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MP3 players: Rating five under $200

We put the iPod Nano, Zune, Zen X-Fi, Archos 105, and iRiver E100 through their paces, judging them on looks, ease of use, and sound quality — see which ones had us singing their praises

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$149; apple.com

The fourth-generation nano is a thing of beauty as well as a feat of engineering: Apple has crammed a lot of technology into its very svelte (.24-inch-thick) player. When you hold it in your hands, it has a barely there feel. And the finish on the curved-aluminum chassis is so smooth and glossy, you’ll want to rub it until a genie comes out.

Most important, this nano has a spiffy new user interface. Managing your music is now a visual experience, with album artwork playing the starring role and the popular ”cover flow” view accessed by merely tipping the player on its side (a feature that’s easily disabled, thanks to a handy software update). Listening to music never looked or felt so good.

What we like:
· The full-screen album artwork.
· Shake to shuffle. Don’t want to hear a song? Shake the player and it skips to a new, random song. (Don’t worry, joggers, this feature can be turned off)
· Built-in accelerometer. Cover flow is addictive, and tilt-’em games like Maze are an enormous step up from Solitare.
· Compatible with both Macs and PCs.

What we don’t like:
· This nano is sharp — literally. The thin edges feel like they could cut into your hand or tear your jeans if you put the player in your pocket too fast.
· Can too much beauty be a bad thing? I almost didn’t want to handle the player, in fear of smudging the screen or leaving grubby fingerprints on the gorgeous finish.
· The click wheel seems less responsive and accurate than that found on earlier models.
· The screen is impossible to see without the backlight, (unlike with earlier models), which means you?ll be charging it more often

Grade: A-