Explore the best dedicated Bluetooth mp3 players for 2020, and find out why my favorite portable music player with a touchscreen is an inexpensive alternative to the Sandisk Clip and discontinued Ipod Shuffle. (It makes a great kid’s MP3 player and also terrific for workouts and running.)
After years of frustration, I finally found the perfect dedicated Bluetooth MP3 player.
For years, I have been looking for a dedicated MP3 player for kids as well a separate Bluetooth-enabled mp3 player for running and exercise.
After testing several options and wading through countless outdated “best MP3 player” listicles, refurbished iPod Shuffle listings on eBay and reviews of high-end music players and smart watches that cost more than an iPhone, I stumbled upon the perfect, cheap option.
The best part?
My absolute favorite portable music player with Bluetooth has a touchscreen and speaker, costs less than $40, is fully-featured, and doesn’t require you to buy a refurbished iPod or take your chances on plugging in an MP3 player from an unfamiliar brand from China.
But, during the COVID19 pandemic, I’ve started focusing on maximizing work from home and distance learning environments for me and my kids, including where to buy a new Zoom shirt and evaluating options for the best budget student laptop for my kids’ distance learning.
I’ve also taken on a few projects I’ve been meaning to get around to, including a deep-dive into MP3 players. Specifically, I’ve scoured the internet to search for a dedicated, locked-down MP3 player for my kids.
What is an MP3 player?
An MP3 player is an electronic device dedicated to playing digital music files.
The phrase MP3 player is often used generically to refer to a portable digital music player that may be capable of playing a variety of digital audio files including MP3, Advanced Audio Coding (AAC), Windows Media Audio (WMA) and Waveform Audio File (WAV) formats.
An MP3 player is the early-21st-Century equivalent of a walkman.
The acronym MP3 stands for “MPEG Audio Layer-3,” a type of audio file developed by the now-disbanded Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG). MP3s files are compressed so that they sound similar to uncompressed audio files but are much smaller in size.
Technically, MP3s are “lossy,” which means they are not as clean as original recordings, though, when encoded properly, the difference is generally difficult if not impossible for the average casual listener to notice.
The Apple iPod is the most famous example of a dedicated MP3 player (or, more accurately, digital music player), and it revolutionized music when it was introduced in 2001.
Other portable music players followed, including the Creative Zen, Microsoft Zune, Archos Portable Media Player, Sony Walkman and Sandisk Clip, along with new iPod Mini, Shuffle and Nano models from Apple.
Why is it so difficult to find a dedicated MP3 player today?
As recently as 2017, the Apple iPod, iPod Shuffle and iPod Nano combined top-of-the-line hardware with trusted, easy-to-use software to produce the best MP3 players (in my opinion).
But in 2020, the options for a dedicated MP3 player are frustratingly limited and extremely underwhelming.
Apple discontinued the iPod Shuffle and iPod Nano in 2017 and the classic iPod in 2014.
There’s a good reason Apple decided to discontinue the iPod Classic, Shuffle and Nano: The business case dried up.
First of all, everyone has a phone in her or his pocket that can play MP3s, so there isn’t a lot of demand for lugging around a separate, dedicated MP3 player.
Second, technology platforms are shifting from selling individual MP3 songs and albums to selling music streaming subscriptions. Apple has completely depreciated its iTunes Store, which sells individual music files, in favor of pushing its $9.99 per month Apple Music subscription service.
Two use cases for a dedicated MP3 player
In my household, though, I’ve found at least two use cases for having a dedicated MP3 player: my kids and exercise.
A dedicated MP3 player for kids
When I was a kid, I fondly remember having a record player, than a walkman, then a portable CD player, to listen to music. I received my first record — Michael Jackson’s Greatest Hits — when I was in elementary school.
Having that opportunity to choose music to listen to myself was empowering. I want that same experience for my kids.
At this moment in their lives, I don’t want my elementary school kids to have unfettered access to the entire iTunes or Amazon Music, or to a tablet or phone with other games and apps. I want them to have a dedicated kid’s mp3 player with a touchscreen that is locked down to specific playlists, albums and artists, and that is simple and easy to use.
A dedicated MP3 player for workouts, running and exercise
Another reason to buy a dedicated music player is for workouts and running.
When I exercise, I want to reach for a dedicated MP3 player for workouts and running. I don’t want to jostle my everyday phone through a weights workout or on a jog outside.
I like having a device that simply plays music, tracks my workout and running stats, has a clock and stopwatch for timing intervals, and allows me to pop in my Bluetooth Apple EarPods and go.
The best Bluetooth MP3 player options in 2020
Given the limited choices, what are the best MP3 players with Bluetooth in 2020? Here is my list:
Convert a prepaid Android Phone like the LG Journey into a Bluetooth MP3 player
For me, by far the best option is to convert a prepaid Android phone into a cheap Bluetooth MP3 player with a touchscreen.
With minimal effort, I was able to repurpose three prepaid Android phones, the Simple Mobile LG Journey, the Tracfone Motorola Moto E6 in Starry Black, and the Samsung Galaxy J3 Orbit from Total Wireless, into dedicated Bluetooth MP3 players.
Each of these portable devices cost less than $40. (The Samsung cost me less than $25.)
For me, a converted Android device is the perfect alternative to the iPod Nano or Shuffle, an expensive workout watch, Sandisk Clip, or taking my chances on one of the many unknown brands available on Amazon.
For under $40, my MP3 player has a touchscreen and Bluetooth.
This solution even allowed me to completely lock down Android one app so I could give a dedicated mp3 player to my kids.
A converted prepaid Android phone also serves as a terrific Bluetooth mp3 player for workouts and running.
How to convert a prepaid Android phone or tablet into a dedicated MP3 Player
- Purchase a pre-paid Android phone or cheap Android tablet. I have purchased phones from Tracfone, Simple Wireless and Total Wireless.(Tracfone is the parent company of brands including Net10 Wireless, Telcel America, SafeLink Wireless, Simple Mobile, Straight Talk, Total Wireless and Walmart Family Mobile.) My favorite so far is the LG Journey, whose Android interface is straightforward and easy to use. Alternately, you could purchase a cheap Android Tablet for under $100.
- Set up the phone for use as an MP3 player. Turn on the Android device and connect it to your WIFI network or computer. Choose your privacy settings, optionally connect a Google Account (which is necessary if you plan to download apps from the Google Play Store) and allow the device to install the latest Android updates.
- Choose an app to manage your music. Some device manufacturers like LG include a Music app in its initial Android installation. Others do not. Alternately, download your favorite music app from the Google Play Store. My favorite MP3 app for Android is MediaMonkey, which has free and paid versions, and easily syncs to its free MediaMonkey software on my Windows-based computer.
- Transfer your music to the Android device. Connect the Android device to your computer and transfer your MP3 files. Once connected, find and double-click on the folder for your Android device in File Explorer. You can drag songs and playlists directly from software like MediaMonkey or iTunes to the Android device’s “Music” folder, or set up Auto Sync through software like MediaMonkey.
- Optional: Lock down your device to one dedicated music app. If you want to turn your Android device into a dedicated MP3 player that cannot switch to other apps (as I did to give to give to my kids), you can lock down your device to one single app. You can use Android’s built-in Screen Pinning feature to pin one app to the screen. My preferred solution was to download Fully Kiosk’s “Fully Single App Kiosk” app, which provides additional functionality for me as a parent. (The app costs 6.90 Euros, around $7.)
Coming from the Apple iPhone universe, where my experience suggests its impossible to use any of the features of a locked iPhone without first activating it with a carrier, I was initially worried that I wouldn’t be able to use one of these pre-paid Android phones without activating service.
The Android devices that I converted into MP3 players had no such restrictions.
All three Android phones that I bought using Tracfone, Simple Wireless and Total Wireless were fully-functional from the moment I turned them on. I didn’t even need to install a SIM card.
Where to buy: Search retailers like Best Buy, Target, Walmart and Amazon for deals on pre-paid phones, or buy directly from providers like Total Wireless or Tracfone. Get a coupon for 25% off Total Wireless by signing up for emails.
Apple iPod Touch
You could use an iPod Touch as a dedicated MP3 player, though you’ll pay upwards of $200 for the privilege. Also, if you want to lock down the iPod to just one app on a permanent basis rather than just for a session using Guided Access, it is maddeningly difficult to do so. Trust me, I’ve tried.
A used Apple iPod Nano or iPod Shuffle via eBay
I seriously considered buying an iPod Nano 7th or 8th Generation, which ticked a lot of the boxes that were important in a dedicated MP3 player: The iPod Nano 7th and 8th Generations have Bluetooth and a touchscreen and are relatively easy to transfer music and upload if you’re familiar with Apple and iTunes environments.
Then I looked at the price: Seventh-generation Apple iPod Nanos are fetching $100 or more in used condition, and availability from third party sellers is limited. (Apple does not appear to sell refurbished iPod Nanos or Shuffles directly anymore.)
I much prefer the under $40 solution of converting a pre-paid Android phone to a dedicated MP3 player.
A smart watch from Apple, Fitbit, Garmin or Samsung
Companies from Fitbit to Garmin to Samsung make connected smart watches that enable users to download MP3s and, in some cases, stations from services like Deezer, Pandora or Spotify (depending on the brand).
The downside? You’ll likely pay $200 or more for the privilege, and you get to tap through your music on a tiny dial attached to your wrist.
Oakcastle M100 MP3 Player
Oakcastle’s 16GB MP100 Mini Portable MP3 Player with Bluetooth and FM Radio is among the most affordable Bluetooth MP3 players. The MP100, which is designed in Cambridge, England, comes equipped with a music player, FM radio and sound recorder. The company says the tiny, lightweight player was “meticulously designed with sports in mind,” and features a built-in clip for your clothes or belt. (No touchscreen though.)
A Sony Walkman MP3 player
Sony has several MP3 players worth considering:
- Sony’s NWE393/B 4GB Walkman MP3 Player
- Sony NWE394/R 8GB Walkman MP3 Player in red features a digital music & photo player with an FM radio, it allows you to drag and drop music from iTunes or Windows Media Player. It gets up to 35 hours of playback via its rechargable battery and also features an alarm and timer.
- The Sony NW-A55/B Walkman NW-A55 Hi-Res 16GB MP3 Player in Grayish Black is an upgraded and more expensive pick. This hi-res audio player is “precision engineered for improved sound quality. Its technology upscales lossy files to restore quality.
Ok, Mighty Vibe’s Spotify and Amazon Music Player with Bluetooth is more accurately a digital music player. If you’re looking for a simple and small player for your Spotify or Amazon Music playlists and podcasts, you should think seriously about the Mighty Vibe player. It can hold more than five hours of Spotify and Amazon music playlists and podcasts; it features Bluetooth and wireless syncing via the Mighty mobile app; and it’s small, lightweight, durable, water, sweat and drop resistant and kid-friendly.
A wide selection of cheap Bluetooth MP3 players via Amazon
Search Amazon.com for an MP3 player, and you’ll find a dizzying array of cheap options with stellar reviews from brands that I’ve never heard of before. Let’s see:
- There’s the TIMMKOO MP3 Player with Bluetooth;
- The Walkercam’s Metal Case Bluetooth 4.1 MP3 Player from Letushi Innovations has 8GB of storage, a One Button Voice Recorder, FM Radio and up to 30 Hours of playback time; and
- FDY company has a a super-small Bluetooth touchscreen MP3 portable music player with 32GB of storage, an FM radio, and recorder.
It’s certainly possible that these companies produce stellar, reliable products. But some of them don’t even have dedicated websites. I can’t find one for TIMMKOO, whose trademark appears to be registered to the Shenzhen yisichuang Technology Co., Ltd.
When it comes to an electronic device that I’m going to plug into my computer like a Bluetooth MP3 player, I’d prefer to go with a well-known brand.
The Sandisk Clip is an inexpensive option for a simple MP3 player, but you’ll sacrifice functionality. I bought one as an exercise player, and it was fine for a while until it accidentally went through the washer. There are a couple of pros to the Sandisk Clip: It’s super-small, clips easily to your clothing for running, and has an FM tuner.
However, the Sandisk Clip doesn’t have Bluetooth or a touchscreen, the buttons are tiny, the interface is frustrating and I found it difficult to load songs. Plus, at $30-40 retail, the Sandisk Clip costs about as much as my top option, converting an Android phone into a dedicated MP3 player.
The best MP3 player is a better alternative to the iPod Nano and Shuffle, Sandisk Clip, unknown brands from China, and your old iPhone.
It took me a while to discover it, but for me the best Bluetooth MP3 player is my converted LG Journey prepaid Android phone. If you’re willing to put a little bit of work into setting it up, it makes a great MP3 player for kids and for workouts.
About JakeJake is passionate about exploring entrepreneurs' global journeys. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs behind the innovative brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and/or fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine, and has provided analysis on international business for BBC Radio, NBC News, CNN and Time Magazine.
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