Review: Apple iPod from HP (iPod+hp)
Pros: Still the best value iPods released to date, with Apple’s best control scheme and extended (12 hour or more) battery life.
Cons: Click Wheel works a bit better than it looks, new features besides battery and Click Wheel are largely trivial, still no user-replaceable battery.
You’ve already seen our New Users’ and Power Users’ reviews of Apple’s fourth-generation iPod (iLounge rating: A-/B+). In order to address frequent questions from our readers, we have added this new supplementary review of the Apple iPod from HP (iPod+hp), Hewlett-Packard’s co-branded and repackaged version of the fourth-generation iPod.
Though we won’t completely re-review the product, which is virtually identical to the hardware we’ve already reviewed in the articles above, we use this review to spotlight the differences between the Apple and HP versions of the fourth-generation iPod. Hopefully, this article will put to rest questions such as “what’s the point of a HP-branded iPod?”, “why would Apple (or HP) want to do that?”, and “is there any real difference between the two pieces of hardware?”
The simple answer to the first two questions is this: Apple gains additional iPod distribution, marketing resources, and market presence from its iPod partnership with HP. In other words, more stores carry iPods, more television, magazine, and web advertisements mention the iPod name, and more people wind up with iPods. Additionally, as a result of the Apple-HP alliance, iTunes now comes pre-installed on HP’s popular Windows PCs, and HP got to do the legwork to make iTunes compatible with Microsoft’s Windows XP Media Center - the piece of software called HPTunes.
All of these assets, plus additional cashflow and other behind-the-scenes details that are not immediately apparent, are Apple’s benefits. From HP’s standpoint, the choice to sell iPods has benefits as well. Rather than competing against the iPod and sharing 2-4% market share with the likes of Dell, HP gets to share in potentially windfall profits and publicity from the industry’s leading music platform. It can also develop iPod-compatible accessories, such as printable stickers and printers, and enjoy immediate exposure from Apple if it desires. We’ll look at the first such product, HP’s Printable Tattoos for the 4G iPod, in a separate review.
The iPod+hp and You
Apple and HP aside, consumers win as well - in some ways more than others. As you can see from our photo gallery, the iPod+hp has its own packaging and instruction manuals geared exclusively towards the needs of PC users. Each package now comes with a blue version of the iPod Windows software installer CD, plus a few new manuals and inserts developed by HP: there’s a 67-page iPod+hp User’s Guide, a 9-page Warranty and Support Guide, an ad for HPshopping.com and the iTunes Music Store, an insert that discusses manual errors regarding the Shuffle Songs feature, and another titled Important Information that discusses what to do when the iPod doesn’t complete its startup process using the PC. The CD also includes a 32-page PDF called Tutorial with five extended lessons on using iTunes and the iPod. Finally, there’s a HP-developed Quick Start poster in every box - it’s very simplistic and general, with explanations of the iPod’s controls, pack-ins, and initial use. A multicolored wall poster image appears on its reverse side.
HP now also offers consumers an alternative to Apple’s customer support services. At almost the same time as HP’s release of the iPod+hp, Apple changed its own iPod telephone customer support policy to permit only a single free help call per iPod purchased - a draconian decision to say the least. Apple iPod buyers additionally need to pay a $29.95 shipping and handling fee for all repairs handled six months after the iPod’s purchase. By contrast, buyers of iPod+hp hardware get HP Total Care - a year of unlimited access to Hewlett Packard’s customer service hotline; while not as well-regarded as Apple’s, this is a better option after your second problem than none at all. Better yet, no ridiculous shipping and handling fees are applied for repairs during HP’s one-year warranty.
And then there’s the issue of off-the-shelf price. While both companies retail their iPods at around the same price (40 GB $399.00 (Apple), $399.99 (HP); 20GB $299.00 (Apple), $299.99 (HP)), HP’s iPods have been appearing at fairly significant discounts at online retailers since before they were released. With the exception of storewide coupons, few retailers diverge from Apple’s own iPod prices, and a $5 discount on an Apple iPod is unfortunately considered fairly aggressive. HP’s iPods have frequently appeared at discounts of $30-40 since their release, and even as much as $50 off, creating a better value for consumers since Apple’s and HP’s pack-ins are (other than manuals) the same.
The body of the iPod+hp is virtually identical to that of Apple’s own fourth-generation iPods. In footprint, thickness, colors, controls, screens and weight, they’re the same. HP’s iPod, however, has a smaller iPod logo, an additional HP Invent logo, and a unique serial number (ten digits, versus Apple’s eleven, starting with a number rather than a letter). HP’s also lacks the iPod’s C-Tick logo, which would show that the product complies with Australian standards for low electromagnetic (EMC) radio interference.
The text at the bottom of the two units differs as well. HP’s 40GB iPod reads:
Serial No.: JXXXXXXXXX
Designed by Apple in California Assembled in China MP000
Model: MP103 Product No. PE436A Rated 5-30Vdc 1.0A Max.
TM and (C) 2004 Apple Computer, Inc. All rights reserved.
Apple’s 40GB iPod reads:
Serial No.: 2XXXXXXXXXX
Designed by Apple in California Assembled in China
Model No.: A1059 EMC No.: 1995 Rated 5-30Vdc 1.0A Max.
TM and (C) 2004 Apple Computer, Inc. All rights reserved.
Other than their rear casings, the units are identical down to the legal notices in their firmware: HP gets no billing, even in the menus. And the 40GB unit we tested exhibits the same static and hard drive accessing audio defect we’ve heard in Apple’s standard fourth-generation iPods. So save for a slight cosmetic difference, the Apple iPod from HP is just the same as Apple’s iPod from a hardware standpoint.
Installation and Software
Though iLounge largely uses Macs with its iPods these days, we have previously noted that there are installation issues with the PC versions of iPod software - ones that previously could screw the iPod up a bit, but now have been reduced to mere annoyances. Unfortunately, those annoyances continue on the HP version of the iPod installation disc, which is basically the same as Apple’s save for an occasional hint in small text that the CD was customized for HP, and the inclusion of PDF versions of HP’s manuals.
We experienced the same iPod PC USB installation issues with the iPod+hp that we’ve experienced with older iPods - the need to format the iPod when it arrived, the odd “your hardware has been detected but may not function properly” messages from Windows XP, iTunes’ refusal to recognize the iPod when connected via USB, and so on. We eventually switched over to the FireWire cable in order to sort through the problems, but many PC users won’t have that luxury. While HP’s addition of the Important Information brochure provides a bandage for these problems (‘don’t worry, just disconnect your iPod and try again’), the real cure would be new software from either Apple or HP that doesn’t cause the problems in the first place. Now that there’s a dedicated PC company selling iPods, there’s no excuse for these problems to continue.
On a side note, we visited HP’s site to see whether there was any evidence of Apple’s most recent (October) firmware updater for all iPods, and we didn’t see any references on the pages we visited: clicking on Support & Drivers from HP’s pages and typing iPod led us to iTunes pages, not iPod firmware pages, and as of November 17, HP hadn’t acknowledged that the October updater existed. Perhaps the updater wasn’t considered important enough to fourth-generation iPod users to merit a mention, but it would be nice if HP linked to new updates as a matter of course.
To answer a few other common reader questions about the iPod+hp, we note the following.
- HP calls the iPod+hp a “Digital music player” on its packaging.
- It can be formatted for use with a Macintosh, just like any other iPod.
- Its installation CD does not include a Macintosh portion, so you’ll need to download free software from Apple if you want to do a full Mac install, and HP will not provide tech support for Mac-related problems.
- Its box uses apparently identical materials to Apple’s, but with slightly different fonts and no Macintosh markings.
- Photographs on the 40GB unit’s box are Apple’s stock 4G iPod product shot, and an image of a crowd listening to a street band, the drummer using white cartoony iPod headphones connected to an iPod on another panel. The phrase “You are your playlist.” appears on that panel, while the last side is a cursory blue specs sheet. HP’s lifestyle picture for the 20GB unit’s box is a woman rocking out in a room with the iPod’s white headphones, hair flying in the air.
From our perspective, there’s certainly no reason for the typical PC user to prefer an Apple-branded iPod over a HP-branded one; Hewlett-Packard’s iPod+hp is functionally identical, has only insignificant physical differences on its rear casing, frequently sells at a lower price and includes better warranty and support coverage than Apple’s own iPod. Those few problems we have identified with the iPod+hp - mainly software issues - are also problems with Apple’s version, and though we would strongly hope to see HP take a leadership role in addressing them on behalf of their PC customers, both companies could do better in this regard. In our book, Apple’s iPod from HP rates the same as Apple’s iPod from Apple: an A- for new iPod users, and a B+ for more tech-savvy ones.
Though the current HP offering is very similar to Apple’s, the iPod+hp definitely represents another good option for potential iPod owners. That said, since HP previously aspired to offer a blue version of the full-sized iPod, we hope that it will consider further differentiating its iPod offerings through color and pricing. Customers - particularly iPod fans - love choices.
View more photos in the iPod+hp Gallery
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the “best book about law school - ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.