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Remember how everyone used to have an MP3 player? In the days before the iPhone, MP3 players were a must-have item. Smartphones have eaten into MP3 player sales over the years — why purchase a separate device when you have a smartphone in your pocket with a built-in MP3 player? Well, you might want to buy one for several reasons — MP3 players aren’t obsolete just yet.

An MP3 player might not be right for you, but there are still good reasons for MP3 players to exist. We’ll look at when MP3 players are a good option and when you should just stick with your smartphone.

Why MP3 Players Are Still Useful

The most useful MP3 players are probably the ones that don’t try to be smartphones. If you want to watch videos or use apps, you’re better off with a smartphone. Here’s where MP3 players beat smartphones:

They’re smaller, lighter, and cheaper. Many MP3 players are significantly smaller, lighter, and cheaper than smartphones. This makes them great for situations where you wouldn’t want to carry a smartphone. For example, you can get a decent SanDisk Sansa Clip+ MP3 player with 4 GB of storage for about $30 on Amazon.

Some are rugged and waterproof. Want to run without a heavy device wearing you down, or just exercise without worrying that you’ll drop that expensive smartphone? An MP3 player is a great option, as it won’t break the bank even if it does become damaged. You can also find waterproof MP3 players that you can use while swimming, while even smartphones marketed as “waterproof” require you plug their headphone port before using them underwater. Waterproof MP3 players aren’t expensive either — you can get an MP3 player and headphones you can use while swimming for under $45 on Amazon.

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MP3 players have longer battery life. MP3 players just do one thing, so they won’t drain as fast as your smartphone. Some include extremely long battery life. For example, the Cowon X9 MP3 player offers 110 hours of battery life on a single charge. If you want to listen to music on a long trip where you won’t be able to recharge your phone, a device like this one can keep playing long after your smartphone is dead.

MP3 players have physical buttons. MP3 players often come with physical buttons for Play, Pause, Next, and Previous, allowing you to quickly skip through songs without digging your smartphone out of your pocket. You could get headphones with built-in controls for your smartphone, but these can be hard to find if you’re not using an iPhone.

Some MP3 players allow for additional storage via SD cards. Many modern smartphones — the iPhone included — include a fairly small amount of storage and don’t offer SD card support. If you purchase an MP3 player that supports SD cards, you can get all the additional storage you want by purchasing cheap SD cards How To Choose The Right SD Card For The Job How To Choose The Right SD Card For The Job SD cards aren't all about storage! In fact, there are several other factors to consider, and when purchasing your cards, you should make yourself aware of them. That said, SD cards aren't all created equal,... Read More . You can even juggle several SD cards if your entire music library doesn’t fit on a single one. SD cards are cheaper than internal flash memory because they aren’t as fast, but they’re more than fast enough for listening to music.

MP3 players have FM radio. If you still care about listening to standard radio stations, you’ll find that FM radio tuners are much more common in MP3 players than in smartphones. This allows you to listen to the original “streaming music” without the data bill, as long as you have a good radio station nearby.

man-jogging-with-mp3-player

Why Smartphones Are Replacing MP3 Players Anyway

For many people, smartphones are replacing MP3 players in spite of all the above advantages. Here’s why:

  • Less Devices: You probably already have a smartphone. That’s one less device to purchase and carry around Less is More! 7+ Devices & Tools Your Smartphone Can Replace Less is More! 7+ Devices & Tools Your Smartphone Can Replace Phones have gone through an incredible evolution over the past few years. Besides serving as mobile phone and a tiny window into the world wide web, the modern smartphone accommodates a multitude of tools. The... Read More . If you don’t listen to music that often, a smartphone will be more than good enough. A smartphone may not be the best in all situations, but it’ll suffice.
  • Music Streaming Services: Smartphones allow you to listen to music from music subscription services like Spotify and Rdio. You can use the service’s app to “pin” this music to your device offline. If you’re willing to use your smartphone’s data plan, you can just stream music from services like Pandora radio. These services save you from the hassle of building your own MP3 library.

People could also use tablets as MP3 players — a mini-tablet Nexus 7 vs. iPad Mini: A Comparative Review Nexus 7 vs. iPad Mini: A Comparative Review If you're shopping for a 7-inch tablet, there's absolutely no shortage of options. It's undeniable, however, that the leading choices are Apple's iPad mini and Google's Nexus 7. We've reviewed both of these devices individually,... Read More like the Nexus 7 could even fit in a pocket — but this is a bit crazy. An MP3 player should offer portability. That’s why MP3 players were a big deal when they launched — we could already play MP3s on our computers.

google nexus 4

MP3 Players That Are Almost Smartphones

Some devices are almost smartphones, but are branded and sold as “MP3 players.” Apple’s iPod Touch is the most popular such device. It’s technically part of Apple’s iPod lineup, but it’s really just an iPhone with less powerful hardware and without the phone bits.

In the past, Samsung and Sony have tried to get in on the action with their Galaxy Player and Walkman Z devices running Android, but these devices since been discontinued. If you want Android, you’d likely get it on a smartphone instead of buying an Android media player device.

Apple’s iPod Touch is the last option standing, and it’s more notable for being a device that offers iPhone apps to anyone for $215 without a cell phone contract, even to people with dumbphones and Android phones. It’s not necessarily the ideal portable media player if you just want to listen to MP3s, as you won’t get the benefits of longer battery life, expandable storage, small size, and general ruggedness.

ipod-touch

So, Should You Still Buy an MP3 Player?

Well, it depends. If you don’t listen to MP3s all that often, the MP3 player built into your smartphone will serve you well.

If you listen to MP3s constantly and struggle with your smartphone’s battery, want additional storage, or want to use your MP3 player in a situation where you’d be worried about damaging your smartphone — like exercising or swimming — MP3 players can still be useful devices.

Do you still use an MP3 player? Leave a comment and let us know why you’ve stuck with them — or why you’ve already replaced your MP3 player with a smartphone.

Image Credit: ataraxis on Flickr, Man jogging with MP3 player via Shutterstock, Niki Odolphie on Flickr

This review contains affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

  1. Patrick
    September 8, 2016 at 12:33 am

    I have a iPhone and I just purchased a iPod touch 6th gen. I find both are useful devices. I drive my personal car about a hundred miles everyday and really enjoy having my music library on my iPod. Yes I could place the library on my iPhone but it really annoys the hell out of me when a favorite song is interrupted by a text message or a Facebook post of a cat licking itself. Now with both devices my music doesn't get interrupted and I still get important text from supervisors. Also I'm going on vacation next week and I can take my iPod and leave my phone. Still have access to all my apps without interruptions from the office while I'm in vacation mode. Boots and pants, boots and pants, boots and pants. Lol

  2. darren spohn
    September 2, 2016 at 8:37 pm

    I just finished ordering a new bluetooth mp3 player from amazon. Why ? Even though I have a "smart" phone, it won't play mp3 files. Why ? Because it keeps saying "sd card unexpectedly removed. It won't play with the stock music player, it won't play with the google player, and it won't play with any players i pick up at the play store. And the phone itself is only 2gb.

  3. Jeffrey Baker
    August 25, 2016 at 12:56 am

    I am a data entry operator and we're not allowed to have phones in the workplace...nothing with a camera or recording device.....so I HAVE to have an MP3 player...either that or a CD player.....I'm addicted to listening to podcasts at work so an MP3 player is VITAL for me. Looks like I may need to stock up on some back-ups.

  4. Tac
    June 10, 2016 at 7:32 pm

    I have an old sony -436 4gb for work that I exclusively use and cowon d2 that I still rock (nostalgia)

    although my phone has spotify and other things, the battery sucks and its nice to use the back up mp3s for things like work

  5. CDS
    February 18, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    Thanks for info, been trying to decide whether to buy mp3 player or use my smartphone for travelling. Since I listen to a lot of music and don't really want to be handling my phone all the time (BB Passport) for fear of damage, loss, etc., think will go with mp3 player.

  6. Maurice Schrödinger
    January 8, 2016 at 3:24 am

    People using their smartphones or iPhone as music player are just wrong, the battery just drains to death real quick when playing music, so I own a Sony Walkman E464 16GB which I bought in January 6, 2011 so it's 5 years old now and it survived being accidentally washed within my pants in a hot water laundry cycle when was just a few months old, it originally claimed 50 hours in a single charge (49 to 51 hours as I tested, depending on the volume level) which was awesome in 2011, obviously battery capacity has decreased to about 30 hours in a single charge now which is still a lot and the physical buttons are way better than touchscreen when you just want to skip a track.
    Definitely an mp3 player and Sony has better sound quality than iPods and iPhones, but sadly discontinued.

  7. nithispidey
    December 20, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Welll, if u really listen to music while working out etc. An mp3 player is the best option. Frankly i get better music quality+ longer battery life from my mp3 player that cost me almost 90% the price of my smartphone

  8. cavepoet
    August 23, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    This is a great article. I've been using Rhapsody with an MP3 player for many years and I've always been occasionally frustrated by the complicated Licensing/Synch process. It's gotten worse over the years as services have started catering more and more to mobile streaming devices. So lately I find myself spending more time updating WMP and my Sansa player than I do actually listening to music. So MP3 Players are not necessarily more simple. I tried the Rhapsody app on my smartphone and it works well including offline listening. But I despise using my phone as my MP3 player for all the reasons mentioned in the article. So the plan I've been testing is to use a cheap Android phone as an MP3 player that I can just leave in my car or take with me when I exercise. You can buy a good "unlocked" Android phone for under $75 so I'm not sure MP3 players are cheaper either. I think I paid $80-$90 for my Sansa Clip 8GB. I WILL miss the external buttons of my Sansa player and the small size. For me, those are the only remaining compelling features to buy an MP3 player. But I'm looking forward to having an MP3 device that can connect to it's music service directly without having to re-synch thru a PC or Mac.

  9. Cathy Danielson
    June 29, 2015 at 11:57 pm

    I'm sorry, but I think it's a terrible idea to try to play music on your smartphone while working out. It's just asking for an accident. I have had MP3 players thrown across the room, stepped on, dropped underneath a weight, pinned to a punching bag, sloshed by an open water bottle, and many more mishaps. Whenever I've tried working out with my phone, I've always slipped into lower intensity because I'm afraid that going all out creates too much of a chance of damaging that phone. Just not a good idea at all. That having been said, I think that there need to be more options for people who want to play streaming music on a cheaper MP3 player, because that would solve a lot of problems.

  10. lordmogul
    April 20, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    I own a Sansa ClipZip 8 GB and it is not often in use.
    My smartphone is enough for the very day usage, like the 30 minutes to work or when I go shopping.

    But ever so often I use it when a long train ride awaits me, or I just feel the need of good audio quality when I'm on the way.
    And I'll heavily suggest improving it even more with RockBox!

  11. R Mary Tallos
    April 19, 2015 at 8:20 am

    I use my 4 MP3 players all the time. (for a cell phone I still use a flip-phone and still have and use my collection of vinyl.)
    The reason for this is, that I am constantly listening to music, and do so via Bluetooth because I hate getting cords tangled and caught on things.
    My BT MP3 players are getting old and I have been looking for a decent replacement. Unfortunately they are difficult to find with the exception of Ipods which are out of my price rang

  12. Rich
    March 16, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    Buy a no-contract smartphone and don't activate it and have all the capabilities of a smartphone without the monthly bill. Low end, but perfectly capable smartphones are $50 and less.

    • Brian
      November 28, 2016 at 9:07 pm

      I am researching this - how do you know what phones will work if you never activate them? For example, I believe some will still require some SIM card.

  13. Ben G
    March 15, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    I use my old Samsung Galaxy Epic strictly as an mp3 player. People, i also have a SanDisk Clip +. For me there no comparing the 2. My phone plays much louder and clearer. My SanDisk sounded like crap with some Beats headphones. I will shocked how good my Epic sounded. With the phone's EQ, you can make it sound like a high end mp3 for NOTHING! Carry 2 batteries, and you're in business. I won't ever need to buy a high end mp3 player. Good luck.

  14. Lucy J
    February 10, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    So much excellent info here. thanks to all who have shared.

    Janine, I think I'm in your boat. I just want something for music and podcast downloading, maybe streaming, and listening to while out, mostly in the car, or maybe plugged into speakers at home. Don't want a smart phone because I don't need it and don't want to commit to a contract anyway.

    The basic mp3 device is an ipod. A few steps up (I think, from spending too long today in the innards of audiofile comments on the internet) are SanDisk Sansa Fuze ($70); Zune (80$); cowon z9 mp3 fm player ($190); and iBassoDX50 ($230).

  15. Janine Johnson
    February 9, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    I am technologically inept to say the least. All I want to do is put my favorite songs from my CD collection onto one device and hook it to the sound system in my van. I have no one to advise me if an MP3 would be sufficient or if I should just rip the songs onto one CD and play it in the van or what. My computer is not a mac so I don't think an IPod would be right either. I'm so confused at this point that I'm about to give up. Can anyone give me some good advice so I don't end up buying the wrong things or ruining my computer? Thank you very much.

    • Lucy J
      February 10, 2015 at 9:30 pm

      Hey Janine, forgot to hit reply that I put in the general comments section. I'm like you and shared what I learned there.

  16. Donna
    January 26, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    What are you using to back up your mp3 player music? My Samsung mp3 player broke about a year ago, had it for years, it can not be repaired....lost 24 hours of music......lots of time and money gone.....don't have a lot of money to go thur this again and I love my music....it doesn't take a lot to keep me happy, just my music......what's an easy way not to let this happen again?.....I thought about buying 2 mp3 players (because they are inexpensive) and using one as the back up.......will that work? ...will it let me buy the song once and download to 2 different devices? when the mp3 player breaks again....can i transfer the music from the backup mp3 player to a new back up one that i purchase? Thanks for any insight...

  17. Stephen
    January 11, 2014 at 12:20 am

    'Less Devices' really?

    Use correct grammar!

  18. Anonymous
    December 24, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    I still use an mp3. Reason is because it is so much more practical. I workout a lot. Can't carry on me a gigantic piece of device to listen to music!! My phone is a samsung galaxy s2 which I keep on charge all night. Even then by 5pm battery is just dead that is without talking hours

  19. PaPrup5u
    October 24, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    I still use MP3 player. You ask why? I have Samsung Galaxy S3 which can also play MP3 music format; however, the quality of music that I get from my Philips GoGear is far better compared to my smartphone. Plus, I don't have to worry about losing it as it does not hold sensitive information.

  20. Kit Kennard
    August 26, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Chris - you forgot an imporant feature differnce - FLAC SUPPORT !!!!!

  21. Arron L
    August 23, 2013 at 7:40 am

    Dedicated DAP's (cos mp3 player is a bit of a misnomer) are bound to outperform smartphones in terms of audio quality. When heard through a pair of decent IEM's or headphones, you can really tell the difference.

    • Drive-In-Freak
      September 21, 2013 at 10:38 pm

      BINGO!
      I am starting to think that people no longer know what decent sound quality is. It seems to be unimportant to a lot of people in this day and age.
      A simple, cheap Sanasa Clip runs circles around any phone (or iWatever for that matter) when it comes to sound quality.

  22. likefunbutnot
    August 22, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    I carried a Clip+ in my pocket for about four years. I appreciated the expansion option and fact that it had native support for .FLAC files.

    The thing that got me away from my Clip was Podcasts. I typically listen to a couple hours worth of them a day while I'm working out, and once I caught up with with the massive backlog of them that I wanted to listen to, having to plug it in to add more became a hassle.

    I do think there's a point to dedicated MP3 players, but it does depend a bit on one's expectations and application.

  23. Scott
    August 22, 2013 at 1:34 am

    I use an iPhone 4 16GB, my rommate uses a LG Optimus G with 32-64GB depending on which Micro SDXC card is inserted. I have iTunes Match, so I can get to all of my music anywhere on my unlimited data plan. However we still keep a 120GB iPod Classic around because it's portable and it's great when you want to plug it into speakers somewhere or a car.. and listen to your own music. Plus it's big enough for podcasts, movies, tv shows, etc. It has an awesome screen. And.. they still sell them (the 160GB model) The battery life is phenomenal, we get about 4 days out of it per charge because we do other things than listen to music. It is also very nice for recording voice memos and being able to have some distraction when you use mass transit or when if you happen to be someone who exercises they still make arm bands and other cases for them, just get them online or at a discount store. Nothing quite like a classic.

  24. Hugo
    August 21, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    I have the two devices, but i also have two pairs of headphones. I will explain myself.
    I have an iPhone 4s with a Fiio Amplifier that is also a hands free set, the sound is quite average. But when i really want great sound i have a Sansa Clip Zip Rockboxed when i have some selected music in flac format.
    In the headphones side, i have the famous monoprice 8323 when i'm in home and in the bus and the subway i have the soundmagic PL11. Great headphones on the cheap.

  25. Terry Murray
    August 21, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    Re one of your bullet points above: Should be "fewer devices," not "less devices." The text that follows ("That’s one less device to purchase and carry around.") is correct.

  26. Bill Henderson
    August 21, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    I'm getting ready to buy a new iPod Classic. The one I have still works great, but I want to have one in reserve in case Apple discontinues it. It's 160gb drive is absolutely important to me. Plus the click wheel is very intuitive while driving. I don't have to take my eyes off the road to skip a song or pause.

    • Kcwebbah
      August 22, 2013 at 9:55 pm

      Ditto! I love my 160gb iPod classic. It holds all my music and even some videos. I use it at home and in the car on road trips. I will always keep an MP3 player for this very reason. My smartphone can't hold very much of my music library so I only use it for streaming pandora at work. I hope apple doesn't discontinue the iPod classic because it seems to be one of the last large capacity MP3 players out there.

    • Warren G
      August 23, 2013 at 2:30 am

      Scrolled through the comments straight away. Knew someone would have made the point about the Classic. I wish my iphone was 160gb but for now having the classic will do - and the battery lasts about a week at a time for me.

  27. Mary
    August 21, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    I use my MP3 all night every night. I've found that listening to the drone of audio books helps blank out my tinnitus. For sleeping, I only "listen" to books I've actually read in hard form because I sleep through most of the stories.

    I don't have a smart phone nor do I subscribe to a smart phone carrier (I use Tracfone) so it's a no-brainer. I've worn out two iAudio 9 16GB players. I'm about to buy a 32 GB model. I don't like or want i-Tunes or any software controlling my items and Cowon seems to be the best at allowing me to just load my items onto the device. (The original Phillips models did that but they don't anymore as best I can tell). Hopefully this Cowon will last a bit longer than my previous ones.

    • Ann Baker
      December 10, 2013 at 8:57 pm

      Nice, very nice!!!!!

  28. Monty
    August 21, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    I use my iPod nano(6th generation) as a watch and it's great for using when I walk my dog.It also sports a pedometer so I always have it on my wrist and listen to my music, the FM radio stations or pod casts on a wide variety of subjects daily.

    I also have a smartphone but there is very little music on it. I find it quite cumbersome by comparison.

  29. lisaquing
    August 21, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Here's another option that 3 of my kids use - buy a cheap older model Android "smartphone" and use it as an MP3 player as well as whatever else they want to do on it - texting, apps, facebook, etc... We don't hook it up to any phone service, so it's basically an Android "ipod".

    • Tug R
      August 22, 2013 at 10:13 am

      That's exactly why I kept my old phone when I upgraded. It's perfectly capable of being a media device and I don't feel as nervous to drop it as I would my new phone.

  30. Stuart C
    August 21, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    I use my mp3 player in the car, when working out, and when we have guests over as background noise it's 50% mp3 player and 50% Pandora.

  31. Pepe J
    August 21, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    I bought the Clip+ with quite a few Gb of space and like it very much though I haven't yet accustomed to using it whenever I feel like hopping from song to song, for example. I intend to load it again with my preferred music --pop and classical-- and use this small, light thing which charges in no time and cost me less than a tenth of a smartphone.

  32. Christopher H
    August 21, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    I have a 32gb Zune HD and that thing not only has great battery, but is hardy as hell! I've been using it for years now and it still is in great condition! I will probably be one of those people who ALWAYS have an mp3 player, but that's also because I have a big music library.

    • Sylana
      August 21, 2013 at 4:33 pm

      I have one of those too! I love it- i listen to music and podcasts all day at work, and it doesnt kill my phone battery :)

  33. Arctic Llama
    August 21, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    Whenever I see these articles, I think these people must not run or anything. My phone keeps getting bigger. I want smaller for a run, hike, bike, rock climb, etc.

  34. Eric S
    August 21, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    I use an mp3 player in my car instead of the radio. If I leave it in there and something happens to it, its better than losing a smartphone. I don't alot of money to throw around but 30 bucks is better than 300 bucks!!

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