I wonder how many iPod Nanos are being sold these days.
With SanDisk's $250 8GB Sansa e280
just hitting the market, the ever-so-slim Nano (4GB, $250)
sounds like a downright rip-off. Of course, Apple will most definitely release an equalizer within the next couple of months. (Rumor sites: Restart your engines! We predict an 8GB or a 10GB aluminum Nano.) Just don't buy a current Nano unless you're getting a tremendous deal.
Meanwhile, the entire galaxy (minus Pluto) awaits the arrival of the "true video iPod," though the recent iPod lull is putting us to sleep. Don't fret, the iPod PVP and its trusty sidekick, the iTunes Movie Store, are coming soon to a billboard near you. We only hope that Apple has been taking notes on the current PVP battle royale between the two "true" video players that have already set the bar high.
Generally considered the best of PVP breed, the Cowon A2 and the new Archos 604 do portable video really well. Both feature mammoth (by MP3 player standards) 16:9 wide screens and pack all sorts of media features into pocket-size units. Both are consistently measured against one another--the Cowon and its open format compatibility, excellent sound, and long-lasting battery, and Archos (including the older AV500 and the new 04 series) and its thoughtful design, slick interface, and amazing screen. While they are an inch bigger and a few ounces heavier than the typical MP3 player, these PVPs (or PMPs) are tomorrow's MP3 player.
PVP powerhouses: the 30GB Archos 604 next to the 30GB Cowon A2.
I have crushes on both gadgets, which by the way are not mainstream at all (at least not in the States; Cowon's home market is Korea, Archos's is Europe).
First off, they do everything. They are MP3 players at heart, only juiced up. Both the 30GB A2 and the 30GB 604 can play back video files on 4-inch-plus screens (many without conversion), display photos (the Archos is a splendid photo viewer), and act as text readers and voice recorders, and both are superb audio- and video-recording platforms. In essence they are portable DVRs--and they can be integrated with home entertainment systems and scheduled to record TV shows and even DVDs.
Are you excited about the true video iPod?
The A2 has an FM tuner, even a DMB tuner
; puzzlingly, the 604 lacks a tuner. The 604 can play subscription music and videos, while the A2 is a DRM-free champion with support for OGG and FLAC. The expansive screens allow for easy navigation, browsing, and features such as renaming tracks and playlist creation. The Archos family actually includes seven models--with the intriguingly small 404
and the Wi-Fi, touch screen-enabled 604 Wi-Fi
Secondly, they are both sleeker and more durable than you think. The soft and curvy A2 measures 5.2 by 3 by 0.9 inches and weighs 10.5 ounces, while the boxy 604 with a bigger screen is much thinner and lighter at 5.1 by 3 by 0.6 inches and 9 ounces. The A2 can record video and line-in audio out of the box, while the 604 requires an optional adapter--though the 604's base price ($350) is lower than the A2's ($420).
The 30GB Cowon A2 has a 4-inch wide screen and built-in stereo speakers.
The A2 has a minimal control set aided by GUI-based soft keys. The 604 has quirky but tactile controllers and a sophisticated Euro-style GUI. The A2 has crisp built-in stereo speakers; the 604 has a built-in kickstand for hands-free viewing and, refreshingly, a removable battery.
Finally, both the Cowon and the Archos are serious performers with serious processing power and top-notch sound quality. Both devices can multitask, both possess razor-sharp precision when scrubbing through video or audio tracks, and both boast good battery life (the Cowon has a 10-hour rated battery life for video). Also, Archos just added true gapless playback in the latest 604 firmware.
The new 30GB Archos 604 has a 4.3-inch wide screen and a sweet set of video controls.
The current iPod may be much sleeker and benefit from living in an intuitive but closed ecosystem, but it's no match for the A2 and the 604 when it comes to playing video (both players actually sound better than the iPod, too).
Being late to the game isn't a big deal for Apple
The 6G iPod will be sleeker than the rest, and it might even have a cool touch screen and maybe even Wi-Fi. It already has a built-in and oft-visited content store; movies will just be the next step. And don't forget mass marketing--nobody knows about Cowon and Archos except gadget nerds. But to gain some respect in the world of high-end PVPs, the iPod must do the following:
Have you tuned in, Apple? We all hope so, because no matter how impressed we will be by the next iPod, it will be joining a tough league.
James Kim is a senior editor for CNET Reviews.