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Apple iPod review

Revised on 11-04-04

Originally posted on June 16th, 2003

A Pocketfull of Tunes!

Up Front
Years from now, the talksshows will lament about the fall of the local record stores like the stories of the dust bowls of the 1930s... all because bi-ped's like you and me carried around an iPod. Ahhh... progress!

This is NOT the iPod Classic, but the new, slimmer, sexier, 2.0 version of the Apple iPod sporting more goodies like USB 2.0 support, Microsoft Windows compatibility, a lighter smaller case, and a host of other stuff. It's really a well thought out and designed piece of hardware.

Here are some highlights:

Larger capacity - There new iPods come in 10, 15 and 30 gigabyte models. That's 2500 for the 10GB, 3700 for the 15GB and DJ love for the 30GB model which can hold up to 7500 tunes! Momma Mia! The old ones are 5, 10 and 20.

Dock - These new iPods sport a cool little (artificially weighted) docking port. Great for hooking up to a powered speaker set. It'll also charge while it's downloading or playing songs.

Solid state buttons - All it takes is a very lite touch. For you guitar players out there with calliouses on your fingers, you'll need to use your pinky my freind tells me. Look ma! No parts! That's right. No switches behind these buttons. Really high tech here kids.

Backlighting - Press any key but the touch wheel to turn it on. To turn off, press and hold the Play button.

Lighter and thinner form factor - At 5.6oz for the 10 and 15GB, this is just about right. They are also the smallest in the bunch at .62 inches thick. The 30GB model is 6.2oz and about .73 inches thick.

AAC decoding - These new Ipod support AAC decoding. Like MP3 in a way, but much better sound quality according to the experts of sound. Here's a link on Apple's site that explains in a bit more detail...

On-The-Go playlists - On the fly playlists are just a few clicks away. Just highlight a playlist, song then press and hold the Select button (in the middle of the touch wheel) to add that to the On-The-Go playlist. Neat feature.

Alarm clock with games - Need a travel alarm? The new iPod can be set to turn on to your favorite Playlist, and if you need to waste time on the next flight you have three new games, Solitaire, Brick and Parachute.

The iPod is basically a little hard drive that stores your songs and/or data for later playback thru headphones or a powered speaker set. The sound quality isn't a Bose Acoustimass system, but for us commoners it's pretty darn good. It's primarily a MP3 player but the little iPod can be a storage device for documents, pictures or whatever else you want to move around from computer to computer.

For you techno's out there, this iPod houses a Toshiba 1.8 inch hard drive. When it plays music, it turns on the hard drive and copies/caches a few songs (up to 20mb i think) into it's memory cache chip from the hard drive giving you the music lover, an unencumbered listening experience.

 

Setting It Up
I had a difficult time getting the iPod to talk to my Sony Vaio (PCG-GRV680) laptop using the Apple installation CD. The manual isn't very helpful. I loaded the Apple software CD which installs the iPod Manager software, then it loaded MusicMatch Jukebox software. MusicMatch is the software Apple selected for PC users to use for synching your songs to and from the PC and the iPod. On the Mac, you'll use iTunes... Apple doesn't give you a list of other software companies that provide software for the Mac like Microsoft does... [jump off soapbox]

I don't like MusicMatch. I use Windows Media Player for all my audio and video playing and I didn't want to re-learn a new player. I did mess around with MM for a night at home, but it takes to long to load, and the interface isn't very intuitive. MM also reset all my audio file associations and that didn't sit well with me. I don't have the time to invest so hey MusicMatch, if you want to call me and setup a training seminar for me, I'll buy lunch! My phone number is 650.548.1010.

So, right now there is no way to use WMP to work directly with the iPod. There are some rumors that Apple is getting ready to release iTunes for Windows in early 2004. I hope Apple does this because I think iTunes and WMP v9 are neck and neck when it comes to functionality. I use iTunes on my G4 at home and I think it's a class A product thou I think it could steal some of the features of WMP to round it off. Here's a story on PC World's website about the new iTunes for Windows >>> http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,111168,00.asp

The iPod Manager software loaded okay, but I just couldn't get the iPod to link to my Windows XP Pro machine. (I figured this out later... see notes below...) I have the 4 pin firewire connector on my Sony PCG-GRV680 laptop, required by Apple to link the iPod up to my Vaio and it found the iPod okay but it kept wanting me to do an update everytime I unplugged and then replugged the firewire cord to my computer. It was very confusing. The same thing happened when I took the iPod back to the office and connected it to my PC tower with a 4 port 6 pin firewire card from Adaptec. I know this firewire card works fine because I've connected other firewire devices to it and have had no problems. So, I did a Restore using the iPod Manager which erases everything on the iPod and still didn't work. I was ready to head back to the store to get another iPod and thought I would do a soft reset... you perform a soft reset by holding down the MENU and Play/Pause keys until you see the Apple logo. That did the trick. The iPod was now working as I think Apple intended it... man... what a hassle that was.

So does that put me? No iTunes for my PC yet (drat) so I thought I'd do a search on the net to see if their wasn't anything else I could use. I found XPlay by MediaFour at MediaFour.com. XPlay has a trial version you can download right here to try for nothing. I did and it works just fine. I was dragg'in and dropp'in like a madman. Before I knew it I had 1500 songs on my little iPod. Nice! Thanks MediaFour. Nice interface and menus. Mikey likes it.

Okay, now the Apple version of the above diatribe... I took the iPod over to my Apple G4 tower (at home) and loaded up the Apple iPod CD. In a few short minutes I was synching songs back and forth. Apple obviously wants people "to think" that it's harder to use the PC than the Apple right? Yeah, right...

Something I didn't like about MusicMatch and the iTunes (on the Mac) was it assumes that you want to sync ALL your music files to and from your Mac/PC and the iPod. I think most people wouldn't. Like me I don't ALL my songs on the PC to sync over to my iPod.

 

Usage
Once you have the software loaded and you start using your iPod, the world opens up to you. You can listen to music, audio books, recorded radio talk shows just about anything that's recorded.

It's obvious to use. My iPod came charged with 1 bar out of 4 showing, so I thought I would play around with it. I pulled off all the stickers (one right on the front says, DON'T STEAL MUSIC. Wow, before I even start using it, I'm a thief. Thanks Steve'o). I hit the Menu button and the Apple logo shows up. After a second or two there's the menu. I start playing around with buttons and I'm a expert in about 2 minutes. Nice. Way to go Apple.

The iPod stores all your files (songs) on a little hard drive (a very little Toshiba 1.8 inch hard drive). When you power up the iPod it waits for you to select a Playlist or a song from the Browse menus. When you do, is turns on the little hard drive and starts coping the songs to a memory chip. The memory chip is about 20mb so thats about 5 songs/files. When it fills up the cache memory chip, it turns off the hard drive, parks the heads and saves battery power. The iPod then starts to play the songs from the cache memory.

This is a smart design. By caching the files this way, two major things are achieved.

1) it saves precious battery power. By coping the songs from the hard drive to the cache memory chip and playing the songs from there, it save lots of battery power because hard drives are little mechanical power hungry monsters, even when they are this small. If the hard drive was always in motion, the battery would go down quicker than the gas gauge in a 1971 Plymouth Roadrunner when you floored it...

2) if the hard drive were to remain in motion at all times, there is a greater risk of damage to the unit. I don't know if you've ever seen the inside of a hard drive, but imagine it like a very tiny old style record player. There's a record (hard drive platter) near the middle of the case and a needle that rides on the record to play the songs. Remember in the old days kids (you 20 somethings can skip this) when you had to walk a bit more softly to avoid the record from skipping when you were walking a little too near the record player? Well, you can do the same thing to a hard drive. By turning the hard drive in the iPod on then off in this way, it saves not only battery power but the drive itself from.

There might be a small bug you need to know about; the iPod has a 32mb memory chip inside that it plays your songs from. Lets say you have a audio book or large music file and it's about 50mb. The iPod will cache 32 megs of the file and then make the hard drive run continuously draining your battery at a much higher rate because the file doesn't fit onto the memory cache chip completely. You'll be lucky to finish half the book before your battery dies. Apple needs to figure this one out because I know there are a lot of book people that will be a little disappointed.

Another iPod oddity: re-charging when the batteries get low. Apple says, you need to use the 6 pin firewire cable (supplied) connected to a running computer for the charging to take place. You must leave the computer (Apple or PC) running for the duration of the charge. Enviro's aren't gonna like that... leave a power hungry Apple G4 running all night just to charge the little iPod... don't forget to turn off the sleep timer on your G4 like I did or you'll wake in the morning only to find that your little iPod is still hungry like a little bird with it's mouth open for more... The iPod won't charge from a PC or Mac that isn't turned on.

The other option is to simply plug in the travel/wall charger (supplied) to a outlet. That's what I do.

In case you're wondering, HP/Compaq iPaq handheld PDAs, which can also be used as MP3 players have a smarter technique for charging and synching data. They use a separate USB & AC adapter cable for synching and charging. This way when you want to travel, you just unplug the separate AC Adapter and off you go. HP/Compaq also sell a cable that charges and syncs like the Apple iPod setup. This setup also enables you to charge the ipaq when the PC is off and this is something Apple should adopt.

I almost forgot, you can't use the little converter that changes a 6 pin firewire connection to a 4 pin connector for charging. The extra two wires in the 6 pin are for power (duh). My Sony Vaio laptop has one of these 4 pin connectors. Good for synching, no good for charging... bummer.

Battery usage; Apple's website says you'll get 8 hours of use out the iPod. You might disagree with this the first two times you charge it. My experience is that it took 2 cycles of use and recharging before I saw 8 hours of battery life out of my iPod.

Anything that uses a rechargeable battery loses its ability to hold a charge over time. My experience with my cellphones, Blackberry and other devices suggest that you'll be calling Apple for suggestions in about a year. I hope I'm wrong about this.

Long term battery warning; anyone who has a cell phone will tell you that over time the rechargeable battery eventually goes bad. The iPod isn't immune this. Mention that to the salesman at the Apple store. Hopefully if enough people repeat it, it might filter up the channels, maybe even to Steve'o.

You'll will be happy to know that the guys over at PDASmart.com link to a product that was made for the older iPod, a battery upgrade. Before you send me an email to ask, Apple's stand on fixing your battery when it does fail to hold a charge is, they want you to buy or trade in for a new iPod... man... I guess Apple thinks we are all just rolling in money. Don't worry, I'm sure there will be a small industry out there offering third party upgrades to keep your iPod battery going.

Okay, all the negatives aside, the iPod is really really cool and easy to use device. Most especially if you have a Apple computer. I found the buttons a little too easy to accidentally touch, making it turn on the iPod or pausing a song when you didnt intend it to happen. The remedy for this is to make sure you use the Hold Switch religiously. You'll be better for it.

 

Crashing
I have had my little iPod crash a few times. What I mean is, I'll pick it up and try to navigate the menu list to browse for a Playlist and it just sits there. It did turn on when I touch one of the menu buttons or the touch wheel but after that, it didn't do anything. So, I have to do a two-fingered salute to reset it by performing the Press and hold of the MENU+Play/Pause keys... Apple guys love to harass PC guys about Windows always locking up and having to perform a three-fingered salute, lemme tell ya, my Macs have always locked up as much as my PCs.

 

Dropping the iPod
Ouch! I must report that dropping the iPod isn't recommended. While exercising on my True 400HRC treadmill, I accidentally pull on the headphone wire giving my iPod a sudden burst of momentum directly back onto the floor. It must have traveled about 6 feet at about 20 mile per hour. Crap! I yelled. I picked it up expecting to see a cracked screen or worse and I was amazed that there was nothing wrong at all! One hell of a trooper in my opinion. I don't recommend testing yours to see if it can withstand an idiot misusing it in this way. I had mine sitting one of the pockets on the dash of the treadmill when I should have had it in the carrying case that came with the iPod.

 

The Good
The BEST MP3 player out there bar none. No kidding.

The Bad
Charging and battery life over the long term.
The manual could be a bit better. Hey Steve, why not be one jump ahead and next time include a cool DVD movie instructional like for my Audi.

The Ugly
It isn't. One nicely done piece of hardware.

 

Conclusion
I think Apple will sell millions of these in spite of the hefty price. It's the best MP3 player out there. There a few bugs that can be worked out without a lot of fuss, but all things electronic and computer related do these days.

 

Michael Chukov


Notes

06.25.03 - Called Apple tech support to validate some of the information in our review above but the tech support person was just a humanHyperLink. All he would do is say, go to this site... https://depot.info.apple.com/ipod... At $49 per incident, that's one expensive hyperlink! Nothing hyper about it...

06.17.03 - I figured out what my problem was to get my iPod to see the PC... you have to format the iPod using the iPod software util that came on the CD using the iPod utility for the PC. The iPod comes from Apple formatted for use on a Apple computer, not a PC. That's why I was getting a error. Here's what you do; you load the iPod utility on the CD for the PC, then you need to perform a Restore on the iPod to initialize it. That makes it PC compatible (I know, nice thinking Apple. Thanks for telling us.). It's like they went out of their way to make it SEEM difficult to use it with a PC, making the Apple version of the software seem seamless...

 

 

iPod 15GB Model #M8946LL/A

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Headphones

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Charge/Sync cbl.

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Remote

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Power Block

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Power Block 2

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Power Block 3

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Pouch

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Dock

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Bottom

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Back

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Dock/Back

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Charge Setup

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Top

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Remote 1

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Remote 2

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Button Layout

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Tip: We have a pair of powered speakers by labtec in our workout room that we hooked up our old walkman to to listen to music while we exercise. The new iPod is great for this but if you want to do something similar, use the line-out connector on the iPod's dock instead of the headphone jack on the top of the iPod to pump your tunes. It sounds much better.
 

Tip: Another tip I like to tell anyone who has a device that is rechargeable is to try to run it down completely as much as you can, then stick it in the recharger. Don't worry, you won't lose your songs on the iPod, they are stored on the hard drive and hard drives hold their information even if power is absent for many many years.

Tip: I have found that when exercising, or jogging on the treadmill or outside that the buttons get pressed while the iPod is in the carrying case. To avoid this, make sure you use the Hold switch on the iPod to disable the touch sensitive button on the front. You could also use the iPod Remote. It's Hold switch works independently from the Hold switch on the iPod body. You can also raise and lower the volume, switch songs and Pause the sound all from the Remote.

Tip: Don't call Apple support until you really really need to. Why not? If you call straight away after you buy your iPod, then your 90-day warranty starts to tick away. When and if you do call, always tell them that you just bought it 2 weeks ago... Btw; they charge $49 per incident to help you with something and that incident has to be solved within 5 working days...

Wishlist

A gizmo to allow anyone using a digital camera to download pics to the iPod. This would be a really really cool add-on!

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Resources

ipodhacks.com
Website

pdasmart.com
Website

Apple: iPod Specs
Apple Webpage

iPod Photo Gallery
Apple Webpage

QuickTime VR Demo
Apple Webpage

iPodSync
For Syncing Contacts, Calendar, Notes, Etc...

QuickTime VR Demo
Apple Webpage

 

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iPod Add-On's

FM Radio iTrip(tm) for iPod by Griffen Technology

XPlay PC Syncing Software by MediaFour

 

 

iPod Specs

Weight:
6 oz

Battery:
8 hours plus, then after a while, down to 4 or 5.

Charging Time:
1 hour gets you 80+%. If you want a full charge, 3 to 4 hours.

Dimensions:
4.1" x 2.4" x .062"

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