard; the iPods Classic and Touch respectively. From Microsoft we have the Zune 80, a product that is both the old and new guards at the same time, striving to fix what ailed the first Zune in the process. How do these MP3 players stack up? Let's find out.

iPod Classic
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  • TedKord - Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - link

    I have a bunch of mp3, ogg and flac tunes already on my computer. With my A2, I just highlighted them all, drag and drop. MUCH simpler than reencoding for the Ipod, which has crapier sound quality anyway. Reply
  • BigLan - Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - link

    I think the biggest use of an fm tuner today is for watching TV at the gym. Sure, you could listen to your own music but a lot of people want to watch the TV as well. This alone was the reason I got my wife a Sansa last year instead of a nano. Reply
  • TedKord - Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - link

    TV with an FM tuner? Reply
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, January 23, 2008 - link

    I'd imagine the sound for the TV stations is broadcast over short range with FM. Same thing is used at drive-in movies. Reply
  • Locutus465 - Monday, January 21, 2008 - link

    this is exactly what I was looking for in a mp3 player review... I actually had a lot to say, but my router decided to take a dive right when I was going to submit it, and now it is gone :(

    Basically, I'm torn by the coolness of the touch and the superiority (IMHO) of Zune softare as compared to iTunes (particularly it's preformance on 32 & 64 bit Vista). In the end, for me the superiority of Zune is kind of winning out. At the end of the day, buying mp3's and getting them on my iPod and burnt CD all needs to just work and not be a pain.

    The one thing MS lacks and needs to get into Zune is a good video store. IMO they should make XBL video store 100% accessable to Zune, and movies should be playable not only on zune, but also over your network to an x-box 360 and other media extender. If they did this the would be in a very strong position against both sony and apple at the same time with a single vendor solution that competes with iPod, PS3 and Apple TV all at the same time.
    Reply
  • Tegeril - Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - link

    The latest version of iTunes (7.6), works quite well in both 32 and 64 bit. Reply
  • Locutus465 - Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - link

    I suppose that I'm a bit wary since versions 7.0-7.5 didn't work and eventually after repeated upgrades iTunes on the desktop has gotten to the point of displaying an error on start up saying cd-burning and some other function are broke. I have 7.6 on my laptop and it seems to work though, so we'll see. Reply
  • Locutus465 - Wednesday, January 23, 2008 - link

    Just needed to post back an update on this...

    Holy toledo!!!! iTunes *FINALLY* works as advertised on Vista, though I noticed it (very sadly) installed the Bojour service on my vista 64 machine (probably 32 as well though I did not notice). I dislike the bundling over which I had no control, leaves a very bad taste in my mouth...

    That said, at least iTunes *FINALLY* does work!!! I'm not sure though if that's enough to push me back towards iPod touch (as cool as it is) though... I've already discovered the conviniance of a flat monthly fee allowing me to download as much music as I want through Zune. Apple would need a similar set up to kill off Zune in my book. But at least it works, now I just need to take a closer look at Mp3 players once I'm a better position to be buying tech again.
    Reply
  • Baked - Monday, January 21, 2008 - link

    quote:

    It would behoove Microsoft to get the Zune working on the Mac as Apple's market share continues to grow (particularly with laptops).


    Did you read what you wrote? You actually think an Apple Fanboy, who bought a Mac, would go out and buy a Zune, and not an iPod. Why would anybody w/ a Mac, go out and buy a Zune instead of an iPod? >_<

    Market share? What market share? There are still far more people using PC notebook than Apple notebooks.
    Reply
  • michael2k - Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - link

    Last count in the US was 6 to 7 percent, or 1/12 of the population.

    In other words, there are more Mac users, out of PC users, than there are Zune users out of iPod users.

    And if you look ONLY at notebooks, I think the number rises to something like 12%. As of last March it was 10%:
    http://blogs.zdnet.com/Apple/?p=519">http://blogs.zdnet.com/Apple/?p=519

    Or 1 in 10 people in the US who own notebooks own a Mac notebook. Which puts it in good company alongside Dell and HP.
    Reply

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