As we creep slowly into 2008, I can't seem to shake the sinking feeling that this year isn't going to have much to offer in the realm of MP3 players. Truly, it's going to be hard to follow 2007. The year ushered in a growing selection of devices with wireless capabilities, touch screens, and high capacity flash memory at increasingly lower prices--not to mention the slow death of hard drive-based portable media players. In fact, many of my top selections from the past year comprise at least one of these features, along with many other desirable traits. True, they are not all necessarily the highest scorers of the year, but each one gave 2007 a little piece of its MP3 player identity.
The year Microsoft and Sony stepped-up their game
Let's face it: the first-generation Zune was released amid plentiful skepticism and criticism and--although it had plenty of redeeming qualities--the Zune didn't really come into its own until the second iteration. The design was slimmed down, the Wi-Fi features were refined and expanded, and the already excellent interface got a refresh. Plus, the player sounds great. While we're on the subject of stellar audio quality, let's talk Sony. The electronics giant made a lot of people really pleased when it finally gave up on its horrific SonicStage software, and moved its new Walkman's to the more user-friendly MTP platform. Sony added support for both AAC and WMA, while retaining its reputation for excellent battery life and sound. As a result, the NWZ-A818 is one of the best players I've ever laid hands on (I even bought one for my own brother). Other players of note: the fabulously green flash Zune, and the FM radio-sporting Sony NWZ-S615.
The year touch screens and the Web hit mainstream PMPs
Oh, the touch screen. You either love it, or you hate it (or maybe you're indifferent). Regardless of your feelings on the matter, there was no stopping this new interface's infestation in the portable media player market. No doubt, it has some benefits, one of them being increased control functionality on relatively compact devices. This has helped manufacturers include Web applications on MP3 players, such as the iPod Touch and the Archos 605 WiFi. Both players utilize their wireless capabilities for handy, on-demand video functionality. There's nothing like a promise of instant gratification to get more consumers snatching up devices. Other players of note: the Bluetooth-friendly Samsung P2 and the Cowon D2, which doesn't offer wireless features but is awesome just the same.
The year flash memory took over the world
The slow extermination of the hard drive in MP3 players has been met with mixed feelings. On the one hand, flash memory is more stable, consumes less power, and just seems to get cheaper and cheaper each day. On the other hand, we're a ways off from file-hoarding 120GB capacities in solid state form. However, manufacturers have made their choice and its flash, so you might as well start getting used to it. On the plus side, you can take solace in the fact that 2007 saw the introduction of an MP3 player--the Creative Zen, to be exact--with 32GB of internal flash memory as well as an SD card expansion slot. Also, things got really cheap over the last year, with SanDisk pushing out a great-sounding, handily-designed 2GB Sansa Clip for less than $50. Other players of note: pretty much all of them.