New York Times Mac expert David Pogue says the iPod is smaller, more attractive and more thoughtfully designed than any of "the upstarts".

In his latest article for the paper he said: "It's also much more than just a music player. The iPod can also display your calendar and address book, serve as a text reader and alarm clock, help you pass the time with a suite of games, and so on. And that's before you tap into the universe of add-on shareware programs."

Pogue admits some will prefer the iPod alternatives, either because they are cheaper, or because they "crave this bell or that whistle that the iPod lacks - a built-in FM radio, say, or a built-in microphone".

Another reason people might opt for an alternative is the extended battery life of many of the "iPods-in-training", some of which can run 13 to 16 hours per charge, compared with the iPod's eight, suggests Pogue.

Pogue notes that one common feature of the competitors is a marketing message that's either "just like the iPod, only cheaper" or "just like the iPod, only better." He comments: "You can't stand in a public place without seeing a pair of those telltale white earbud cords pass by; for once in its life, Apple gets to find out what it's like to be Microsoft."