Will cellphones replace iPods?


I like instant gratification and might be willing to pay $2 or $2.50 to get a full-track tune anytime I wanted. But the price doesn't stop there. New music stores from Verizon and Sprint Nextel haven't managed to turn cellphones into polished music players, adding nuisance to the dollar price of getting songs on and off a phone. It's still too awkward to supplant most MP3 players, much less the simple-to-use iPod.

First, the limitations of wireless keep bandwidth and memory precious, even in the case of Verizon's high-speed "V Cast" network, which I've been testing. The wireless version of Verizon's music store, for example, stumbles as it scrolls menus, repeatedly pausing as the phone retrieves more data. And as with all cell connections, music downloads were occasionally cut off, forcing me to redial and punch through menus to get started again.

Otherwise, the store's interface is surprisingly usable, at least for discovering music in canned menus like "What's New." Finding specific songs means typing with the keypad, reminding us that this is, well, a phone and not a computer. With practice, a tune can be found and downloaded in a few minutes. But fumbling with little keys and screens makes it seem a long few minutes.

I've been working with the LG8100, which Verizon sells for $135 with a two-year service contract. It produces decent sound through earbuds, though it's more tinny than most dedicated MP3 players. More impressive are the small speakers on the phone itself. Not that they sound good, but they at least enable more sharing than with speakerless iPods and other MP3 players.

Verizon includes another, higher-quality copy of each song for downloading to a PC. But Verizon's PC interface is clumsy; it's little better than the Windows Media Player on which it is pasted. Also, Microsoft has made Media Player a fussy inspector of music licenses, ruling which songs can legally move from a PC to a phone. Inexplicably, Media Player occasionally barred music ripped from CDs that I own.

Analysts predict that phones will eventually replace dedicated music players, and Apple has to be nervous. But its iPod seems safe for now, except maybe when a hankering for a quick indulgence compels me to spend the money, and effort.