Most people think of the iPod as a sophisticated digital music player that fits in a pocket or on a belt, but accessory makers have been working overtime to make Apple’s invention do even more: it can now store digital photos, record audio, serve as an exercise companion, and display books, news, and other text content on its screen. Below, we’ve highlighted the best accessories and software to help you take advantage of the iPod’s bonus capabilities.
We also wanted to introduce you to some other options to expand your enjoyment of the iPod, ranging from third-party software that will help you better organize your music, to Apple software that will let you create your own iPod-compatible music. And finally, we look at a collection of free online troubleshooting resources you can consult in the unlikely event of any problems with your iPod, its accessories, or its software.
Part I: So You Want to Buy an iPod?
Part II: Five Steps to Using Your iPod
Part III: Necessary Accessories for Typical Users
Part IV: Awesome Accessories for Power Users
Part V: From Photos to eBooks, Creating Content and Troubleshooting
Part V: From Photos to eBooks, Creating Content and Troubleshooting (June 11, 2004)
Digital Photo Storage Accessories
Since most people have at least a little storage capacity left after storing music on their iPods, Apple initially made it easy to use the device as a portable hard drive for computers. Last year, Apple took the idea further, teaming up with Belkin to develop a travel-friendly media card reader that transfers digital photographs onto an iPod (not an iPod mini) without computer intervention. Compatible with CompactFlash, SmartMedia, Memory Stick, MMC and SD Card, Belkin’s Media Reader ($109.99, available for $81 and up) is a good solution for casual photographers, but harder-core professionals have complained that it’s too slow for their massive data storage needs. Make sure you can recharge your iPod’s battery after using it, too. On balance, we prefer the slower and more compatible Media Reader to Belkin’s newer and faster Digital Camera Link ($89.99, available for $60 and up), which has a wider variety of compatibility and battery drain issues.
| Belkin Media Reader
The Good: Relatively inexpensive photograph transfer device with good build quality and stable functionality.
The Bad: Other media (music, movies, text) not officially supported for transfer off of memory cards, and iPod’s battery life limits device’s usefulness for heavy music listeners.
| Digital Camera Link
The Good: Small device, good price, relatively fast transfers of digital media cards onto the iPod from certain digital cameras.
The Bad: Only compatible with certain digital cameras, drains power of camera, iPod and itself in process.
As of today, iLounge has reviewed three separate voice recording devices for the iPod, two from Belkin and one from Griffin. Our favorite is Griffin’s iTalk ($39.99), which gives your iPod a microphone and speaker system capable of recording and playing back lectures, conversations, or dictation sessions. While none of these recorders is capable of CD-quality music recording – a limitation imposed by the iPod hardware – they do provide useful voice sampling technology and a likely glimpse at what future iPods will be capable of doing.
Notably, like the digital photo storage accessories above, voice recorder devices are only compatible with the full-sized iPod, and not the iPod mini.
| Griffin iTalk
The Good: Excellent microphone-based recording without a need for user adjustments, includes internal and external input/output options in one inexpensive device.
The Bad: Speaker output is only acceptable, 8 KHz monaural sampling limitations of iPod limit utility of peripheral for many users.
We’ve seen many accessories intended to turn the iPod and iPod mini into workout companions, and frankly, we haven’t liked most of them – especially ones intended for the larger-sized iPod. But there are a few that proved better than the rest, starting with Teski’s Roadie ($19.95). The three-piece device we reviewed included an armband and a two-piece case with a hard plastic back and rubberized front, and was good enough to recommend as-was. Teski subsequently added a clear plastic screen protector to the case, only adding to their product’s value and protectiveness (and outdating one of our summarized product minuses below). It’s hard to get excited about any full-sized iPod armband, especially since the release of the iPod mini, but Teski’s is the best we’ve seen overall.
| Teski’s Roadie
The Good: Looks pretty good, serves intended purpose better than most competitors.
The Bad: Face of iPod is exposed to the elements and possible drop damage. Inexpensive and rides on the fine edge of feeling like it.
As a small but high-capacity workout companion, the iPod mini is hard to beat. Two companies have developed significantly different but equally excellent workout accessories for the mini – Marware’s SportSuit Convertible ($34.95) includes a removable armband, a full neoprene iPod mini case, and a proprietary detachable front flap. DLO’s Jam Jacket Pro mini ($24.99) also includes a removable armband, but the iPod mini case is instead made from silicone rubber and has limited front protection. While DLO’s case looks cooler on or off your arm, Marware’s case is more protective; we’ll leave it to you to determine which best fits your personal needs.
| Marware SportSuit Convertible mini
The Good: Good protection on all sides, matching detachable lid works well, choice of colors, the safest choice for workout purposes.
The Bad: Still bulks up the iPod mini, isn’t as stylish as the Jam Jacket Pro mini.
| DLO Jam Jacket Pro mini
The Good: Snug-fitting, easy to remove cases with screen protection and an affordable armband option.
The Bad: No Click Wheel or top protection, and certain users may prefer other small missing features.
Cool iPod Software
Though Apple has developed and documented many of the iPod’s features, third-party software developers have added all sorts of other cool tricks to the iPod’s repertoire. Jeff Harris’ program iPodlibrary imports eBooks onto an iPod so that they can be read on the go, and iPodSoft’s iStory Creator lets you play and create interactive text adventures similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure book series.
If you prefer lighter reading, iPodSoft’s iPod Agent and GoogleGet programs download news feeds from the Internet for easy viewing on the iPod: GoogleGet pulls news stories from Google News, while iPod Agent gets data from other (RSS) news feeds, including iLounge’s latest news, as well as horoscopes, weather, and movie showtimes for three different countries (U.S., Canada and U.K.).
PodQuest (for Mac OS X) even lets you download driving directions from MapQuest to the iPod, a handy little trick.
Several programs, including EntourageNotes, iPod Agent, iPodsync, K-pod and Outpod, enable you to download your e-mail Inbox to the iPod for easy reference – a nice feature if you want to catch up on long messages you’ve had to skip, but of course, there’s no way to type responses while on the go.
Finally, there are a number of programs that can help you manage your music collection. Though you can search iLounge’s extensive Downloads libraries for whatever suits your needs, a number of featured programs (including PodUtil) enable you to perform the elusive feat of copying music from your iPod to your computer – something that Apple’s official software doesn’t support. We also recommend two utilities (ID3X ver. 2.61 and ID3Tag-It 3.1.4, available via Google search) that can make permanent changes to the song, artist, album, genre and other (ID3) supporting details of your music tracks.
Creating Your Own Content
It’s one thing to listen to and look at other people’s content on your iPod, and entirely another to create your own. Mac users are at a distinct advantage because of the release of GarageBand, a music-making application now included with every new Apple computer (and alternately available in a package with other iLife applications for $49). GarageBand lets you easily create studio-quality audio tracks with layer upon layer of instrumentation and vocals. When you’re done mixing your songs, you can send them to your iPod and to friends… or even try to score a recording contract.
If you’re more interested in photographs, artwork, or text content relating to the iPod, consider joining the iLounge Discussion Forums and submitting art or photos to our huge international galleries. The world of iPod lovers will appreciate your contributions and make special efforts to answer your questions whenever you have them.
Most people find that the iPod is incredibly easy to use – an impressive feat of user interface engineering given its power and huge storage capacity. But sometimes people have problems – it may appear (incorrectly) that you’ve lost music on your iPod, or there might be an unfamiliar icon on the iPod’s screen.