Pros: A truly beautiful device. Nothing on the market can touch it as far as ease of use and style are concerned. If you are in the market for a portable music player -this is it, hands down.
Cons: The price is a little high. MUSICMATCH Jukebox’s iPod support is unpolished. Must have a FireWire capable PC to use.
Being a PC user, I was quite envious of the Apple camp when the original iPod was introduced. Here was a portable MP3 player that not only held tons of songs in a little package; it did it with style!
Soon enough, utilities such as EphPod and XPlay were introduced which allowed PC users to access the iPod from Windows. Sure they worked, but sideliners like myself were waiting for something a little more official.
Thanks Uncle Steve!
Rejoice! On July 17, 2002, at MacWorld in NYC, Steve Jobs introduced a new iPod lineup. To the surprise of many, included were models which officially support Windows. Is Apple conceding that Windows has a larger user base than Mac OS? Is it a Trojan horse to attract PC users to Apple hardware? Who cares? It just rocks!
Show Me the Goods
So, if you were an excited PC user on July 17th, you went on Apple’s website and ordered the PC iPod, twiddled your thumbs for a month and a half, and on the last week of August your little bundle of love arrived. When I say a little bundle, I mean a little bundle. Never would I suspect such power to come in such a tiny box.
In that box you will find the iPod, remote control, earphones, rapid charger, FireWire cable with 6pin to 4pin adapter, carrying case, and a CD-ROM package containing software and instruction manuals.
Even after playing with friend’s iPods and display models I was still amazed at the size and elegant design of the device. The front is a simple white design, consisting of only a display, five buttons, and a scroll pad. On the top of the unit is a covered FireWire port, earphones jack, and hold switch. The back is simply a sexy chrome finish with a large Apple logo in the center.
The key to Apple’s success in the computer market has always been simplicity. This philosophy is carried over to the iPod. Navigation, for instance, is extremely simple. The scroll pad is used to select menu choices, the center button acts as the enter key. To go back a level, simply hit the “menu” button and you jump up to the previous menu. Volume is adjusted via the scroll pad once a song is playing.
Music collections can be browsed by artist, album, song, genre, or composer. 90% of the time the song you want to hear is a couple spins of the scroll pad and a click or two away.
The new scroll pad (10GB and 20GB models only), which replaces the mechanical scroll wheel of the older iPods, works great. It’s quite sensitive to touch, but never over sensitive. It’s a big plus because it rids the iPod of any (superficial) moving parts.
It’s amazing to see the thought that went into the design of the iPod. I have seen other portable MP3 players that use to 10 buttons to do what the iPod does in 5. I think the problem with other devices is that they follow the cassette player metaphor. Apple saw no need for a separate stop button or volume controls. Less button-clutter leads to a clean, easy to use interface.
Included with the new 10 and 20 gigabyte iPods is a wired remote. It’s a simple device housing four buttons for playing, track navigation, and volume. On the side is a small hold switch.
After using the remote on my Nomad II for a couple of years the iPod remote feels a little heavy in comparison. Its chrome finish adds to its beauty but also gives it weight. Also, the clip does not have a large “bite” and I found it slipping off what it was holding onto more than once.
One last thing that threw me was the fact that the buttons maintain the same arrangement when the remote is flipped vertically. I find myself hitting pause when I mean to hit volume and back when I mean to press forward. A different button arrangement would have made it easier to know which button did what by touch alone.
Nonetheless, if you don’t want to whip out your iPod just to change the volume or jump to the next song, the remote is a necessity. While living in New York City the last thing I want to do is flash my shiny new iPod on the F train late at night. Kudos to Apple for including the remote, I find I cannot make due without it.
There’s not much to say about the case. It’s ordinary looking, has an attached belt clip and sports a U-shaped nylon design with thick backing. The case covers the iPod’s face and buttons, so using the remote is necessary when the unit is in the case.
One thing I do not like about the case is that it leaves the sides of the device exposed. It would break my heart to see the side of my iPod scratched, especially if it were in a case that’s supposed to be protecting it. My advice to anyone serious about keeping their iPod in good condition is to go online and look for a case that covers the entire device. The iPod case market is already fairly large, and many have been reviewed by iLounge.
However, if iPod preservation is not your top priority, the included case will certainly suffice.
Let’s Light This Candle
Well, never one to read a manual, the first thing I did after cracking open the box was to connect the iPod up to my PC. I needed to install software for Windows XP to recognize it as anything other than a mass storage device. In order to sync my songs, I needed to install MUSICMATCH Jukebox (MMJB).
You Sir, are no iTunes
MMJB is where the differences better the Windows and Mac iPods become noticeable. While Mac iPod users get to use iTunes, Apple’s premier media player, Windows users are stuck with the less popular (and less aesthetically pleasing) MMJB.
Weeks before my iPod arrived I downloaded an evaluation copy of MMJB to bang my MP3 collection into shape. MMJB contains many tools to help keep your collection’s ID3 tags and filenames in order. It is essential that your collection’s ID3 tags are in some semblance of order to avoid a messy, difficult to browse iPod. MMJB’s tools are easy to use and quite powerful. ID3 tags can be created from the MP3 file’s name or even looked up on the Internet through MUSICMATCH’s database.
After playing around with MMJB for a while I came to the conclusion that I would not want to use it for anything other than syncing my iPod. There are plenty of better media players available for Windows. On a whole MMJB, just seems clunky.
Upon hooking up my iPod to my PC the first time, the initial sync would not work. MMJB would become unresponsive and freeze about halfway into the sync. I had to use the “iPod Updater” utility included with the installation to re-initialize the device to get the sync started again. Something about the failed sync caused the device to no longer be recognized by MMJB.
After re-initializing the device, MMJB started adding songs to my iPod but suddenly it crashed with a Windows exception. After it crashed three times in a row, I figured out it was one particular song that was causing the problem. For some reason the presence of that song would crash MMJB on sync, so I deleted it from the playlist and the sync worked fine. After about 30 minutes my iPod was loaded with around 2500 songs (your mileage may vary) and I was ready to roll.
As an experiment, I added a couple of new songs to the playlist to see how long a small sync would take. I thought it would be much quicker. It took just short of 10 minutes to add the two new songs. The software seemed to be scanning the iPod 99% of the time, as if it were searching and updating its database. I hope this can be improved in a future version.
Despite all of the current bugs in MMJB, it’s still enough to get you syncing and listening to songs on your iPod. Hopefully, an update is not far away that will address the bugs I encountered.
But How Does It Sound?
All the well-thought design in the world is not going to matter if the sound is not up to par. I am happy to say the iPod sounds wonderful. The included earphones really crank out deep bass and crisp highs. I myself prefer “behind the head” style headphones, so I picked up a pair of Sony MDR-G52 headphones ($20 everywhere), which sound a bit “fuller,” compared to the included earphones.
Included with the 1.2 firmware (the software that runs on the iPod itself) are equalizer presets. There are 21 presets, including Classical, Electronic and everything in-between. I would have liked to see a user-defined preset, being I have my personal bass to treble preference I set on all my devices. No such luck, perhaps in an update.
Windows recognizes the iPod as a mass storage device. It assigns it a drive letter which allows it to be seen as an ordinary hard disk. The FireWire access to the drive is blazing. As an experiment, I copied a little over 100 megabytes of data to the iPod and it took roughly 10 seconds. It’s a perfect solution for transferring large files to and from the office.
Contacts & Calendar
The 1.2 version of iPod’s firmware contains PDA type functionality with support for contacts and calendars.
To add a contact, you must export it from a program like Outlook to a vCard file and copy the file to the “Contacts” folder on the iPod. Similarly, appointments can be added by exporting them into iCalendar or vCalendar format and copying them onto the “Calendar” folder on the device.
The only down side is that this can only be done one contact or appointment at a time. Mac users enjoy automatic synchronization via iCal. There’s no such luck under Windows. I am sure it’s only a short matter of time before some clever programmer writes a program to automatically sync contact and calendar information from Outlook, Notes, etc.
The Bottom Line
The iPod is without a doubt the current king of all portable media players. Now that it fully supports Windows there should be little reason to look at any other portable hard disk driven device. If you are unsure which model to go with, I recommend the 10GB model. For $100 more than the 5GB model, you get a remote, case, scroll pad, and did I mention double the space?
If you are a big-time music lover, or are going to be using the FireWire hard disk support to transfer large files, I recommend the 20GB model. It’s slightly thicker and heavier than the 5 and 10 gigabyte models but you the extra 2000 or so songs you can store more than makes up for it.
Company and Price
Company: Apple Computer, Inc.
Model: iPod 2G PC
Price: $299.00 (5GB), $399.00 (10GB), $499.00 (20GB)
Note: Accompanying screenshots for this review are available.