When you've decided to buy a portable MP3 player, the first thing to consider is how you will use it. Are you going to take it to the gym or with you on your daily jog? Are you going to use it primarily when you walk to class or sit in the library to study? Different lifestyles require different decisions.
Here are the various kinds of popular MP3 players available:
Flash-based players hold audio files on internal media, such as memory cards. The iPod nano, iPod shuffle, Creative Zen Nano, and SanDisk Sansa are flash-based players. These generally offer less storage capacity, often in the 1 to 2GB range, but sometimes up to 8GB. (A 2GB player can hold about 400-500 songs, which is plenty for a lot of music fans.) Since flash-based players don't have moving parts, they are very durable. You can't easily damage one by dropping it, the music won't skip when you jostle it, and it can endure getting a little wet (if you sweat on it at the gym). Flash-based players are also fairly inexpensive (a small flash-based player can be purchased for under $100).
Hard drive-based players read audio files from a hard drive. The Apple iPod and Creative Zen Vision M are examples of hard drive-based players. These MP3 players offer much more storage capacity and can accommodate literally thousands of songs, pictures, and even movies. However, they are a lot bigger in physical size than flash-based players, and thus bulkier. They are also much more sensitive to motion. Hard drive-based players generally cost between $250 and $500.
MP3 CD players play MP3 files from a writeable CD (CD+R or CD-RW, for example) in addition to commercially-purchased music CDs. Obviously, you'll have to burn all of your music files to MP3 CDs to use this type of MP3 player, and the player itself is much larger because of the CD player. An MP3 CD player is the least expensive of the above options and can be purchased for about $25 to $50. MP3 CDs can hold 650MB to 800MB of MP3 data, which amounts to about 200 songs.
Besides the type of player you choose, there are a couple other things to consider.
The style of MP3 player
Hold each MP3 player you are considering. Does it feel right in your hand? Do you find the controls simple and the buttons big enough for your fingers? Do you like the display?
Music downloading services
Also make sure that your preferred software and music downloading service will work with the MP3 player you select. Most players come with their own applications for transferring files and managing your playlists. Make sure it's easy to use, is compatible with your desktop's or laptop's operating system, and offers plenty of the music you like. Reputable music downloading services include Apple's iTunes, Best Buy's Rhapsody, MTV's Urge, and Napster.