iPod or Zen

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In recent years the iPod has become the toy of choice. Far beyond its functionality, its raisin d'etre, this sleek little music player has become one of the most iconic status symbols of the last 20 years or more. With its inception, Apple really took the emerging MP3 market by the horns and in many ways have made it their own. That said, the iPod was never really an MP3 player as such, and MP3 compatibility was secondary to the AAC format touted by Apple. Arguments of AAC being a superior form of music compression to MP3 are moot, in the same way as the Betamax vs. VHS video battle of the 80s proved that the "best" doesn't always win.

Despite their success, Apple's efforts to shape the market have been limited. This is in part due to the stubbornness of the iPod philosophy. Unlike many other companies who supply the customer with what they require, Apple have told the customer what they must have. Had it not been for some clever marketing and that iconic design, the iPod may have fallen by the wayside in favour of cheaper and more functional players. Unfortunately for the competition, the world has embraced the iPod and even the accessories market is dominated by iPod compatible add-ons.

So, is it worth swimming against the tide when it comes to choosing your next MP3/Multimedia device? Are you just making life harder for yourself? And what are the alternatives?

The iPod's greatest competition is provided by the Zen range from Creative Labs. Initially the Zen players were clumsy and ugly and although less expensive and more functional with longer battery life and larger capacities it's clear to see why the aesthetics won the first round of this undecided battle. However, with its latest generation of players, notably the Zen Vision M, Creative are flexing their muscles at the iPod and there is now much less to distinguish between the players in terms of looks and build quality.

In comparison, the first thing you will notice is that the iPod is thinner than its Zen counterpart despite a larger capacity (depending on the model). However, a slimmer figure does not come without compromise. It is widely accepted that the Zen's screen is superior to that of the iPod and many would argue that the sound quality is also a cut above. The ability of the Zen to accept a greater number of audio and video formats (WMA, DivX, etc) also makes the iPod look a little under-talented. The Zen also allows voice recording and has a built in FM radio to boot. It would also seem that battery life favours the Zen too. So, is the iPod still king?

The choice is really yours. If you want to be part of the crowd, are into style rather than functionality, don't mind the compatibility issues and can get on with iTunes then the iPod is for you. If you're more concerned with quality, compatibility and stamina and don't mind the slightly larger size and fewer available accessories, then the Zen is the way to go. Fashion victim or pragmatist...? You Choose.

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