August 10, 2017 10:36 GMT by theguardian.com

With Apple discontinuing iPods, what are the alternatives?

With Apple discontinuing iPods, what are the alternatives?

Marigold has a broken iPod and would like to hear about alternative MP3 players, mainly for listening to podcasts and Audible audio books

I was appalled to read that Apple is abandoning iPods. I have a seventh-generation iPod that has just packed it in, but I hesitate to spend money on repairs if it is about to go obsolete. Meanwhile, I am happily using my 2008 model, which lacks a radio but is fine otherwise. The grandson declares that this is the moment to get a “proper” phone that will do everything, but I am refusing to submit to blackmail and have no wish to consult the internet at every opportunity.

I am addicted to podcasts and books from Audible, and don’t often play music. Would an MP3 player from another maker still tie up with iTunes and Audible? Could I get one with a radio, preferably DAB? Marigold

Apple is abandoning its traditional iPods because most people with smartphones now use them for everything. However, many current smartphones – including Apple’s – don’t have FM, and none has a DAB radio.

Worse, smartphones need regular app updates and sometimes annual operating system upgrades. You also get loads of annoying notifications. It’s not like buying an MP3 player that will work unchanged for a decade or more, until the battery no longer holds a charge.

Buy a Nano?

I usually take the view that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. If the iPod works well for you, why not buy another, or get a price for fixing your broken one? I thought the fifth-generation iPod Nano (2009) was the best version, before Apple dropped the physical controls for a touch screen, but you can still buy a seventh-generation Nano with FM radio for £149, from Argos and other stores.

The iPod Nano is launched in 2012.
The seventh-gen iPod Nano is launched in 2012. Photograph: Beck Diefenbach/Reuters

Note that the latest 2015 Nano looks identical to the seventh-generation 2012 version, it just comes in fewer colours. However, the newer model requires a newer operating system: Mac OS X 10.6.8 or later, or Microsoft Windows 7 or later.

While Apple isn’t making any more Nanos, existing devices will continue to work. In fact, they work exactly like other MP3 players: you download files to your PC using software such as Apple iTunes and Audible Manager, then transfer them to the portable device.

Alternative MP3 players

Apple extended the Nano’s life by adding features such as a photo library, video playback and some “fitness” features, such as a pedometer. In other words, if you buy a Nano, most of the money pays for features you don’t want. It would be much cheaper to buy a traditional MP3 player with basic audio functionality – including, of course, FM radio. Many of these players look like knock-offs of the fifth-generation Nano. They won’t be as well made, but they are so cheap that you won’t lose much by getting it wrong.

For example, you could buy a 16GB HccToo Music Player on Amazon for £18.98, saving £30 off the “list price” and £130 off the cost of a Nano. I’d never heard of this machine, but it’s the #1 Best Seller on Amazon.co.uk, so you can browse the 639 customer reviews. Music buffs will appreciate its ability to play MP3, WMA, FLAC, APE, AAC, OGG and (for speech) ACELP files. The Nano can only handle two of those.

There’s also a 32GB version of the HccToo for £26.98. This is better value, but you don’t really need the extra storage space.

What would stop me from buying an HccToo is its lack of an SD card slot. I use SD Cards on my desktop (via an Anker USB3 adaptor), three laptops, a Roland Edirol digital recorder, a DSLR and several compact cameras. They are a handy way to move a lot of data around. The 8GB Kubik Evo (£26.90) might do, but it only supports SD cards up to 8GB. However, there are plenty of alternatives that support larger cards. Examples include the 8GB AGPtek M07, which can handle up to 128GB, and the AGPtek Rocker (no FM!), up to 256GB.

As an iPod owner, you might prefer a name-brand product. If so, consider the 8GB Sony NW-E394 Walkman at £75. Sony offers Media Go software for Windows, which will recognize iTunes files, but you can always drag and drop files straight from iTunes.

I have a couple of older Sony MP3 players, and both are well made, sound great, and came with excellent ear-buds. In fact, my Sony NWZ A818 (2007) is the best portable music player I’ve ever heard.

Fortunately, audiophile sound isn’t needed for listening to podcasts and audio books. You don’t need a FiiO or Astell & Kern or even a Cowon player. Spend any spare cash on better ear-buds or headphones.

Forget DAB

Not many MP3 players include DAB because of the extra cost of the chips, the extra space needed, and the extra power consumption. What you’d actually be looking for is the smallest DAB radio that can play MP3 files, though that’s not quite the same thing.

The closest I can find is the Majority Parkside DAB Digital FM Radio - MP3 Player, which is surprisingly cheap at £29.95 (£40 off). It doesn’t have a built-in loudspeaker or file storage, but it can play MP3 files from a 32GB or smaller SD card. Unfortunately, the Amazon questions and reviews suggest this would not be a good choice for your purposes.

On the good side, it does support DAB+. This is more efficient, so it allows radio stations to save money by broadcasting poor sound quality at even lower bit-rates.

What about Android?

Moto G4 G4 Plus review
An Android such as a Moto G4 Plus could be an affordable replacement for an iPod. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Is your grandson offering to buy you an Apple smartphone? If so, there’s a range between the iPhone 6 (from £499) and the iPhone 7 Plus (from £719), with an iPhone 8 on the way. If not, that’s a lot of money to spend on an MP3 player.

In fact, you could buy a good Google Android phone for around the same price as an iPod Nano, and much less than an iPod Touch. (This is basically an iPhone without the phone bit, and costs £199 or £299.)

Examples include the Sony Xperia E5 (£127.92), the Moto G4 Plus (£164.99) and the Samsung Galaxy A3 (£160). All three have 16GB of storage, music management software and FM radios built in.

You could move your current sim card to the new phone, and if it doesn’t fit, your network supplier will provide a new one with the same number for free. It doesn’t matter if your deal doesn’t include any data. As with iPhones, you can download apps and data via a wifi network.

You will still get annoying app updates and notifications (though some you can turn off), but Android users are under less pressure to upgrade to new versions of the operating system.

One advantage is that you can download podcasts directly to the phone from Google Play and other sources (Pocket Casts, Podcast Addict, Spotify), and download books using Audible’s Android app. You won’t have to go via a PC. One drawback is that there isn’t an iTunes for Android, though there is an app for Apple’s subscription-based music service.

However, there are apps that will sync your current iTunes library to an Android phone, such as doubleTwist Sync and iSyncr:iTunes. Alternatively, you could use Google Play Music Manager, or just drag and drop files.

You won’t get the integrated experience that you get from Apple’s store, iTunes software and an iPod, but it’s your money, your choice.

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