In praise of "crap" technology

I visited my little brother, a dedicated minimalist, last month. In general, I think of myself as not particularly consumerist-y. But hanging out with somebody who is sooo much better at not consuming pointlessly has left me with a lot to think about.

Gadgets are one of the biggest things I've been pondering. This is not, especially, my area of weakness when it comes to consumerism. (That would be landscaping plants, furniture, and kitchenware.) But I did recently get my first smart phone. I have been, lately, complaining about the weight of my old MacBook. And I have been contemplating a new MP3 player. In other words, I'm at a potential buying stage in my slow-moving gadget cycle. Do I need to be, though? And if there is a reason to buy some new stuff, how should I make those choices?

That's probably why Thomas Hayden's essay In Praise of Crap Technology struck a chord with me. In it, Hayden waxes poetic about his $19.99 Coby MP3 player. It's a product that's supposed to suck. It's something you buy reluctantly, when you can't afford an iPod. But, apparently, nobody bothered to let the Coby know about that. It's boring. It's ugly. It doesn't have the latest features. But, as Hayden points out, it's also durable, inexpensive, inherently theft-deterrent, and reliable. It also does exactly what he needs it to do. No less. And no more.

My portable audio technology needs are simple. A few hundred well-chosen—by me, dammit—songs and a half-dozen episodes of the WTF podcast and I’m good to go. My trusty Coby does all that, with an FM radio tuner included. (I do wish it had AM too—the crap technology of the air—but why gripe?) Most important, it’s worth next to nothing so I’m virtually assured never to lose it—unlike apparently every iPhone prototype ever—and I don’t cringe at all when my toddler flings it across the room. And because the next Coby is sure to be just as mediocre, I’ll never need to upgrade—I’ve stepped off the escalators of feature creep and planned obsolescence, and all the expense and toxic e-waste that come with them. Crap technology, it turns out, is green technology.

Now that's a damn good point. Granted, crap technology can be dirty if it's actually crap—something you're going to have to throw out and replace every year. But it's nice to get this reminder that there's a lot of room between crap-that's-actually-crap and the-newest-most-expensive-thing. That grey zone is home to Hayden's Coby.

It's also home to the Sansa Clip my husband and I have shared for half a decade. It's now outlasted two iPods—one that was lost/stolen and another with a faulty battery. Where those more-coveted gadgets failed, the Sansa came through. And it's stuff like this that brings up an important question I need to ask myself more often: What makes "crap" crap?

I've been pretty proud of my ability to resist the constant-upgrade/early-adopter treadmill. But maybe I need to be less smug about that. Because, until I really thought about how good the Sansa Clip has been to me, I was thinking about replacing it with an iPod. And there's not really a point to that. Because I already own good technology. It's just a piece of good technology that happens to be "crap".


  1. Now, when I say this same kind of thing, people assume it’s just because I’m older than dirt.

  2. AT&T Go Phone.  $10, better reception than my giant expensive Android, never dropped a call, and the battery lasted more than a week on standby.  Honest to FSM, I miss that phone.

  3. Best phone ever:

  4. While I know many people who go through and iPod every year and a half or so, I’m faithful to the iPod classic, each one I’ve had has lasted for years, and they’re surprisingly durable. The only reason I’ve ever had to replace one was when I actually got more music then the last could hold, the others all still work, and I’ve given them to my younger brother, cousins, friends, etc. 

  5. I have an early Canon Ixus digital camera that takes a great picture. Unfortunately, Canon no longer offer the drivers needed to run it on my new laptop. So while there’s a place for crap technology, as long as its reliant on software support that can be withdrawn, the copyright owners can enforce obsolescence. Unless of course anyone knows of a database of random old drivers?

    1. John, can I ask why you need drivers on your laptop to use the Ixus? Does that model not have a CF card or SD card that you can take out and put into a card reader?

    2. The pictures should be sitting on the camera. Your PC should be able to look at them as though they’re on an external drive.  If you prefer an automated process to retrieve those pictures, like I’m sure the Canon software provided, try Picasa. It’ll nab those pictures quickly (along with everything thing else on your hard drive — those who share their PC beware) and organize it for you. Worst case scenario is you get a card reader and manually pull out your card for file transfers.

  6. Unless it’s a true “lemon”, I suspect crap is crap because people say it’s crap….. like art being art.  I’ve had the same crap phone for years….. it’s heavy, ugly, and makes phone calls.  No window to shatter, no apps to pay for, and absolutely no threat of this phone being snatched!

  7. Not only can it outlast two iPods, I bet it can outlast two unwanted betrothals and a red wedding.

  8. I think you answered your own question perfectly in the post. Good technology is technology that does exactly what you want it to do in exactly the way you want it to do it. No less, no more, no differently.

    The further technology (or anything else for that matter) from that standard, the closer it is to being crap. What is and is not “crap” necessarily starts from first knowing thyself.

    It has actually always puzzled me why so many people, when they start earning a little bit more money, increase their spending by a little bit on EVERYTHING. Surely, one cannot be equally interested in all things at once?

  9. If it works, and it lasts, it’s not crap, by definition. The word you are groping for is “unfashionable”. Far too many people conflate fashion with quality. They’re almost completely orthogonal.

  10. My $10 Coby AM/FM radio that’s hardly larger than a cigarette lighter has served me well for at least five years.  Nope, not fancy but it does have digital tuning.  Coby is king of cheap electronics but they work well enough.  Mix in rechargeable AAAs and you’re all set.

  11. Of course the Sansa Clip is crap – It’s just a knock-off of the iPod Nano with a screen attached to it. I mean, who needs a screen with a device that can hold a couple hundred hours of audio?

    1. The Sanza clip is closer to the shuffle in size yet has a screen so that you don’t have to shuffle songs albums and playlists.  I use mine for cycling and it takes the knocks that would leave a nano toasted. 

      The one in the picture is the fancy schmanzy version with what looks like a 2 colour display.  Pure ostentation!

  12. I bought an iPod Photo 30GB in June 2005, 347€ (~450$), treated better than my balls. It died almost 6 months later. I called Apple to get a replacement, they gave me one a few days before Christmas. The replacement died 6 months later. Out of warranty. Faulty hard drive. Piece of junk.
    I bought a Creative Zen Stone Plus 2GB in July 2007, 69€. It has great audio quality and it’s still working great.

    1. Anecdotes, data, all that. However, this has been one of the main reasons the industry – both gadgets and computers – have been moving to solid state storage. No moving parts makes it orders of magnitude more reliable. (As for the anecdote part, I had a 2nd-gen 20GB iPod that died the week *after* I replaced it with a 5th-gen 30GB iPod; that one lasted until I sold it some years later. The cause of the dead 20GB one? Hard drive crash.)

      1. Absolutely right, I remember I was incredibly excited when I first saw the iPod Touch (and then the Zune HD.) The problem with my iPod is that I really believed in all the advertising (official and word-of-mouth) and, in my mind, I thought that I was paying a lot of money for the quality. I remember saying to myself “that hard drive will never fail!”. I was wrong on so many levels…
        Ah, now that I think of it, I have a Motorola SLVR, bought in 2005, this one is still working! The screen is a little broken and the keyboard is all cracked (there’s no number 2 anymore, eheh.) Let’s just say it didn’t age gracefully.

    2. The only MP3 player I’ve ever purchased for myself was Creative’s Zen Vision M back in 2005.  I forget what I paid for it, probably a couple hundred, but it is still working great and I use it all the time.  It’s got 40 GB HD, plays a variety of video files, holds pictures, and has FM radio with the ability to record it straight to the HD.  Absolutely the best money I’ve ever spent on a piece of tech.   It’s outlasted every camera, computer or cell phone I owned 6 years ago.

  13. Maggie — I too have a Sansa Clip, and I like it.  I like it so much I gave my gen-1 iPod Touch to my daughter – and that was back before there even was a gen-2.  I don’t need a huge piece of bloatware to load music onto it.  If I get bored listening to what’s currently on it, I can switch to FM and listen to the Current.  It’s tiny, weighs almost nothing, and clips to the collar of my sweats so there’s plenty of earbud cord.  And it was cheap.

  14. Only reason our iPod shuffles (2005) are going is because my music collection is all on my phone – convergence killed the need for 2 devices…

  15. If it does what you need without adding any stress to your life, then it’s not crap. If it doesn’t do what you need, or causes you stress in the process, then it’s crap.

    Really, beyond that little else matters.

  16. My $60 refurbished Sansa Fuze with Rockbox firmware and a couple of 32g SDHC cards is arguably better at the core functions of playing music and audiobook mp3’s than -any- iPod.  

    So much so that I bought three more the last time they showed up on Woot – I don’t intend to have to replace with a less suitable device for years to come.

    Likewise my five year old Motorola flip phone is built hell for stout,  pulls signals anywhere and has great voice quality.  I never have to mess with jailbreaking, and anyone who wants to “text” me can contact some chatty pre-teen instead.

    The only arena where I sell out to new and shiny is digicams,  particularly the high end point-and-shoot category where the price/performance ratio still makes a big jump every year or two.

    1. +1 for the Fuze, I too use mine with Rockbox, such a great combination. Unfortunately mine now has a dodgy headphone socket, if i had some soldering skills i could probably take it apart and fix it.

    2. I love my Fuze, even if (IFAIK) it’s not the Rockbox-happy one. Just about the *ONLY* problem I have is avoiding duplicating stuff I have native onto the SD card, and that’s because I don’t trust media managers ( I want to KNOW where my files are going!) and insist on doing everything through File Manager.

      That iPods don’t let me treat them like a standard HD is one of the major problems I have with them.

  17. Generally speaking my Apple products outlast many alternatives, and for the cost of two crap laptops I could have an Apple one that’ll last just as long (and be more enjoyable to use while I have it).  My iPod Touch has been going for bloody ages, the ‘ROI’ on it is fantastic.  However I’d be willing to bet that a cheap plastic laptop would have lasted as long as my HP (which is practically in pieces) and saved me some money.

    I imagine it’s luck more than judgement half the time, especially with the more obscure alternatives – it;s hard to find a good-crap product, cause if it were that good it wouldn’t be crap and people would be shouting about it.

    1. ” it;s hard to find a good-crap product, cause if it were that good it wouldn’t be crap and people would be shouting about it. ”

      Like the Sansa Clip that we all love?  I’ve converted my roommate, my last girlfriend, AND every tech-friendly member of my family – and the girlfriend came from an Apple family.

  18. Proud owner of a Sansa Clip 8GB with a 8GB card here.  That is 16GB of songs and audiobooks in something the size of a book of matches.  I haven’t used it much recently because I listen to my smart phone all day but I keep it charged and the media updated because you can never tell when it might come in handy.  All my friends have these inexpensive little players as well and we plug them in to external speakers at parties so everyone else can hear what you have been listing to recently.  We have all picked up some pretty good tunes that way.

  19. I don’t get it, I’ve had a Sansa Clip for two years and I think it’s fantastic.  Wouldn’t want to use anything else, even if money wasn’t a factor.  It wouldn’t meet any definition of crap that I know of, so why would you even look at it that way? 

    If it’s a case of if it’s not fashionable/beautiful/exotic/hip, then it’s crap; then I think that’s an overly materialistic view of the world to subscribe to.  

    Incidentally, I think Apple products are crap because none of them meet my requirements – that’s what really counts for me.

  20. There’s definitely a point to be made in that expensive/popular/highly recommended tech is not necessarily the tech I need – cheap (but solid) cell phones and mp3 players can definitely beat out all alternatives if they suit my needs. 

  21. I’ve got the step up from the Clip, the Fuze (a v1).  It was slightly better than the Clip, but not much more; it’s roughly the size of a Nano, has a screen on it, and has an actual physical wheel that you turn.

    True, I couldn’t plug it in to a Mac, go on iTMS, and do all the neat magical things that Apple lock-in affords, but I was able to put my music on it from my Ubuntu machine (from Banshee, even), build playlists, etc.  The only thing I couldn’t figure out how to do was build MJPEG (yes, MJPEG) videos that the player would play.  The player could even handle Ogg Vorbis and FLAC, which to some people is A Big Deal.  Once Rockbox was ready for prime-time on the player, it was a much better player.  I don’t know how much time I’ve wasted playing Jewels while waiting to pick up the kids, or whatever…and the player is actually pretty decent.  The only physical problem has been that there’s solder for a capacitor close enough to the headphone jack that a standard 1/8″ plug shorts out the capacitor, but a small rubber grommet will fix that.

    It’s still sitting in my car, where I tend to use my Droid instead, but I still like my “crap” player.

  22. I am an owner of the Sansa Clip+, running the open source Rockbox firmware (which is supported by Sandisk).

    With a 32GB microSD card (cost quite a lot more than the device), I have 40GB of music, browseable by folders, in a “disposable” priced MP3 player that sounds better than any iPod I’ve tried, plays most formats, uses a standard mini-USB cable (everyone has them lying around), doesn’t require any software to load up with music and can charge while you listen. It has a radio and recorder if you want them.

    If you like having music, it’s all you need. Battery life isn’t great, but it’s better than the comparatively useless, more expensive iPod Shuffle someone gave me.

    The thing I always look for in gadgets is a compliance with not open or proprietary standards, but DE-FACTO standards.  They take ages to change, their cables and accessories are cheap and easy to procure, and generally they do what they’re suppose to do.  It is a policy that has saved me a small fortune.

    1. I am an owner of the Sansa Clip+, running the open source Rockbox firmware (which is supported by Sandisk).

      While the love for Rockbox is appreciated, Sandisk does not support the use of Rockbox on their players.

  23. You have just showcased one of my absolute favorite pieces of technology ever. I have had like eight of them over the years. I have bought them as cheap as $13, refurbed, on woot. I’ve had 20 or 30 sansas, they are great gifts, easy to sell, etc.

    The simple MP3 player is one of the ultimate pieces of technology. For just a few bucks, you can listen to unlimited podcasts, inspirational audio, self-hypnosis, all the music ever made, etc. 

    One of Apple’s worst design mistakes is abandoning SD expansion. Seriously, what are they thinking? Why? It is that lack of flexibility, that designing of a monolithic product to the detriment of the consumer, that is why I avoid their products. Particularly the iPods.

    Features the Sansa has that the iPods don’t (to the best of my knowledge): Radio, voice recording, MicroSD expansion, ability to play all audio formats, replacable battery, ability to use as USB thumb drive…this last one is key. WHY can’t I use a 160GB iPod classic as an external hard drive? It’s just batty. I would NEVER own one for this reason alone, I use my Sansas as external storage all the time.

    Load Rockbox on them, and their functionality explodes. They become the perfect MP3 player. They get so many great functionalities. Hell, the best possible interface you can use on a fancy iPod is the rockbox interface. It’s identical in every way to what you can run on a cheap Sansa. So how are they different, then?

    The only problem with the clip is they are too bloody hard to lose!

    1. WHY can’t I use a 160GB iPod classic as an external hard drive? It’s just batty. I would NEVER own one for this reason alone, I use my Sansas as external storage all the time.

      You definitely CAN use an iPod classic as an external hard drive.  I did it just yesterday. Dang, this is one of the iPod classic’s best features.  

      Where did you encounter this FUD, and why do you believe it?

  24. I have a Sansa Clip.  It’s actually the second one I own (static electricity killed the first…odd story) and I absolutely adore it.  I would never think of using another mp3 player.  I have the capacity to load mp3s on to my phone (which I do for ringtones) but the Sansa Clip (the one pictured, actually!) is my player of choice!!

  25. I have an even OLDER Sansa mp3 player that I use almost every day. 90% of the time, just for the FM radio, but when the NPR affiliate goes into pledge drive mode I have a dozen episodes of old Jean Shepherd radio shows ready.

    It uses a standard USB mini plug, and runs on an AAA battery. The Linux box  I store my music and audiobooks on sees it as a USB drive; no need for Rhapsody or iTunes.

    I have a Sansa Clip as well, purchased when discovered that the old player doesn’t handle OGG files. I use that one for audiobooks. It is a snappy little item; I’d use it more if it were not for its charging style.

    I recently ditched my crappy Motorola bar-of-soap form factor cell phone for a newer Samsung model. The old one was too easy to butt-dial . . . I once blew 400 Tracfone minutes when I butt-dialed my parents’ house when they were away; the stupid thing didn’t end the call when their answering machine hung up. The phone worked fine and was easy to use, but that issue was enough for me to upgrade.

    The Samsung model will do just fine. I don’t see a need for a smart phone at the moment.

  26. Even apple can make ‘crap’ gadgets, from time to time. Take the 2nd gen nano – the nice matt black one, 8gb. Does very little apart from playing music, but it does it well.

    I’ve had once since late 2006. I’ve waded into rivers with it – dried it out, watched it run as good(ish) as new. Stomped on it. Jammed it in a door. Left it sitting in the sun for days. The thing is built like the proverbial brick shithouse. Battery life is faltering, but still serviceable for a day’s use. It’s outlasted three phones, a first gen eee pc and two desktops.

  27. My thing is whether I can take care of what I buy.  My laptop is going on four years.  I’ve got programs on it to keep the drives clean, and I recently cleaned the hardware as best I could.  Yeah, the CD drive died last spring, and the battery is junk, but otherwise it works as well as ever.

    It takes me YEARS to give up a cell phone.  I only got rid of my last one because it was being buggy.  Phones get a lot of abuse, and the fanciest phone in the world is a paperweight when it breaks.

    I want an iPod, though.  See, my Sansa died last year, and I don’t have decent speakers for my computer; and my ancient CD player doesn’t like burned CDs, doesn’t have a “line-in” port, and makes a hissing noise when I use earphones; and I’ve amassed quite a few downloaded albums; and strangely, I *do* have an iPod dock, and thus it would be both easiest AND cheapest to buy a classic iPod.  It all depends on how the numbers add up!

  28. While we’re on the subject, I paid $60 for my laptop 3 years ago. AMD64 Compaq R3000. I hate Compaq/HP, but love this thing. Upgraded the RAM to 2GB, installed ubuntu, this thing flies. It’s old, but good – dedicated graphics, huge screen, etc. I am really hard on it, and it’s fast and wonderful.

    Got wife very similar model. $100 on craigslist, like new condition.

    Wanted a bit more power for some uses. Ordered a C2D Thinkpad on eBay for, again, $100. Will take up to 4GB RAM and an SSD, so it will be lightning fast when I want it. Haven’t even had it delivered to me yet, however, because my $60 laptop meets my needs so well. The C2D has just been sitting on a shelf for 3 months.Also, needed unlocked GSM cell phones. $20 each: got a pair of old Nokias off eBay. Will run Opera mini, as well as FM radio and a few other key features. I’m happy.

    Better for the environment, better for sweatshop workers, etc. Don’t be a mindless consumer; make old technology stretch longer.

  29. I have Coby earphones that my wife picked up for $6 after my iphone set fell apart, and the replacements for those fell apart. For $6 came with an in-ear set with a carrying case, and a second small earcup set I use when I watch movies on my macbook.

    I’m pretty sure the “COBY” logotype is intended to be a spin on “SONY”, but I can’t knock them. The phones have worked longer than the expensive ones.

  30. The Sansa Clip beats the snot out of any iPod. I’ve had one of those and two iPods and:

    Sansa plays more audio formats

    Sansa bookmarks more reliably in audiobooks. In point of fact, all iPods totally stink for audiobooks, and along multiple dimensions.

    Sansa audio processing hardware is a distinct cut above. iPods are actually widely regarded as seriously deficient in this regard by experts.

    Having said that, I have to also say that I don’t use it anymore. I use MortPlayer on an Android phone, a free application that spanks every dedicated audio player I’ve ever seen. For one thing, you’re not forced to use playlists. You can just play a folder if that’s what you want. And you can set bookmarks manually, if you want.

  31. Look into the iRiver H10 20gb model, I have two of these, and over the last 7 years one battery died and the other’s power button broke off. a couple of hex screws later and some part swaps: a perfectly functioning device with plenty of spare parts is still enjoyed.

     You can track them down on Ebay all the time, still in the boxes sometimes for under $100, you can swap out the hard drive if 20gigs isn’t enough, and like dozens of other devices you can load Rockbox on them and do things that were entirely un-intended (like play doom).

     (Seriously, check out and see if you have some old devices laying around that could use the facelift.)

     Granted, I have an android phone that is pretty amazing, it has functionality that i’ll never squeeze out of my iriver, but I’ve got 3-4hours of listening on my phone, or over 9 hours on the dedicated device.

      Another player, albeit a terrifying device was the Entempo Rubato, marketed as a 30gb mp3 player with a special software package that could create beat matched play lists on the fly. The battery life 0n mine was, no joke, nearly 24 hours of play time. Sure, it weighed nearly a pound, but the best $50 i ever spent on ebay.

     There’s also something very satisfying about holding a piece of older tech, the carryovers from the Walkman generation, the heft of a solid device, something that was going to survive a couple drops to the pavement without dieing.

  32. The important thing to remember is, if what you have works well, don’t replace it.  What you own doesn’t have to be “crap” to fall under this mantra.  A good keyboard lasts forever, a “crap” keyboard will need to be replaced when the spacebar stops working.

    Hitting the sweet spot somewhere between next year’s trash and the overhyped objet d’affluence is the challenge.  The less stuff you’re needlessly buying to replace stuff that wasn’t very good in the first place, the better.

  33. Another benefit of Sansa/Rockbox (and this is a big one) is gapless playback.

    I don’t know how any audio player that can’t play back (for instance) Pink Floyd albums without interruption could even be considered by anyone who likes music.

  34. I love my Sansa Clip+. I lost one last year, bought a cheap “open box” replacement from (insert large online electronics vendor here). With a 16gb MicroSD card, a screen, FM radio, voice recording… it’s much better player than my iPod Shuffle I won as a door prize.

  35. The Sansa’s were good mp3 players.  I used an RCA mp3 player with a whopping 256mb for 5 years, it was tiny, had an FM radio and worked like a USB thumb drive.  That being said, we have an iPod classic, 3 nanos of varying vintage, one ipod touch 3rd generation, and now two iPhone 4’s.  While the touch screen are a clever interface, there is something missing…the enjoyment of tactile buttons.

  36. I think this is completely off base here. I’ve also stepped off the “upgradeitis” escalator, but I’ve done it because I don’t buy crap. Instead, I buy _very_ high end equipment that is no longer top-of-the-line. The internet in my apartment is served by a Cisco router. (Not neo-Linksys, actual IOS running, serial console laden Cisco.) Since setting it up, I’ve never even rebooted it. Probably won’t ever need to.

    Similarly, my computers get assembled with the really expensive power supplies and the really nice case. I buy the contractor grade tools, and will never have to replace them. My ten year old Lexus is far better than any entry level new car I could buy.

    Life is too short for crappy tools. Electronics included.

    1. Life is too short for crappy tools. Electronics included.

      I agree with that sentiment, but I think Maggie’s point is that some things turn out to be far less crappy in the long term than one would expect.  The only new car I ever had occasion to buy was a 1994 Toyota pickup.  It was actually built in October 1994, and it was one of the very last they made before the new-for-1995 Tacomas came out.  My local dealership was clearing out the ’94 pickups in anticipation of the impending arrival of the Tacomas, and so I bought it brand spankin’ new for around $7500 (plus tax, license, etc.).  No A/C, no radio, no rear bumper.  Complete bottom-of-the-line.

      Eventually gave it to my niece.  She still has it up in Alaska, and it has around 270,000 miles on it, and nothing has ever broken on it.  I’ve done maintenance (fluids, brake pads, that sort of thing) and I’ve replaced the clutch, oil pump, water pump, and timing set once each, just because I felt the time was right.  But it never, ever broke down.  Still has like-new compression in each cylinder.  Never was a fashionable mode of transportation, but it was always comfortable (for a truck with no A/C) and utterly reliable.

      But I do like to occasionally splurge when it comes to my tools.  I won’t go for the absolute top-of-the-line contractor-grade stuff because I really don’t feel I need to, but I tend to stick to DeWalt for my power tools and Craftsman for my hand tools, and I’ve yet to have either brand fail me.  I have plenty of broken tools in my history, but not from those guys.  Once I could afford decent stuff, I started buying it.  Snap-On and Matco might be flashier or just plain better, but I have an eye for my own point of diminishing returns.

  37. I’m late to the party, but I want to add my voice to the Sansa Clip love. 

    It’s simple and straightforward, and it mounts in MSC mode on my Linux or Windows machine just like another drive (no weird, proprietary drivers/software required). 

    No DRM necessary (although you can enable the MTP file system mode if you have DRM music you want to play).

    Playlists are easy to navigate.  Podcasts are treated as such (it remembers where you left off).

    There’s FM radio, and you can record off the radio directly to mp3.

    It sounds great, battery lasts forever…

    To my mind, it’s not crap technology.  It’s straightforward technology designed around what the user wants to see (rather than what the content companies want to see).

  38. A few years ago, my MP3 player was a Mobiblu cube. This piece of technology was adorable, although it was certainly not flashy, and had very limited capabilities- just playing mp3’s and the radio. I upgraded recently to an ipod touch. Although I love the features, and use it constantly, there is something I miss about the reassuring, easy to lose aspect of the Mobiblu and it’s limited capabilities that forced me to actually listen to and enjoy my music.

    Great article.

  39. I have a Sansa m230 (maybe m250, I forget). It was my daughters first mp3/video player when she was 14. She’s 19 now and has had multiple iPods due to loss or theft or crapping out. Meanwhile, the Sansa is there with me everyday at the gym. Still only needs charged once a week.

  40. Sansa Fuze user here. I actually bought it after reading a post here two or three years ago, whatever it was. I think it was a post from Cory, talking about shopping for an MP3 player, and several people mentioned the Fuze, so I got one. Paid about $80ish for it at the time, and man, I’m glad I got it. It’s simple, reliable, has an easy interface, sounds awesome, holds gobs of music and has an expansion slot so it can hold even more.

    It’s only “crap” technology to the iPod fanboys and hipsters. For those of us living here in reality, the Fuze is great. And for under $100, too!


  41. I miss my old Sansa 150. Inkblot injury to the monochrome screen…. still works, but I can’t tell where I am in the menu tree. I can still use it… sort of…. with the time-traveler-from-the-future technique of “punch random buttons until it works”. Then, creepily enough, it always starts its “randomly” shuffled playlist with the same exact ancient song from the Library of Congress…

  42. I always avoided iPods. I loved my Sansa, but I was forced to upgrade when I learned that Sync in my new car wouldn’t control it. I have an iPod Touch (fourth gen) now. The iPod works but it is too much for the simple task of playing tunes. And it crashes. Not often mind you, but it does sometimes just stop playing. I have never had either of my Sansas crash, or my Creative Zen before that. When I go for a walk, or listen to tunes at work, I still choose the Sansa. It is simple, efficient and good at what it does. Because it never tried to be all things for all people it works at what it is designed to do better than the new shiny iPod.

  43. I used a lowest-of-the-low Nokia AK47-phone (a Nokialashnikov?) for nearly a decade until the siren call of a Samsung/Google Nexus S on a cheap contract (not much more than my normal expenditure on PAYG, including data) for nothing down lured me to a smartphone.

    Now, I can’t say that I’ll ever go back to a stupidphone because dear Satan do I love my Android device, but that old thing was the epitome of the perfectly designed “crap” gadget. 2 WEEKS on a single charge, excellent call quality, and borderline indestructible inside its $2 phondom. Only drawback was no microUSB charger. I still have it tucked away in case the Samsung fails.

  44. Sounds like my experience with cell phones. I have a beast of an ugly old flip phone that just. won’t. die. I have to charge it every night, it doesn’t have a camera, and even text messaging is about as easy it would be for Freddy Krueger to floss his back teeth, but it MAKES PHONE CALLS. Which is all I really need. 

  45. I got my iPhone 3G in July 2008, and it’s as good as the day I bought it. Apple hasn’t supported it for nearly a year, and yet it works just fine. I see no reason to upgrade it until it dies, which doesn’t seem to be coming any time soon. I understand that the intent of the article is to showcase lesser brands, but don’t count out older Apple products either.

  46. Sansa is the best. Have used one at gym for years now. Simple, dependable, good battery-life, and lightweight.

  47. While the fetish tech products, like iPods and iPads, are carefully streamlined and sleek, you just have to love Coby products that throw tons of crap in that most people will never use. I bought my wife a cheapie portable Coby DVD player a few years back. If Apple made it, it would play just DVDs… and look uber sexy while doing it. The Coby is boxy and ugly. It plays DVDs and also just about any format you can put onto a SD card. Or onto a USB drive. And if that weren’t enough, it also has video in, so you can use it as a tiny composite monitor. And you know what? That was hugely useful to me… since I have a bunch of old Apple II’s that output composite video. And it does a better job of displaying the funky video output of old computers than my expensive Dell LCD monitor. You know, the thing whose job it is to display stuff. 

    You gotta love the “oh hell, let’s throw the kitchen sink in, too” engineeering of some of the low-cost brands. You never know when one of the weird addon features is just going to add an extra measure of awesome. 

  48. I’m a technology guy and I’m convinced that the sweet spot is always at least 1 generation behind the curve.  Let the early adopters sort things out, then use their experience to buy what  makes sense once it’s older and cheaper.
    I’m still using my 4.5 y/o Samsung Alias phone because it works perfectly and does everything I need with ideal efficiency.  Why change?  If I lost it tomorrow I’d find another.

  49. Other people’s old crap is my functional stuff. My favorite is my TV. A 60″ CRT rear projector free from Craig’s list. I drive it with a $150 from Craig’s list Gateway media center computer running Vista (even came with digital tuner and remote). Both are obsolete by most people’s standards, but it sure does work well for our household.

  50. I’ve got two Sansas.  And the absolutely best thing about them, no iTunes.

    I like the DIY feeling going on in here.  Build or fix it right, buy good parts and equipment, take care of everything and deal with the little stuff while it’s still little are all good rules to follow.

  51. My only issue with stuff like Coby is that I usually look for a good sturdy case, and some (though I admit not all) of the Coby stuff has flimsy casing. That said, I’m not one to pass it up for that reason alone. I want them to get a better logo though. I had a Craig “walkman” when I was a kid. For all I know it still works. I like the Craig logo, and I think Coby could do better at minimal cost. God knows name brand recognition isn’t an issue.

  52. Speaking of worthless old tech, the first model of the 1st gen Playstation (model SCHP-1001) sounds great playing CDS.  Like supernaturally nice sound.  Seriously, it’s a thing.  Google and you’ll find audiophiles raving and modding them.  I have a half dozen from thrift shops stashed for ‘future use’.

  53. The Sansa Clip is very popular among Head-Fiers.  These are the people that will spend over a $100 on a cable.

  54. My old Sansa (e… 250?) is still working fine after at least 4 years of use.  The scroll wheel is a little flaky, but not a big problem.   Rockbox!  

    Meanwhile, my iPad recently died after 10 months of gentle, light use.  It was out of warranty because my employer had it for about 10 weeks before giving it to me.  So… Apple won’t replace it, so it’s now a big shiny pretty paperweight.  (The, uh, Genius at the Apple store tried to resuscitate my iPad, failed, and told me, “So we can replace that for
    you, for $270.”  No thanks.) 

    FWIW, installing an iOS update was the thing that appeared to kill my iPad.   Those of you who are out of warranty, be careful with those system updates.

    1. Then kick your Genius bar genius in the shins.  There’s hardly a seemingly bricked iOS device that can’t be restored. It’s mind-boggingly tricky, though.

      Not to say that Apple doesn’t produce real crap (i.e. stuff that fails at what it is supposed to do.  I’ve had exceptionally bad experiences with time capsules.)

  55. I can’t afford shiny, new, Apple-y products. I’ve always preferred to take my chances with the inexpensive and the second hand. Last year, I was gifted with one of those little $99 Windows CE laptops “Smartbooks”. For all intents and purposes, it should have been a piece of crap. Mine wasn’t, and in fact still gets quite a bit of use. It was supposed to be part of a project to test the lower end of Internet access, and surprisingly works. I have a cheap MP3 player from SanDisk and am pretty satisfied with the tiny amount of music it can carry; it’s the FM tuner that really makes it useful. I also have a $99 Android tablet; like the Smartbook, was supposed to be part of a test, and have used it ever since. 
    Second hand is another matter. There, I tend to buy what were once top of the line machines. I’m writing this on a refurbished IBM ThinkPad X41 that was purchased for $250. Marvelous machine. 
    Also, someone correct me here, wasn’t the Braun AB1 clock also in this category once? I have a knockoff, and it keeps nearly as perfect time.

  56. I have 4 or 5 Rio Riot portable players.  These use 20G laptop HDs for storage.  They’re big and clunky but sound good.  
    More recently I’ve used obsolete Palm Pilots to play music off of chip media.  That works well and the big color screen is a plus.  Also they’re rugged, dirt cheap and can do lots of other stuff.

  57. This is the same logic as owning a “beater” car– you don’t care if it gets a dent and it isn’t really attractive to thieves.

    I have one of those little Sansa mp3 players– I found it at the thrift store for a dollar, and it works fine.

  58. This in part is why I got rid of my droid as a phone (it now fits the mp3 player niche since my old iAudio died, bless it’s electrons).  The droid was a nifty mobile micro/nano pc… but for phone calls it was crud.  Went back to a dumb flip phone, and its nice to go a week+ on mixed use, or half a week on moderate to high use. I have yet to have to plug it into the charger in the middle of a conversation because it was going OM-NOM-NOM-NOM to the battery.   And call me crazy, but I don’t like condensing all my devices into one item, it’s too much akin to dancing in a thunderstorm waving a long metal pole in the air.

  59. Thanks to this thread I’m probably going to get a Sansa Clip+ when I have the chance.

    After I buy an alphasmart.

    Why? All the thing does is write. No mp3, no internet. Just writing and a few lines display text. They last forever on a single set of batteries and you can use ’em for usb keyboards.
    Only problem for me is the Neo costs $170 new. Well worth it, but still pricey. Plus I don’t actually own one (I know lots of people that do.) So gonna pick up a 3000 on ebay when I get money so I can testdrive the concept, see if a forced narrowing to absolute minimum interfacing will help me.

  60. Evolution isnt just biological. The Fittest survive, and being new dosnt make one fit.    what makes the Ipod 50 times more expensive than the Colby?  Marketing.  Internally they operate the same, with similar parts (and in some cases the same parts) ..   Markewting makes the diffrence.  You dont see Colby ads on TV, a Steve Clone dosnt give long speeches on the “ubercoolness” of the Colby….  Instead, the Colby just works… 

    I would rather buy 50 colby’s that 1 Ipod,   even if each only lasted 6 months, Id be old and grey before I ran out of Colbys

    1. Err, What iPod is “50 times more expensive” than a $20 Coby? Nevermind that there are a couple of Coby MP3 player that costs a couple of hundred.

      I actually used to have a device like the $20 Coby, though it was more expensive back then. Broke down after year, by the way, but Apple stuff can do that, too. 

      But it was and is in no way comparable to an iPod or Zune or other “premium” MP3 player.

      The one thing it was able to to better – receive radio – was of no use to me, as I don’t listen to the radio.  I’ve thrown radios in the computer lab’s trashcan, that’s how much I love radio.  :-)

      Doesn’t make it crap, by the way, just something I don’t have use for. Getting an iPod touch just to play music – and only a couple of songs – seems to be overkill to me, too.

    2. “what makes the Ipod 50 times more expensive than the Colby?  Marketing.”

      Okay, the Apple pile-on has been fun, but come on. Unless you got your Colby in a bag of crisps and you’re buying a Swarovski-enblingened iPod, 50x is quite a stretch.

      Secondly, a metric tonne of R&D into making the iPod and the ecosystem what it is is not free. You’re comparing a device that’s an industrial design classic in line with some of the things Dieter Rams has put out, created a mainstream market where before there were just nerds like me trying to keep our unwieldy CDR-based players from completely losing their crap, and convinced major record labels to embrace a medium that they’d be running screaming from to a plasticky discount store buy who’s appeal is solely in the cost.

      You can certainly argue that the things that make the iPod stand out don’t matter–and maybe to you they don’t–but to claim that the only differentiator is marketing is a pure Paul Thurrotism.

  61. I still us my first generation ipod nano every day.  It still keeps about four hours of charge. I replaced the OS with Rockbox, though.

  62. What I’m hearing here is that the Sansa clip is better designed than the ipod: it does the things that you want a media player to do, better, more reliably.

    Too many people conflate design and cool looks.  It’s not: it’s about how a thing is constructed and how it works with the user.

    Ironically, that’s pretty much the same as a quote that’s going around attributed to Steve Jobs… 

    1. You hear the “iPod have bad sound” argument quite often, yes, but I’ve read a couple of believable accounts that this is an old, resolved issue, down to explanations what sound chips have been used, decommissioned and the like.

      About the reliability: I’ve had in about 5 years of iPod – app on the iPhone included – two issues.  Two.  An iPod nano reset itself and lost all its content (afterwards, worked perfectly) and am iPod shuffle didn’t work after a 60°C wash and a spin cycle. 

      Even my first iPod Shuffle  – I broke the USB port when I knelt on it while it was jacked in – still works after I glued it back.    

  63. was given a nokia brick phone 4 years ago, whatever the model with the flashlight is called.  a couple months ago, I fell on it and smashed the screen.  a few minutes searching ebay and $12 later, I ordered the exact same model.  it’s a phone.  it has speakerphone.  it does texting.  it has a freaking flashlight on it (which i use all the time.)  and now I can use the old phone as a dedicated charger and switch out the two batteries i now have.  I NEVER HAVE TO PLUG MY PHONE IN ANYMORE.

    never had an issue with either phone.  $12.  flashlight.  fuck yeah.

  64. My first MP3 player was an Archos Jukebox, which froze every time I took it out for a brisk walk.  So I decided to shy away from players with moving parts, and my instincts proved correct after buying an iPod Shuffle, as it never failed me for 5 years.  It’s still working fine, but when my cell phone provider offered a reasonable iPhone package (as these things go), I took it, since I really wanted streaming radio on the go.

    Now with the TuneInRadio and the KCRW music apps, it’s “game over”, a mind-blower for me to drive around town, or walk at the waterfront, while listening to radio stations from all over the world, or to the audio archive of a show from the previous week, live and portable.

  65. It’s all about hype, aggressive marketing, media ‘pressure’, creating the need of belonging to the ‘better flock’  – provided by well known corporation, with round fruit in logo.  And simple mind trick – if something is expensive =it’s  better. Principles of social engineering. 
    Just look at specs of top Mac and average PC, they’re the same. Only prices differ.

  66. I have one of these
    (Philips GoGear 4GB mp3-stick) minus the battery cover which fell off years ago. I stick it into a PC, drag and drop some mp3 files to it, and I’m good to go. Ok, sometimes it takes several minutes to boot and it doesn’t have fancy features like playlists and it’s not as crap as the Matsui 4GB it replaced, or the Denver 512MB before that. Basically it just plays audio at me instead of trying to sell me a lifestyle.

    Mind you, I’m probably on about my fifth set of earphones, and I think my current Pioneer ‘phones probably cost more than the player. 

    Just as a general point, am I the only person who really _vastly_ prefers to use a player with a replaceable battery? That way I can carry around a spare or buy a new one if I run out of juice instead of being dependent on having a convenient PC or charger+mains socket around.

    1. “Playlists” and the like are not a “fancy feature” by any objective measure.  For me, a player that doesn’t sync it’s playing position in a podcast is not a matter of lifestyle, but usability. But I listen mostly to text, where it matters where I stopped and where I may want to continue.  I also prefer that old podcasts are removed automatically and new podcasts appear automatically. But that can be done with quite a few programs, of course.
      Regading the battery:  I’ve found that iPods hold their charge long enough not to worry about it. I assume that the iPod Touch gives a different experience, when used for more than just a MP3 player.

  67. If anything Apple has hurt the mp3 player market. There was more choice in electronic stores when you wanted a MP3 player 6 or 7 years ago. Now everything is Ipod oriented, even sony which has its own line of MP3 Walkman makes Ipod docks (and none for their own MP3 player!).

  68. My Sansa Clip can do five things my iPod can’t: 
    1) Play FM radio (Bonus: record off the radio)
    2) Folders.  Folders! FOLDERS!!!   (My 64 GB iPod doesn’t have folders.  Yes, I can have 16,000 songs stored on it.  But, no, you can’t use a folder heiarchy to help find stuff.  No, not yours.
    3) Delete files (that aren’t tagged as pocasts).  Is this too much to ask?
    4) Talk to my computer, heck, ANY computer, without the I_can’t_believe_how_much_of_a_steaming_pile_of_dung_it_is iTunes for Windows.
    5) Can be used as a thumbdrive.

    Not “crap”.

  69. I too have a Coby; I am forced to buy no-brand audio players because I insist on user-replaceable batteries. I am very pleased with the Coby, with only one bug nagging at me to find another, similar, device: the volume control is terrible, with 1 too loud to use in a quiet room, 4 too soft to use in the streets, and 5 too loud to use in the streets. But since no-one uses user-replaceable batteries anymore, I’m unlikely to make any more purchases anytime soon. Sorry, ears.

    Because I was so pleased with my tape (and, to some degree, minidisc) Walkman, I’ve often looked to Sony for an audio player. For a while they had a good OLED model, but it required Sony’s conversion software since it wouldn’t take mp3s straight; now, all their models have video displays. Video? Pfff.

  70. I recently had a full blown panic attack about replacing my ‘crap’ $200 Acer netbook. I’m a writer and the ‘chiclet’ style keyboard on this thing is perfect for me. I’ve used it 16 hours a day for 2.5 years with nary a problem. It fits in my purse, has a great battery life and it even matches my Sansa Fuze.

    What the hell do I replace it with that will be this reliable? Everything I see now has those fat, flat keys. Anyone have a suggestion for a good ‘crap’ laptop under $450?

    (Also, I’ve found the voice recorder on my Sansa Fuze to be outstanding. I own two of them and I only use my iThingamajig to listen to online music. )

  71. So here’s a question: is there some place other than Amazon that I could buy a Sansa or something similar? That is, is there a real brick store I could go to and find one? Aside from falling for the name-recognition I originally got an iPod because it was what a store near me had in stock. And discovered that, in spite of what all the advertising had led me to believe, you’re not supposed to jog with an iPod. I discovered this when mine started freezing up and when I took it in to find out why the guy at the Apple store made me feel like an idiot for taking my iPod running. Their inability to explain why trying to load songs I’d purchased for my previous iPod onto my new iPod caused iTunes to crash was an added bonus.

    I plan to keep my iPod for various reasons, but for some time now I’ve been looking for a piece of “crap technology” that I could take running and not have to worry about the expense and trouble of replacing it–or hopefully not having to replace it at all.

    1. Some iPods (usually the ones with the hugest storage) use a tiny hard disk for storage, so I could see how  bumping them around could be risky (though I never heard you couldn’t go jogging with them, either).  I think all of the smaller iPods (nano, shuffle) and the touchscreen ones use solid state flash memory instead, which is more suited to getting bounced around.  My kids drop and bounce around their Clips (which use flash memory) all the time.

      I bought my Sansa Clip+ on Amazon, but I believe I’ve seen them at Target or Best Buy.  The definitely sell them at, if you can do mailorder besides Amazon.

    2. @boingboing-8ff3d2721aac09f2f0a9f41964db46b4:disqus :  I bought my cheap chinese MP3 player at the local farmer’s market.  In the industrialized northeast of the USA, farmers’ markets often feature immigrant families selling electronics snail-mailed from home as well as farmers selling produce.

      Don’t spend more than $20, and make sure it has a full-size USB male plug and takes a regular AAA battery.  You just drag and drop music files and folders onto it from any OS that supports USB hard drives, no software required.  Mine has a small black and white screen, an FM radio and a built in crappy microphone.  It can record from either of those sources.   Mine’s rather old, so it doesn’t play Ogg, FLAC or WMF, but it’s trivial to transcode those formats to MP3 using my Ubuntu laptop.

      The nonsensical Engrish has worn off the case and I don’t remember what it used to say.  Something like “Genuine Sorny Prodcut” or “Only Frank Tang Mushroom have Vitamin Glow” I expect.

    3. Oh, you can go to Best Buy and get a Clip+ or a Fuze+, but I’d recommend going the online route and getting a refurb of an older model.  e200, Clip, and Fuze are all fairly easy to find.  If you get one at a store, go for a Clip+ instead of a Fuze+; the touch pad on the new model  is terrible.

  72. Main problem with technology convergence is that you’re running multiple devices off one battery.  I’d rather listen to my MP3 player on a long journey knowing that I don’t have to monitor the battery constantly if I want to be able to call or even have access to my phone numbers on the other side.  When the mp3 player runs out of battery, thats all that happens, my other devices still work.

  73. To avoid stupid roaming fees I travel abroad with a decade old Nokia candy-bar phone.  So far it has worked with a local area SIM card on every network I’ve found from here to China.

  74. When my 9 year old started asking for an “iPod” for his birthday, I bought him a Sansa Cip+ for less than a third of the price.  It works great, the sound quality was great, and the battery charge lasts forever.  My kids all liked it so much that my younger two also asked for them.  So I got them each their own, along with colorful $1.99 rubber covers for them to help with the drops and rough treatment they get from 6-9 year olds.  Two years later, the Clips are all still working fine.  Definitely not a crap product.

  75. I’m still highly skeptical of the virtues of buying “crap technology.”  I’ve seen Mike Daisey’s descriptions of Foxconn in China where they manufacture iPhones.  I can only wonder how horrid conditions are at the factories where these things are made.

  76. I absolutely LOVE my Sansa Clip, I have it loaded with nothing but workout music and it keeps  me company on heavy sessions on my stationary trainer. It has been dropped, kicked, stood on, and covered in sweat and just keeps going. If it ever dies I will definitely get another one without even thinking of anything ‘less crap’.

  77. Apple’s pricing structures and features on their mp3 players are designed to make app driven (read $$) devices like the Touch & Pad seem like the better alternative. Unless that changes somehow I do know my next mp3 player will be from another manufacturer. The thought of a decent $20 player being out there has me salivating. 

  78. I made a deliberate decision not to buy an iPod. I’ve always wanted the opposite to whatever is supposed to be fashionable / cutting edge – i.e. don’t pay for the hype. So I went for a Sansa Fuse. And I’m happy to say I love it. Easy to use, extremely durable, and doesn’t need iTunes or any other software to operate. It feels independent and out-of-step. Perfect!
    If something works, it can never be ‘crap’ technology. Even if it only works for your specific or  individual needs.
    Very glad to see that Sansa has other Boing-Boing fans, and others who never succumbed to the iPod hype.  

  79. This is brilliant.  I’ve been using an Archos 20GB MP3 player with a spinning-metal-HD for the last 5 years.  It has lots of space, it was cheap, it uses standard windows/mac USB file transfer and it has real buttons, not a touchscreen.

    Every player I’ve seen in the last 5 years has been either:
    Small capacity
    Not able to plug/play into any computer (e.g. needs iTunes)
    Touchscreen controls (useless if you have it in your pocket and can’t see the screen)

    The Sansa Clip looks like a great player.  I’m tempted to upgrade since my 20GB player is full and this will double my capacity with a big SD card.

  80. So maybe I’m missing something but … if you just got a smart phone, why do you need a mp3 player? The reason I got a smart phone was because I was replacing 3 devices (phone, music player, and camera) with one. Seems to me buying the right devices that can do many things is a good way to keep from buying a lot of extra crap too.

    1. Some of us haven’t “just got a smart phone ‘ and may not ever get one. 

      With the jailing of the OS’s and the increasingly restrictive data caps, I frankly don’t think it’s worth the bother. 

      For the extra I’d pay for a top of the line smartphone and a data plan to make it worth having, I could buy another Sansa player and a newer and better digicam twice a year.

      Pros – A better music player than any smartphone fits inside my wallet.  A camera better by an order of magnitude than any smartphone fits easily in my pocket.   Music player and camera easily viewable as USB drives in Linux or Windows.  Battery design and life optimized separately for each device.  Cheaper, cheaper, cheaper.

      Cons – I can’t make impulse purchases of music and videos when I’m away from my desktop.  I can’t send photos to friends without transferring them to my desktop or netbook and e-mailing them.  Since my capability to defer gratification exceeds that of a concussed chipmunk, neither of these issues has proved particularly troublesome.

      1. I get that. But to be clear I was responding to something that the author said in the post: that she recently just got her first smart phone. I understand not wanting or needing a smart phone for whatever reason, but once you have one why would you need something else to play music? 

        1. I prefer my music to be separate from my phone, though it’s nice to be able to use both.  I plug my Sansa clip into my car.

          Battery power can be an issue, too.  Listening to music on a smartphone means your battery will drain that much quicker.

          Also, I highly suggest you NOT go jogging or running while listening to music using a smartphone or an iPod.  The music will skip, or you may damage the phone/player.

          Plus, the Sansa Clip+ is at most, $40.  It’s the type of player you can take anywhere, while you are doing anything, and it won’t matter as much if you break or lose it.

          Plus, capacity (Micro SD slot!). And the Sansa Clip+ is going to have far better audio quality than any smart phone. And it has more features tailored for a music player.

    2. My smart phone will run for two or three hours with the screen off.  I once accidentally left my Fuze running for 24 hours.  You can put one on your belt or in your pocket without worrying about dropping a device that’ll run you $700+ if you break it.

      1. Ah yeah I guess that makes sense. My daily routine includes listening to several hours of audio podcasts, but I’m never far from a USB port to recharge so It’s never been a problem for me. But my phone also lasts for several hours even while listening to audio on it so I guess I overlooked the battery problems.  

  81. I have the original iPod (2001) and it still works.  Heck, it transfers songs faster than my current iPhone due to its firewire connection.  I bought a “junk” iPod dock/clock radio and its docking port started to flake out about a week after its warranty ended, then the dials to change the volume and radio station stopped working a month later.  Luckily it came with a remote control and an audio-in port, so it wasn’t a complete waste.  I would definitely spend the money on quality products every time.

  82. I’ve got an old 4th-gen 60GB iPod.  I only have about 6GB of music in MP3/M4A formats, so I’ve mainly been using it as an external hard drive, but now I’ve ripped my music collection to FLAC and plan on putting Rockbox on the thing.  (Apple has recently opened the ALAC format, somewhat undercutting my choice of FLAC/Rockbox, but my discs are already ripped, dammit.)

  83. I had the 1GB Sansa USB thumb mp3 player and it was great. It also had a microSD slot, which even more expensive/advanced players don’t have because they want to sell you overpriced memory. I think I bought the unit at futureshop for like 30$ on sale. I put a 2GB microSD card in it to triple the memory for like 10$ on ebay. The thing lasted forever. However eventually 3 things happened. 1) The battery started to go on it, so a charge wouldn’t last. It was sealed, but you might be able to take it apart to replace the battery. 2) memory size got so large that the firmware didn’t know how to handle it, and Sansa stopped updates, and 3) Firmware started to get flaky with modern OS and drivers… Anyway I used that thing to its death (literally) and it was a great value for your money. Definitely minimalist, did what you wanted no more. I actually looked for a new one when I finally deemed it dead, but only the Sansa Clip was around then (which is similar). Anyway I wanted an iPhone, so that pretty much eliminated a need for a separate device. Still that Sansa mp3 player was “pretty good” technology!

  84. I like the sentiment expressed in this post, and I too sometimes buy uncool “crap” devices because they often turn out to be surprisingly reliable and usable. But my own experience with digital music players was the opposite. I owned two cheap MP3 players that both died after a few months use. So then I got an iPod Shuffle, one of the early ones, and it has worked perfectly for several years now. So my impression is that it was the iPod which was the most cost-effective choice, since it didn’t cost much more than the crap music player it replaced and has lasted far, far longer.

  85. I LOVE my Sansa Clip+! I am a feature shopper: I shop around and reasearch products and what they can do, then compare that to what I need/would like the product to do. From the possible top choices, I then compare prices, and lastly consider how I feel about the design.

    I have wanted to buy Apple products in the past, but rarely do they have specs/features that are better than others on the shelf, and they are always way overpriced. And because of my buying research habits, I feel like I’m buying the perfect item for me, instead of thinking that I am buying a piece of crap. This also has a negative effect that I now look at apple product buyers as folks that don’t care for features and specs, but just want a pretty item. It’s the same thing for anything high end- it’s more about Wow! than practical.

    PS- regarding the “why don’t you use your smart phone instead of an MP3 player? No way am I strapping that large and heavy smart phone on me while I go to the gym, go bicycling, etc. And who wants to sweat all over their $500+ smart phone?

  86. I just bought a Sansa Clip+ recently and LOVE IT.  It’s awesome.  And the micro SD card slot (which iPods do not have) means the capacity is nearly endless.  And I paid a whopping $30.  How much was your iPod?  Probably four times that.  At least. It’s ridiculous when you think about it.

    The Sansa Clip, and the Clip+ are about functionality. Not about looking pretty and being cool. And it’s far better than any iPod for that reason.

    iPods are all about being “cool” and “pretty”. They are all about status, just like all Apple products. Just compare the price of a Sansa Clip+ to a Nano or Shuffle. The Sansa Clip+ may not be as pretty, but it is a far better product than either the Nano or Shuffle (the sound quality is better; it handles more file types; it handles audiobooks better; it has a radio; it has a micro sd slot; it has a folder system; it’s far tougher, while all iPods are pretty fragile; etc) … and yet it’s far, far, cheaper.

    Interesting that a product that is far cheaper yet has far more features is considered a “crap” product, isn’t it?

    It’s a status thing. Since the Sansa Clip+ isn’t as “pretty”, and because it’s far cheaper, it’s seen as a crap product. Not because it’s actually a crap product, but because it’s not $200-$300 and pretty (but fragile).


  87. The primary “crap” out in the consumer electronics sphere is the BS that all commodity items are “crap” and that only Veblen Goods following the Apple aesthetic are worth anything.  This implicitly also labels any non-Apple product following the Apple aesthetic to be a “knockoff” and thus crap as well.   

  88. I have a Sansa Clip too and I love it. It does exactly what I need it to do, it’s light, functional, easy to use.

  89. Jumping on the pile here, but the cheapness of a product makes me less nervous about taking it apart (a product’s ability to be taken apart is also symptomatic of its cheapness usually). With 3d printing technology I could assemble a better looking/more protective case or other handy external features without caring about breaking it or voiding warranty. If I had the knowhow maybe I could fudge around with the software, too; if I mess it up, who cares, it was $12.

  90. There’s a very narrow range of products where buying the “crap” version pays off. I’m having trouble thinking of anything besides the Sansa Clip, actually. Of course, everyone’s experience is different.

    A similar item might be the cheap Casio digital watch that al qaeda supposedly uses. That thing will last you forever. But then… an expensive watch will last you forever, too, and will be more stylish (and more functional, potentially) in the process. The thing that won’t last you forever is a mid-range product – something relatively fashionable.

    It’s this mid-range zone that most people tend to buy into. They don’t want the cheapest thing available, mainly just as a status thing, but can’t afford the good stuff. So they buy something that seems fashionable, but which is over-priced and will break fairly quickly.

    So, you have to choose your battles. If there’s something available like the Sansa Clip that does what you want and is dirt cheap, get it. If the product you’re looking for doesn’t have something equivalent available, which is the case for most things, you’re better off in the long run getting a higher-end item (key example is macbook pros vs. any other laptop). Just be sure it’s actually high-end, not just priced as if it were.

    Which leads to my final point – all of this relies on you caring enough to do serious research before buying something. Most people would not assume the Sansa Clip was actually a great product – and because of its popularity on the internet, this is one of the easiest products to research. If you’re looking for something else, it’s quite difficult to figure out what the sweet spot is.

    1. key example is macbook pros vs. any other laptop…

      @penguinChris:twitter : Can you explain exactly how a macbook pro is better than a dirt cheap or free 2nd hand Dell that weighs less and runs Ubuntu?  Because I fear you are missing the whole point of this thread.

      1. No, I think you missed my point (which may have not been that clear, I didn’t proof-read).

        I will explain why I think a macbook pro is better than a dirt cheap or free 2nd hand Dell that weighs less and runs Ubuntu. But I will first reiterate that everyone’s situation is different. If all you can afford (or want to spend) is enough to get you a 2nd hand Dell, or that’s simply all that you need, then so be it.

        I’m no novice to computers, and I have second-hand Dells and several other laptops and desktops. I run linux on both older and current machines (don’t use Windows on anything). To be clear, my current main machine is a 2-year-old macbook pro, but I have several other computers that are in current use as well.

        If you have a specific set of simple needs that an outdated, cheaply-built computer running Ubuntu fills, then that’s great and you shouldn’t spend more money than you need to. Problem is, this isn’t an analogous situation to the Sansa Clip because a general-purpose computer is a much different problem than a device meant to do one thing (and a relatively simple thing, at that).

        If you’re a serious computer user using a laptop and you travel, go to work/school, etc. with it a second hand Dell running Ubuntu brings with it a long list of (potential) problems and frustrations. Key among them for me when I was using such a machine as my primary computer were issues with certain wifi networks, battery life, poor build quality, bulky power adapter, interoperability with other people’s computers, etc. These were sometimes enough to cause me serious problems with getting things done (and I had these issues with a relatively high-end Thinkpad, not a cheap Dell). A macbook pro has none of these issues, will last longer under abuse because of the build quality, and is much nicer to use anyway.

        There’s a reason why once people switch to macbook pros, they generally don’t go back to anything else.

        The point of this entire conversation is that you can’t judge a book by its cover. If you just want to play music you can pay $20 for a Sansa Clip or $300 for an ipod, and chances are most people would be happier (ultimately) with the Sansa Clip. Or if you’re a power computer user you can pay $100 ($500 new) for a second-hand Dell or ~$500 ($1500 new) for a second-hand macbook with lower technical specs, and most people would be happier with the macbook. If you just do light browsing and e-mail and don’t move your laptop from your desk at home very often, then yeah the 2nd hand Dell is fine.

        1. OK, I guess I understand your point.

          But for me a computer is just a way to move a process from my head into text files – most frequently, for writing glue code, but in any case as a highly generic tool, like a hammer or a stillson wrench.   The macOS is not optimized for that, and gets in my way with its heavy dependence on fanciful metaphors (I want to delete a file or unmount a device, not drag a small picture across a decorative desktop into in a trash can).  Ubuntu is nearly as bad (unless you turn off the GUI) but the price/performance ratio is phenomenally better.

          For me, the point of this entire conversation was not “you can’t judge a book by its cover” – it’s the (closely related) point that function trumps form.  Not just the observation that form and function are separate, but rather a wholehearted endorsement of the latter.   Grasp the crappy old world with your bare hands, and discard superficial illusions of style.  A beautifully crafted device is great – especially if you build it yourself – but it’s not always necessary.

  91. Years ago against my better judgment, I paid too much for a DVD player ($400 for a multidisk player and stereo), while my wife’s parents wisely went to Walmart and got a $60 region-free Apex. Oh unhappy day! My expensive DVD player was dead within two years, while my in-laws’ Apex continues to function exactly as intended 16 years later.

    1. 16 years ago? That would have  been 1995.   That was when DVD was being developed and put on the market a little bit later.   I doubt very much that there were $60 players well into the 2000s.  Lots of current movies on laserdisc in 1996, too, even in 1998, when I last shopped in Manhattan.   Jurassic Park was a hit on VHS!

      You seriously overestimate the time span.

      Myself, I was an early adopter and knew that I pay through the nose when I bought a very expensive Sony player (at least with User Prohibitions turned off).   But I was so fed up with VHS that it was worth to me.   It worked for about 7 years or a little bit more,  the cheap discount machine it replaced croaked after 2 years.  (Still less expensive per year and nearly as good, of course.)

  92. Some of the (more than a) Dollar stores and such have a little DC/USB mp3 player that’s $8, has a FM transmitter, a LCD display, IR remote, plays off either USB or audio input, and widely varies in quality. But it basically means you can put your flash drive in it and play your music in any car with a radio and a lighter plug.

    One copy didn’t have the main power cords internally hooked up, and the LCD panel looked weird. I think they may have been throwing duds into the batch. Cost savings..?

  93. I’m glad to see this post and the comments in our post-Jobs world. It was getting to be too much to take with all the premium device worshiping. A ferrari is nice, but a commuter car will get you there too – some people don’t care about how attractive it is.

  94. I rotate amongst a Sansa clip (old), shuffle 2gen, shuffle 4gen, and a zen stone.   Clip has best features (delete,  remembering where you left off and sleep) , Zen the most reasonable way of navigating, Shuffle 2gen using Anapod is best for podcasts (allows easy reordering),  and 4gen shuffle is waiting for someone to comeup with a better than itunes interface.  I-tunes is truly crap.

  95. I had a Sony mini-disc player back in the day. Anyone else have one of those? They were magic. Mine ran on AA batteries and somehow it powered the device for a month at a time or something. It was crazy. If some jerk hadn’t stolen it, I might still be listening to it.

    That said, I’m glad I have my iPhone 4.

    After the mini-disc player got stolen, I upgraded to the 5th generation iPod, then I got an iPod touch, and now I have the iPhone 4. All of those devices still work, though. They’ve just been passed around to various family members.

  96. just beware of devices that fail quickly. There are tons of stuff like this from chinese manufacturers

  97. I use COBY’s as my MP3 player; I like them quite a bit for music, but they fail with audiobooks…

    You can’t sort out the files into alphabetical order, so when you try to load the thing with the 90+ files for a Discworld audiobook, they end up being scrambled and you have to keep jumping back and forth to try and keep them in order.

    For music though, it is really all one needs.  $20, no pain.

  98. I chose a Coby 2gb “touch screen” media player as my no-prize for 10 years of employment at my corp. The interface sucks. Getting through the menus to your music sucks. The battery life sucks. Song management sucks.

    But damnit if it doesn’t do the job if I want a quick, no hassle media player for yard work, running, hiking, biking on the trail or whatever. It’s light, I can stash it in any pocket or under a layer of lycra without fear of damage and I don’t have to worry about openly advertising that I have expensive tech on my person by wearing a sports band.

  99. What about crap music? What about crap clothing? Why not buy all your clothes at the GAP and just listen to Top 40 hits?

    1. @Philosophistry:twitter  I think you’ve reversed the players…  the iPod and iPhone are the GAP, they are top 40.  They represent an investment in values other than reliability and function – they embody ten thousand hours of research into pretty and not just ergonomics.   They are designed to flick a trend-following switch in our brains that will make you want them – despite any other attributes they may or may not have.

      I’m not saying Rob’s iPod is unreliable or subfunctional – I’m saying it’s heavily styled, and you pay for that styling in addition to anything you are paying for reliability or function. 

      In the context of this thread, “crap” is a categorical term for anything pragmatic or utilitarian.  Try hard physical labor for eight hours in GAP clothing – utilitarian it ain’t, I predict blown out armseams as well as permanent sags and stains.   See if you can melt the heart of the prettiest [insert desired gender noun here] with top 40 – also not your best bet, although it is bound to work occasionally.

  100. I recommend the Sandisk Sansa c250 or c240. Sure it’s an older player but you can easily replace the battery and you can get them really cheap (especially so if you don’t mind resoldering the audio jack). With Rockbox you can use a Micro SDHC card to add an extra 32GB.

    In retrospect you don’t really need a replaceable battery, if you play the rockbox games, you will wear through the plastic buttons long before the battery dies. But being able to swap the battery out (I have a spare player that I use as a charger) means I can continue listening without ever having to tether the darn thing.

  101. Muvo TX FM: FM receiver for my local public radio, simple USB interface, FAT directory sync, AAA battery powered, and voice recorder.  I love that thing more than iPod stubby.

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