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Portable media players (aka MP3/MP4 players) play video and games as well as holding your music collection.

We explain the features to look for when you're choosing a new player and consider whether a mobile phone might do the job instead.

Flash or hard disk

The majority of players have a flash memory with no moving parts – this means they handle the knocks better than older hard disk players (which are handy for joggers). There are still some hard drive players around though, and they tend to have more storage capacity.


File formats used by digital music players are comparatively tiny (3-4MB). So a 4GB player will store about 1000 songs at top quality. Video file size varies a lot depending on the quality, but generally take up much more room than music files.


Screen size can be important. The small display screens on flash players can make it harder to sort through your catalogue of music to find your favourite track, or to view video files. But a bigger, brighter screen puts a greater load on the battery.


Batteries may be recharged from the USB port in your computer, from a power point (using an AC adapter), or both. If using a USB port, the player may plug directly into the computer or require a USB cable.


If you use a Mac or an older PC, it's important to check that the player is compatible with your computer.

Memory upgrade

MP3 players with upgradeable memory are becoming less common. Some players are not supplied with any inbuilt memory so you have to buy your own memory card. The advantage is you can choose any size memory you want, and upgrade at any time. Memory cards vary in price depending on the type.

File formats and download sites

There are several different formats for music and movie files and some players will play some but not others. Most music download sites sell music that is usable on most players. You may want to check that your current music collection doesn’t contain any proprietary formats (such as WMA files) that don’t work on all players.

Other media players

A smartphone

Almost all new mobile phones play music files – and most of these play MP3, AAC, and WAV files. Many also have an FM radio. And the new smartphones can play (and create) video files as well. The same is true for tablet computers.

There is no longer much difference between a smartphone, a tablet and the best media players when it comes to listening to music or watching video on the go. The operating systems and hardware allow for the same functionality (music, video, internet, games etc) in each device, with the main difference being mobile data access and telephone functions (where phones have the obvious edge). Of course mobiles and tablets cost a lot more.

So if you're considering getting a new media player as well as a new mobile phone, check out our mobile phone test results and features, and see if you can combine the two.

Buying music

iTunes has an extensive catalogue of music (Amazon has a similarly extensive selection but restricts its sales to US customers only). New music releases are available as soon as they come out. What’s more you can pre-order many big titles, which can be set to download automatically. And having an iPod Touch or iPhone/iPad gives you direct access to iTunes, because it’s part of the operating system.

Other services, like Bandcamp, allow you to buy harder-to-find music directly from the artist and sometimes for a "pay what you think" amount.

Bandcamp – along with services like Soundcloud, Grooveshark, and – lets you listen to songs legally before you buy them. Some services, like, also offer suggestions of other music you might like – and all provide links to places you can buy the songs.

Another popular music service, Spotify, launched in New Zealand in 2012.


You can still give digital music as a gift. For example, gift cards for iTunes are widely available: these give the recipient a credit on their account so they can buy whatever they want.

The other option is to "gift" the album or song to someone. This means if you have an account with iTunes you can buy an album for someone and then have it "delivered" via email (or you can print out the redemption code and give that as a present). It can make a nice Christmas surprise and it's perfect for last-minute shoppers.

Don't go deaf

To avoid damaging your hearing, follow the 60/60 rule. That's what audiologists recommend.

Your maximum listening time should be 60 minutes a day with the volume no higher than 60 percent. If you listen for more than 60 minutes, you should turn the volume down below 60 percent.

Set the volume when you're in a quiet environment. And don't turn it up to block out noisy environments.

Try this simple rule of thumb ... if you can't hear other people talking when you're wearing headphones, or if other people have to shout at you to be heard three feet away, then the volume's too loud – it could be damaging your hearing.