When it comes to high-capacity mp3 players, Apple’s iPod isn’t the only hipster horse in town.
PC companies, looking to take a bite out of the burgeoning market for expensive portable music players, have introduced their own versions of the iPod. So I wanted to review the iPod as well as Dell’s Digital Jukebox and Gateway’s DMP-X20. But an Apple representative said they don’t loan review iPods to college papers, and Dell didn’t return my calls.
But the folks at Gateway sent me the X20, its 20-gigabyte mp3 player. The X20 is plenty small – think deck of cards with a chrome finish.
It’s a great little companion for the bus ride to school or wandering around Center City. It has an easy-to-use file navigation system, organizing songs by artist, album and genre, as well as your own playlists.
My only gripe with the player itself was that it didn’t play album songs in the order they come on the CDs, only in alphabetical or random order. Gateway said this would be fixed in a software download that has yet to be released.
Sound quality was good, although the earbud headphones that come with the player don’t do justice to bass lines, which is true of all tiny headphones. With studio headphones plugged in, I got the full range of sound out of the X20.
I loved being able to listen to The Cure, Bach and Jay-Z as my whims dictated on the ride to school. The battery lasted through several days’ commute without charging. It takes an overnight charge to get it back up to a full battery.
Also included: an FM radio – in case for some reason your thousands of songs aren’t good enough for you – and a voice recorder, both of which worked fine.
Of course, there are the inevitable comparisons to the iPod, which currently dominates the market for these devices.
I liked the super-shiny design of the X20 better than the white finish that defines the iPod. The X20 has a chromed front and a black back, and it doesn’t look quite so trendy cool as the iPod.
The included headphones are black, unlike the iPod’s telltale white earbuds. This is a plus or a minus, depending on whether or not you are trying to subtly broadcast: “Hey! I spent $300 on an mp3 player.”
At $299 (although some shopping around on the Internet can turn one up for $270), the X20 offers more storage than the 15 gigabyte iPod, also $299. It is about the same size, although it weighs 2 ounces more, which I didn’t find to be a big issue.
The spot where the X20 falls short against the iPod is not in the player itself, but in the software it uses on your computer. Apple’s iTunes is one of the best music management programs I have used. It will automatically update your iPod with your new songs and playlists when you plug it in.
The X20 uses Microsoft’s Windows Media Player, which doesn’t quite cut it. Updating the player is done manually, and keeping songs organized is a lot more difficult than it needs to be. If Gateway or any of the other PC companies can match the quality of iTunes to go along with their products, Apple could be forced to run for its money.
Brian White can be reached at email@example.com.