Which iPods, iPhones, and Add-Ons We Traveled With, and Why

Question: You just returned from a trip to Asia. Since you have access to every iPod on the market, plus the iPhone, I’d be curious to know which you brought along? And what accessories did you consider essential?

Answer: When I’ve previously traveled internationally, I typically brought only one iPod for my daily use. This trip was really different. Our collection currently includes all five of the current iPod shuffles, all five iPod nanos, one 80GB and one 160GB iPod classic, and a 16GB iPod touch. My wife and I both have iPhones. And we also have access to all of the past iPods, minis, nanos, and shuffles too.

To make a long story short, we couldn’t find the right single iPod for this two-week trip. For reasons I’ll explain below, both of us took iPod classics, my wife brought her 60GB fifth-generation iPod, and I brought my iPhone.

We—and our family members—are big fans of portable video display accessories such as Memorex’s iFlip and Sonic Impact’s Video-55. When we’re traveling by air, we prefer the iFlip because of its dual headphone ports, the rare situation when the Video-55’s superior speakers and included remote control don’t help it. Unfortunately, since Apple locked all of the new iPods from working with these and other video accessories, we couldn’t just bring our iPod classics, which would otherwise have been totally fine for the trip. My wife’s 5G iPod came along solely because it could provide video entertainment with the iFlip—she used the 80GB classic for her growing high-quality music collection.

I brought the 160GB iPod classic because it contains almost my entire iTunes library, which is now much too large to fit on my laptop’s internal hard drive, and because it has superb battery life—enough to last for the 16+ hours we were going to be spending in the air. The only problem is that I really don’t enjoy watching videos on the 2.5” screen; there’s no such issue with the iPhone’s 3.5” display, but that’s capped at only 8GB of capacity. Wouldn’t that make the 16GB iPod touch a smarter tote-along than the iPhone?

Normally, yes. But even after replacing our iPod touch two times—we’re now on our third—the screen still sucks. And by “sucks,” I mean that it really is not fun to watch videos on unless it’s being held at just the right angle. As of the last time I checked at an Apple Store, I was told by the manager and lead Genius that Apple is still not acknowledging these screen problems as an actual issue, despite whatever the company said to Walt Mossberg at the Wall Street Journal. Consequently, our third touch, a week 40 with a bad screen, is here to stay, but it never gets used. I realize that some people, probably lots of people, have units with working screens, but based on our experiences, there are days when I think our B- rating was too generous.

So the iPhone came along just in case I wanted to watch the occasional video from my pocket during the trip, and to see whether I could get it to jump onto any of Japan’s or Thailand’s cell phone networks. It’s not unlocked, but mid-trip I upgraded to software version 1.1.2 and began to see the Network Selection settings screen when I was in Thailand. Even with the international data roaming feature turned on, and trying everything from automatic to manual selection of the five GSM networks it found in Bangkok, it never succeeded in joining a Thai cellular network. Passing back through Tokyo with 1.1.2 on our way back to the United States, I tried again, and not surprisingly, the iPhone couldn’t join anything there either—Japan is basically a CDMA country and just not compatible with the hardware in the iPhone. South Korea and Israel are in a similar boat; it remains to be seen whether Apple will release an iPhone that works in these territories.

During the trip, I carried the iPhone around intermittently in Airplane Mode for light music and video playback, and briefly jumped onto the wireless networks at the two Tokyo Apple Stores when we were waiting for their doors to open. My classic and both of my wife’s iPods stayed unused in the hotels’ safes unless we were on planes. In the air, we used her 5G with the iFlip for videos, and I listened to music and turned on an Office episode or two on my classic. She used Sennheiser’s PXC450 Noise-Cancelling Headphones; despite bringing both my preferred prototype Ultimate Ears UE-11 earphones and Shure SE530s along, I spent most of the trip using JAYS’ tiny and convenient q-JAYS with an ifrogz Fitz adapter for the iPhone, occasionally flipping back to a standard Apple iPhone Stereo Headset.

What’s wrong with this picture is fairly obvious. The two of us had to carry around more than we wanted, solely because there isn’t a high-capacity iPod with a 3.5” screen, and there also isn’t a current generation iPod that works with all the video accessories we have and really like to use. No typical user would have access to all of the hardware we do, nor the desire to try and figure out which “Made for iPod” accessories work or don’t work with the new iPods they were thinking of buying. It’s a real disincentive to buy an iPod right now, say nothing of a reason to not buy (or disappointedly return) accessories.

So, during this trip, we voted with our pocketbooks. Unlike past trips to Asia, where we’ve typically picked up and spotlighted new iPod accessories that intrigued us, we decided not to buy anything this time. The only iPod-related money we spent was on content: my wife bought the new Eagles CD in Thailand and I listened to Jay-Z’s American Gangster, neither of which are available on iTunes. With rare exceptions, we really didn’t take notes on most of the accessories we saw, and we may well be reaching a point where that market is becoming commoditized and boring enough that new releases don’t really matter that much, anyway. Right now, we’re hoping to be really wowed by something amazing at CES or Macworld Expo in January; if not, the days of the newsworthy iPod accessory may be coming to an end.

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