Before deciding that an HDD (large capacity) Mp3 Player was your best option, you probably decided to look for a combination of these features:
a) Storage Capacity
b) Size and weight of player
c) Ease of use
d) Music quality and options
e) Features (screen size, color, photo, video, etc.)
f) Upgrade ability
g) Battery power
h) Files Recognized (mp3, wma, wav, ogg, etc.)
In this guide I would like to urge you to also consider these as main factors:
g) Useability as a portable harddrive
h) Drag and Drop capability
i) Software requirements
Useability as a portable harddrive: Though perhaps not as important to most people as music quality, making these last three factors main considerations will save you a lot of headache down the road. Many people expect their shiny new mp3 players to be able to act as a hard drive when connected to their computer via usb, firewire, etc. This is not always the case. In fact, it is actually becoming a rarity. This ability allows the user to load documents not recognized by the player itself onto the player. Using this feature, the user can transport and kind of file on his or her player. If this feature is important to you, don't assume your potential purchase will have it; look for this in the specifications.
Drag and Drop capability: The next two features are actually very similar. The drag and drop feature allows the user to simply drag files onto the player through windows explorer, or similar filesystem. This is by far the most useful, easiest, and practical way to move files onto your player. It gives the user complete control, and allows the files to be maintatined and organized however the user would like.
Software requirements: Most players require some type of proprietary software to be installed on the user's computer in order to transfer files onto the player. After reading countless lists of posts about these required software programs, the verdict is that the large majority of them are terrible. The most important thing, however is the owner's individual preference, so iTunes or an equivalent installation might be suitable for you. However, know that the general public would rather just drag and drop than be forced to deal with proprietary software. Another reason: Many Mp3 player developers create these programs to maintain Digital Rights Management. This means that when you use the software to load songs onto your new player, know that they can be read by your player alone. The files will be encoded to a different file type from mp3, wma, etc. after being moved to the player. You will not be able to go to a friends house and move your files to their computer. Although meant to protect copyrighted music, this is a huge hassle, and my biggest pet peave against player developers. Well-known examples of this problem are with the Apple iPod and the Toshiba Gigabeat.
Perhaps these are not problems for you, and you decide to iPod instead for it's out-of-the-box ease of use. That's fine. However, if you decide that these factors are important to you, you will probably come to realize that you have very choices left after researching the applicable players. It's true; very few comanies are doing it right these days. However, players are changing all the time, and some developers seem to have a track record for being on top of their game. To name a couple, Archos and iRiver seem to know how to make a great fully-functional player without major drawbacks. So why did I rule out Apple? The iPod comes packaged with some great features: A semi-large, color screen, capable of picture and sometimes video viewing, and relative ease of use for even the technologically impaired. However, it encodes your files, has no user control, and requires software to sync your music. These alone should be enough to take it off anybody's list, but again, it's all about personal preference.
You may already disagree with some parts of this guide, and that is fine. If so, the rest of this guide will probably not be very helpful to you. However, if you have been nodding your head in agreement throughout, you might want to consider a more specific approach to purchasing a new player. I would recommend comparing your whittled-down choices with the iRiver H320 and 340. I have either owned or used almost every mp3 player on the market, and being an audiophile myself, I like a player with perfect MUSIC capabilities. Again, a matter of opinion, but so far on all that I have listened to, the audio quality of this player beats out the competition hands down. I use the same pair of Sennheiser earphones for each player I test. The options are unbelievable and the user has the ability to customize every aspect of the sound. The player itself is about the length and width of the iPod, but thicker and bit heavier. Still small, but sturdy. It also boasts up to 16 hours of internal battery life. The screen is large, and has a color display that the iPod still cannot rival. It has photo, recording, radio, text, and video abilities with a free firmware upgrade, if you care about those things. The player will also play the open sourced ogg files, which save on space. You may also install any third party firmware such as Rockbox with customizeable themes (again, if you care about that stuff). However, the thing to love about this player is that it does not need any installations. Windows XP automatically recognizes it, and you can start moving files onto it without loading any kind of program. Even better, you can unload those same files onto a different computer and they will be in the same format. The navigation system on the player supposedly has a learning curve, but I mastered it the first day I had one, and I'm not the most technically savvy myself.
So, given the price you plan to spend, you might have to begin cutting back options until you find yourself with the perfect player. However, if you're like me, you will find one that has most of the same important features that the H340 has included (or just buy an iRiver H340!). Be aware of the last three important factors, and as always, the sound quality! Hopefully these guidelines will lead you to purchase the best H34..... mp3 player your money can buy!