IN THE STORE Digital audio players are either memory-card-based or hard-drive-based. While memory-based units are cheaper and smaller and tend to be more ruggedthat is, suitable for high-impact sportsthey will hold less than a dozen or so albums' worth of music at a time. Hard-drive-based players such as this iPod offer monster capacity. Depending on the model, they'll swallow hundreds of CDs or several audiobooks, unbeatable for that interminable flight to Australia. The downside? Spinners aren't cheap.
IN THE FIELD In the Field Protect your investment with an aftermarket casealthough your player popped out of its box nice and shiny, give it a week... Beware of freezer burn. The iPod and other devices utilize a lithium-ion battery that can temporarily shut down should the mercury drop. Use caution when taking your hard-drive-based player above 10,000 feet; the read/write heads ride on a cushion of air and can crash if it thins out.
IN THE FUTURE The jewel case is doomed. If you invest in a hard-drive-based player, you'll want to rip your entire CD library, then get rid of the damn things once and for all. Sell the discs while you still can and use the cash to finance a backup hard drive. Watch for digital audio to start showing up in everything you walk out the front door withwatches, phones, key fobs, the works.