1st Place: Sony Walkman NWZ-S639F
Sony has always made great sounding mp3 players but its devices have often been let down by restrictive software, relatively poor feature sets, and high prices. With its latest S-series players, though, it finally got the whole package right.
For sure, this isn't the most glamorous PMP on the market and it lacks real audiophile features like support for lossless file formats. However, the basics like MP3 and WMA are catered for and unlike Apple's Nano, files need only to be dragged and dropped onto the device like it were a USB thumb drive.
The interface is easy to use - in some ways it's even superior to the nano's scroll wheel - the screen's nice, and there are extras like an FM tuner as well. What really sets the S-series apart from the competition, though, is its balance of these basic features. It may not sound the best, but it's better than most. It's not be the most pretty but it's still nice. Most importantly, though, it's currently an absolute bargain.
2nd Place: iRiver Lplayer
In contrast to Sony's S-series devices, the iRiver Lplayer is a premium device that also demands a premium price. Quite simply, if the utmost sound quality is important to you, this is the PMP to get. Support for lossless file formats like FLAC combined with the best decoding hardware mean there's no stone left unturned in the quest for true Hi-Fi audio.
It's not just its sound quality that we like, though. The ingenious clickable-screen interface is also a breeze to use and there are basic extras like an FM tuner, and microphone that add to its functionality. The fact it's not tied to iTunes always helps as well.
3rd Place: Archos Internet Media Tablet 5
Archos has always taken a slightly different approach to PMP design. Very early on it saw the potential of targeting video as its major selling point and its large-screened, bulky players were doing very nicely carving out their own market almost unopposed. Then Apple came along.
In one fell swoop, the iPhone and iPod touch gobbled up a huge slice of Archos' video-centric pie leaving the French company reeling. A year down the line, though, and the Archos media tablet series has done a mighty fine job of hitting back at Apple.
The new Archos 5 sounds better than previous Archos players, has the best screen of any PMP, and looks stunning. It even packs in Wi-Fi, enabling you to browse the web and check your emails. File format support is also second to none, capacities are huge, and it even has a flip-out stand so you don't have to hold the player up to watch video. It's just a shame that all those features inevitably make this a bulky player.