MP3 and MP4 players buying guide

The MP3 totally changed the way we buy and enjoy music and now the MP4 is doing that for video as well.

MP3s and MP4s are types of digital file that enable small portable players to carry hundreds, if not thousands, of songs and hours of video. It helps that these portable devices tend to be small and light, similar in size and weight to a mobile phone, and have enough battery life for hours of playback.

The main requirement is that you have computer with a USB port, although more advanced players (such as the iPod touch) can connect to the internet independently and download music. You'll also need a desktop or laptop so you can store your music and video files.

Similarly, if you have an audio CD collection and are using Windows® Media Player or iTunes, it's possible to 'rip' tracks to your computer and copy these to your player as well.

Main features to look out for:

  • Design: in the MP3 world there are three general designs: the stick, the bar style and the touchscreen.

    • The stick: is the most basic, offering little beyond basic player controls but is the smallest, lightest and cheapest option.

    • The most common is the bar style, which usually provides a screen for video and hard controls.

    • At the high-end is the touchscreen model, which is more like a portable computer providing full video, web, app and gaming features as well.

  • Capacity: the amount of music and video a player can store is dictated by its capacity. Roughly speaking, most MP3 tracks use 1MB per minute of music. If you say the average track is 4 minutes, then a 1GB (1,000MB) player can store 250 tracks, while a 4GB (4,000MB) player can store around 1,000 tracks.

  • Display: a screen on a player will make it easier to choose albums, select songs and watch video. However, it also makes it bulkier to carry. Touchscreen devices can also provide advanced features such as apps and games, though this increases the cost.

Other features

Look out for other features such as: integrated FM tuner, voice recording for taking dictated notes, and data storage for carrying PC files.


With MP3 downloads, you purchase digital music files from the internet and save them on to your computer. You can buy single songs or whole albums from music download sites like Tesco Entertainment

To use any of these services you will need: space on your hard drive, a computer with the minimum required specifications (usually this is no more than a Windows® PC that can run a modern web browser, such as Internet Explorer 7, and has the latest up-to-date version of Windows® Media Player 11), and a broadband internet connection.

How do I download music?

First, you will need to choose a music download site.

All sites should allow you to search for your favourite artist, and once you've found the band or singer that you like, click on the song or album name that you want to purchase. It's standard practice that you'll need to sign up for an account, where you can review your purchases before you download your MP3s. Once downloaded, the music files can then be transferred on to a portable digital music player, such as an MP3 player or iPod.

Things to check

  • Make sure that your player is compatible with the files offered on the site. Some sites do not have MP3 downloads and offer another similar type of compressed file. For example, you will not be able to play files downloaded from iTunes on a Sony digital music player.

  • Make sure that the site is well known. Use a trusted site or iTunes. Not only does this ensure that your details will be secure, but you can enjoy much greater choice and quality.

  • Download legally. There has been a lot of talk about the illegal 'file-sharing' of music. If you use a well-known service and are legally downloading music, you won't have anything to worry about.