The following is a transcript of questions provided by listeners to the Your Mac Life radio broadcast on Wednesday, April 27, 2005 and read by host Shawn King, as well as answers provided by iLounge’s Editor-in-Chief Jeremy Horwitz. To listen to the original broadcast, use this link with QuickTime, or visit the Your Mac Life site for other options. Thanks to everyone who submitted questions, and if you still have questions after reading this transcript, be sure to check out the iLounge Buyers’ Guide 2005, or submit questions to our weekly Ask iLounge column.
Question (Shawn King): “What is the single best iPod case?”
Answer (Jeremy Horwitz): “That’s a really tricky one. So many people have different ways they use their iPods. The case we like the ‘most’ overall depends on the iPod you own. If you have a full-sized iPod, the one you’re going to want to take a look at is from Vaja – they make a case called the i-Volution, which is a leather case – a premium case, on the expensive side, ranging from $60 and up – but it has a screen protector that’s fantastic, a wheel protector that’s fantastic, and it makes the iPod (which already starts out looking beautiful) look like a million bucks…”
Q: “A listener asks, ‘iPod Socks, obviously?’ “
A: “iPod Socks, not so much a fan of those. They’re sorta generic; I get the sense that they came out as a marketing gimmick for the holidays, just to see how many people would cough up the cash for them. The ones that we like if you have a smaller iPod… an iPod mini, the case that we like the most is from a company called Power Support. They make a case called the Silicone Jacket Square Type, which actually turns the iPod mini into a rectangular block of (rubber) – it’s just really, really beautiful. It’s inexpensive, around $22 or so, and also includes a screen protector and a wheel protector. It’s wicked.
For the iPod shuffle, there’s a whole bunch of cases coming out right now. We’ve seen a really good one from Power Support in the Silicone Jacket, and there’s also a nice new one we’ve seen from XtremeMac that just came out. It really depends on whether you really want to bother protecting the shuffle – there’s a lot of debate about that now.”
Q: “Is there any hard case for an iPod that will in fact protect your iPod from any sort of significant fall? None of the manufacturers will admit to that.”
A: “There are a few different ones that are made – and again, it depends again on which model of iPod you own – there’s a company called OtterBox, which I think I mentioned on a previous show, they make a hard case that’s really hard-core shock-resistant; the iPod mini version is even fully water-proof, but the full-sized iPod case that they make is water-resistant. Those cases, if you’re looking for one that’s not going to sustain any sort of shock damage, that’s the best that we’ve seen. There’s also a really good one… the iPod Armor case from Matias, another one that’s anti-shock, will absorb a hit. It’s made from aircraft-grade aluminum. But unlike the one I just mentioned from Otterbox, it’s very difficult to use your iPod’s controls when inside.”
Q: “This is an iTunes question. Is there a way to see more than one image of album art for a single song? Or is there a third-party app?”
A: “There actually is. When you take a look at the iTunes album art display window, which pops up in the lower left corner of the screen, that’s only going to show you one picture. For a long time, people have suspected that there’s only one shot associated with each album or song you purchase or have. It turns out that if you drop multiple pictures into that window, each one of those pictures winds up getting stored within iTunes, so you don’t have to go out and get a third-party application or buy anything special to do it. Just drag and drop pictures into that window, and a set of arrows will appear on the left and right sides of the titlebar right above the picture. You can scroll through the pictures and change to different pieces of album art. The only problem will be displaying them on your iPod photo, but they look really good in iTunes.”
Q: “We’ve heard some reports from our friends at Griffin that the first-generation iPod photo does not work well with their AirClick. Have you heard any indication from any other company that’s making peripherals for that particular model of iPod that they’ve had issues too?”
A: “Well, the weird thing about that particular subject is that we actually talked with Griffin – we noticed that there was an issue with the first-generation iPod photo – and Griffin was one of the companies that was willing to step up and say, ‘there actually is an issue of some sort here here. We’re not sure exactly what it is, but this is what we’ve discovered.’ Other companies have not been so forthcoming, so we’ve had to do testing on various peripherals, and we’ve seen that anything that’s an RF-based remote control that is going to be inserted into the top of an iPod photo (first-generation) is going to suffer some sort of degradation of RF performance as a consequence.
There’s another company out there that makes a product called the RemoteRemote 2 – Engineered Audio – that also has the exact same issue as the AirClick, and there’s also a product from ABT called the iJet, another RF-based remote control, and that suffers a bit when it’s plugged into the iPod photo. So it’s not just Griffin products; it’s pretty much any RF remote control you plug into the top there. It seems to be some noise or something like that, that the original iPod photo put out, and Apple then somehow quietly remedied it in the next one. I don’t think a lot of companies are coming out and saying, ‘hey, our products aren’t working quite as well with the iPod photo first-generation,’ so it’s pretty much up to reviewers and customers to discover that for themselves.”
Q: “What does [Jeremy] consider to be the best FM transmitter in terms of sound quality and sound distortion?”
A: “That is a really, really tricky one…”
Q: “I don’t think so; I think the answer is ‘none of them.’ By the nature of what you’re doing, you can’t get good quality sound and lack of sound distortion just by the simple nature of what you’re trying to do.”
A: “Well, I think you’re starting with exactly the right point, which is that anyone who’s buying an FM transmitter and expecting pristine sound quality out of it is going to be disappointed. FM transmitters inherently are going to have some base level of static, and we have not heard one yet that sounds truly spectacular when you plug it into your iPod and then try to transmit it to your car stereo or your home stereo.
Just this last week, we wound up getting two units in from a company called Newer Technology – and these are probably the best ones we’ve heard overall in terms of sound quality and lack of interference, but even they have their own little issues. One of them is that you can’t tune them to any other channel besides 87.9, so if you have a car radio that for whatever reason starts at 88.1, or a home stereo with that sort of limitation, you’re completely out of luck with them. The other issue with them is that there’s a RoadTrip! Plus… the other is called the RoadTrip! 87.9; the Plus one has a charger built-in, the standard 87.9 does not have a charger built-in. The standard 87.9 sounds as good as it gets. If you plug in the Plus version – the one that we received, at least, and the company says they might be able to have fixed this before the production run went out; we’re not exactly sure – the one we tested had a little bit of noise whenever you move the cable around.
So, you know none of the FM transmitters are going to sound perfect. The best we’ve seen so far is the RoadTrip! 87.9, but then again it has some limitations and you can’t tune it to other stations, and you also can’t (right now) use it indoors. It’s only for use in your car. That’s the best answer I can give you right now on that one.”
Q: “The best solution is always going to be a wired solution where you’re actually plugging your iPod into a head unit on your CD player. Then, the next up is a cassette adapter – Griffin is coming out with these SmartDecks in the future – but you can go to Radio Shack and get a $20 cassette adapter, those are your best solutions. When it comes to wanting the best possible sound, wire is always going to be better – at least, until technology changes – than unwired.
The other comment I want to make is, why are some of these companies sending you guys, and Macworld and other companies, pre-production units that don’t seem to work properly, when you guys review them, you say, ‘these things don’t work properly,’ then these companies then back off on their claims by saying ‘it’s a pre-production unit?’…”
A: “To be diplomatic about this, I will say that perhaps companies don’t understand when we put out the explicit message (that we did at the end of last year) that we’re not looking for anything other than final production units that are ready to ship, representative exactly of whatever they’re putting out to customers. We’ve tried to make that as clear as possible with everybody, and in every case we get something that is later claimed to be a supposedly-not-representative-of-final-production-model, we always go back and say, ‘we tried our best, we told you explicitly we didn’t want anything but final units, and then you sent us something anyway.’
From a reviewer’s standpoint, it’s difficult; I’m trying to be diplomatic and not say that anyone’s just obscuring whatever the truth is, but the facts speak for themselves. We get the products that we get, we always do our best to try and report accurately on them, and if for whatever reason the company has something different to say, we let them tell their stories. If customers [are disappointed] when they receive their actual units, then at least we’ve done our job to try and inform them of whatever we’ve found.”
Q: “What about Contour’s Showcase? I’m not a case guy, I’ve always said the best case for me is a pair of Levi’s; Jeremy, have you checked out the Contour Showcases?”
A: “Yeah, the Contour Showcases are fantastic cases. They are a hard case that sort of straddles the line between practicality and protection; they protect virtually all of an iPod – the only things they really leave exposed are the controls of a given iPod and the top and bottom ports. The rest is encoated in a hard acrylic plastic, with rubber mounts on the sides as well. Those cases do a really, really good job of protecting your iPod, except for the parts I’ve mentioned, and they’re very easy to use with the controls on the iPod. That’s a solution you’d want to consider if you don’t mind scratching the top, bottom, and wheel of your iPod, or if you don’t mind taking the risk that those things are going to get scratched up.
The products that I recommended earlier have the advantage of protecting every inch of your iPod as hard cases, and not giving you any opportunity to see scratch damage or anything else.”
Q: “I don’t even know if you’re gonna answer this – this is gonna be interesting – are there products or accessories out there that you guys just completely avoid? Whether you reviewed them negatively or not, is there a product category or a product out there that you don’t think is worth a dime, let alone $29.95?”
A: “We tend to try and find a way to review everything we possibly can. We have no desire to exclude an entire category of products based on our conceptions of what may or may not be worthwhile. If there’s a product that we receive that is really fundamentally terrible, we have to make the decision whether to review it or not to even cover it at all, and we make decisions on a sort of case-by-case basis. If it’s something that’s being very aggressively advertised or misadvertised, we may review it simply because we think it’s our duty to put the information out there. But typically, we won’t skip an entire category of products on the basis that it’s not worthwhile.
In the last week or two weeks, we’ve started reviewing iPod shuffle clips, for example. We’re talking about basically a piece of metal or plastic that just fits onto the bottom of an iPod shuffle and holds it on your shirt. We ourselves may have a view as to whether or not it’s a fantastically worthwhile product, but we try to give them the same sort of fair treatment that we give every other product on the site, and that is: ‘there must be an audience out there for them,’ so we like to cover them if we can.”
Q: “Last question… has he ever heard of iPods losing battery power when turned off for long periods of time? If I use my iPod every day, the battery lasts about 10 hours. If I turn it off for a couple days, then back on, then off, then back on, I get about 2 hours max.”
A: “Yeah, that can happen. iPods unfortunately don’t have a true ‘off’ switch; there’s no way to just turn them off and keep them off. At all times, except when they go into complete shutdown mode when the battery is totally discharged, they are draining some battery power. They have a clock inside that they need to keep going, and unfortunately they sit at all times waiting for you to press a button and reactivate the screen, your music playback, whatever you might have been in the middle of doing.
So it’s totally normal for an iPod to discharge over the course of a few days’ time; if it gets to the point where after completely charging the thing, you can’t get it to run for whatever its originally stated battery time was, that’s the point at which you might need to make contact with Apple, check with them, and see what the story is.”