With the 2007 Macworld Expo and International CES now nearly complete, iLounge has selected the winners of its 2007 Best of Show Awards, designed to recognize excellence in iPod-related hardware, software, and accessories. As was the case last year, a team of five iLounge editors canvassed everything iPod we knew to be out there and came prepared with extra awards, planning to select as many as 20 winners if we believed they were all deserving. By selecting fewer – only 10 full award winners, and 4 Innovation winners – while again declining to issue awards to a number of new product concepts that didn’t strike us as fully realized, we tried to reward only the cream of the crop. Here are the winners:
Full Best of Show Award Winners:
The idea of an iPod-ready single-DIN head unit for cars isn’t new, but Alpine’s X001 Digital Media Receiver ($450) gets virtually everything right, using its own colorful, easy to read screen to let you quickly navigate any Dock Connector iPod’s content. With Alpine’s high-speed browsing technology and easy-to-read fonts, X001 makes premium iPod car integration as efficient as we’d like – one of two great mainstream solutions we saw at the show. What’s missing? Video support, but for the people targeted by this particular unit, it’s probably not necessary.
We’ve seen dozens of portable iPod speaker systems at the show, but Altec’s iM600 ($150) has the right general combination of features: a universal iPod dock, nice remote control, rechargeable 12-hour battery, two-inch drivers, an FM tuner (with hidden but expandable antenna) and a sleek, fold-closed design that’s easy to pack. Missing in action: a carrying case; if you’re concerned about scratching it, you’ll need to buy one separately.
There are lots of forgettable cases for iPods at the show, which is why we really found ourselves drawn to Belkin’s new Acrylic and Brushed Metal Case ($25 or less) for the second-generation iPod nano – a fun plastic enclosure with a colored circular brushed metal front. With an included metal carabineer clip, it can easily be attached to your clothes while you walk around.
While Elgato’s EyeTV 2.3.3 ($80) TV recording and video management software isn’t entirely new – it’s built upon last year’s impressive EyeTV 2 – the newest version includes a 640×480 iPod encoder, proper TV show tagging with full population of iTunes fields, and a clean full-screen graphic interface that wasn’t in the prior rendition. Best of all, you don’t have to buy a brand-new product to get it – it’s a free upgrade from the prior version, and now included with many TV tuning devices, reasons we felt it was especially deserving of a Best of Show award.
The last version of Drive + Play – Harman’s premium car kit, which came complete with its own iPod-like but larger screen, a scrolling knob, and a hub with line-out and two FM transmission options – was very impressive. Now Drive + Play 2 ($400) improves considerably on all of its predecessor’s features, using a better, now color screen, a wireless, nicer scrolling knob that can be mounted anyplace in your car, and a really small hub. Compatible with virtually any car on the planet, and capable of displaying both the iPod’s current music and album art, the unit also can be used with Bluetooth and Sirius Satellite Radio modules, planned for sale separately at around $120 a piece.
The Bluetooth headphone market has been in flux for the last year, sunk by clunky Bluetooth 1.2 headsets, then buoyed by recent, less expensive Bluetooth 2.0 offerings. iSkin’s new Cerulean Bluetooth Earphones ($130 or less) are probably the best compromise package we’ve seen so far – comfortable black Bluetooth 2.0+EDR earpieces joined by a thin, length-manageable cable, delivering 8 hours of battery life and pretty good sound quality in a very lightweight package. Good-looking enough not to make people laugh at you, they come with an iPod transmitter that can also be used with your PC or Macintosh, so long as you’re willing to spring for an inexpensive USB adapter cable.
Another worthwhile Bluetooth accessory is based upon older Bluetooth 1.2 techology, but still caught our attention as an impressive design for iPod nano users. Lenntek’s Hookup-Lanyard ($70) is a lanyard-styled headphone and microphone attachment for use with either the first- or second-generation iPod nano, enabling millions of current Bluetooth 1.1/1.2-ready cell phone users to interrupt their iPod music automatically when calls come through. Easy to wear and with audio quality like Apple’s pack-in earphones, Hookup-Lanyard’s not a totally new idea when broken down into its parts, but the implementation, convenience, and price point make this an attractive option for nano users.
We’re not going to tell you that NXT’s flat-panel speakers deliver superb audio quality, or that we haven’t seen hundreds of iPod speakers over the past few days. But Macally’s new TunePro ($130) stood out for a few reasons: its front mirror surface delivers an eye-catching industrial design, especially with a digital clock subtly integrated into its top right corner, while FM radio tuning and a single, simple alarm provide more features for the dollar than earlier flat-panel offerings from companies such as Kensington. As an office desk clock and iPod speaker, it’s a cool design; just note that there’s no remote control.
Does the iPod shuffle need protection? The debate’s been raging since the first shuffle in 2005; we’ve generally thought the answer was “yes.” And having already damaged our own shuffle, we wish Power Support’s Silicone Jacket for iPod shuffle ($15 or less) was around back then. It’s no surprise that the iPod’s first silicone case maker is the first to properly protect the newest iPod: unlike all of the other silicone covers we’ve seen for the shuffle, Silicone Jacket is actually a true case, covering the face, top, bottom, sides and back of the shuffle with resilient surgical-grade rubber, yet leaving the clip and headphone port usable. Already available in Japan, the company may offer three-packs for $30 in the near future.
Though there are many reasons users of CD, DVD, or Blu-Ray burners will want the latest version of Roxio’s Toast software, TiVotoGo support is the biggest selling point for iPod users. Now Toast 8 Titanium ($100) can wirelessly import movies directly from your Series 2 TiVo, promising superior transfer speeds if you’ve used TiVo’s official Wireless G Adapter, and transfer those movies to your iPod, or directly onto your choice of disc formats. Batch downloads can be scheduled, too, eliminating your need to sit by the computer for hours at a time, and enabling you to have last night’s shows ready to go in the morning. Toast gets better every year, and this year’s TiVo additions were unexpectedly cool.
The following iLounge Best of Show 2007 Awards were presented to companies with innovative and impressively executed products that our editors felt were deserving of recognition despite higher-than-mainstream price levels.
What else needs to be said about Apple’s first mobile phone? Each of its three components – smartphone, true video iPod, and wi-fi ready Internet device – comes close to fulfilling the dreams Apple’s fans have had about separate devices for literally years, without forcing users to carry three different items. But at a starting price of $499 – with a two-year Cingular contract, and a mere 4GB of storage capacity – the initial iteration of iPhone will be a lustworthy but less than mainstream new innovation.
Your iPod has just been freed from its favorite speaker system, and you’ve just gained a 100-foot wireless remote in the form of a transmitter-laden iPod. That’s the proposition behind Belkin’s Bluetooth Dock Adapter for iPod, which promises to turn last year’s great speaker systems into better values than most of today’s offerings. The only hiccups: 5-hours of battery life at maximum, and at $130, the Dock Adapter’s a bit pricey for what it does. But with impressive Bluetooth 2.0+EDR-quality sound and that great transmitting distance, you mightn’t mind.
Nichey? Yes. But Belkin’s TuneStudio – a four-channel mixing board that’s a few steps behind portable iPod recorders we’ve previously seen – enables you to create nearly pro-quality multi-person or multi-instrument recordings direct to your iPod, PC or Mac. With a beautiful industrial design and the ability to properly equalize and gain control your audio sources, TuneStudio’s only limit is its two-channel downmixing; the $180 sticker won’t make it an impulse buy, but given what’s inside, the price seems reasonable.
Listen to your iPod’s music through stylish stereo speakers, suspended on an aluminum and plastic base. Then pick up one or both of the speakers and walk 100 feet away with it – another room, indoors, outside, whatever, and it’ll still work. Put one speaker in one room, another in a different room – rechargeable batteries and digital packet wireless technology inside let you wander without any cables. Even given many other new iPod wireless speaker options, Griffin’s Evolve stood out, making portable speakers fun and cool – the only question is whether you’ll be willing to pay the projected $350 price for them, which is in the same ballpark as other wireless options, just a bit too rich for most users’ blood.
Congratulations to all of this year’s winners!