Review: Apple iPod from HP (iPod+hp)

Pros: Still the best value iPods released to date, with Apple’s best control scheme and extended (12 hour or more) battery life.

Cons: Click Wheel works a bit better than it looks, new features besides battery and Click Wheel are largely trivial, still no user-replaceable battery.

Review: Apple iPod from HP (iPod+hp)

You’ve already seen our New Users’ and Power Users’ reviews of Apple’s fourth-generation iPod (iLounge rating: A-/B+). In order to address frequent questions from our readers, we have added this new supplementary review of the Apple iPod from HP (iPod+hp), Hewlett-Packard’s co-branded and repackaged version of the fourth-generation iPod.

Though we won’t completely re-review the product, which is virtually identical to the hardware we’ve already reviewed in the articles above, we use this review to spotlight the differences between the Apple and HP versions of the fourth-generation iPod. Hopefully, this article will put to rest questions such as “what’s the point of a HP-branded iPod?”, “why would Apple (or HP) want to do that?”, and “is there any real difference between the two pieces of hardware?”

Business Realities

The simple answer to the first two questions is this: Apple gains additional iPod distribution, marketing resources, and market presence from its iPod partnership with HP. In other words, more stores carry iPods, more television, magazine, and web advertisements mention the iPod name, and more people wind up with iPods. Additionally, as a result of the Apple-HP alliance, iTunes now comes pre-installed on HP’s popular Windows PCs, and HP got to do the legwork to make iTunes compatible with Microsoft’s Windows XP Media Center – the piece of software called HPTunes.


All of these assets, plus additional cashflow and other behind-the-scenes details that are not immediately apparent, are Apple’s benefits. From HP’s standpoint, the choice to sell iPods has benefits as well. Rather than competing against the iPod and sharing 2-4% market share with the likes of Dell, HP gets to share in potentially windfall profits and publicity from the industry’s leading music platform. It can also develop iPod-compatible accessories, such as printable stickers and printers, and enjoy immediate exposure from Apple if it desires. We’ll look at the first such product, HP’s Printable Tattoos for the 4G iPod, in a separate review.

The iPod+hp and You

Apple and HP aside, consumers win as well – in some ways more than others. As you can see from our photo gallery, the iPod+hp has its own packaging and instruction manuals geared exclusively towards the needs of PC users.

Each package now comes with a blue version of the iPod Windows software installer CD, plus a few new manuals and inserts developed by HP: there’s a 67-page iPod+hp User’s Guide, a 9-page Warranty and Support Guide, an ad for and the iTunes Music Store, an insert that discusses manual errors regarding the Shuffle Songs feature, and another titled Important Information that discusses what to do when the iPod doesn’t complete its startup process using the PC. The CD also includes a 32-page PDF called Tutorial with five extended lessons on using iTunes and the iPod. Finally, there’s a HP-developed Quick Start poster in every box – it’s very simplistic and general, with explanations of the iPod’s controls, pack-ins, and initial use. A multicolored wall poster image appears on its reverse side.


HP now also offers consumers an alternative to Apple’s customer support services. At almost the same time as HP’s release of the iPod+hp, Apple changed its own iPod telephone customer support policy to permit only a single free help call per iPod purchased – a draconian decision to say the least. Apple iPod buyers additionally need to pay a $29.95 shipping and handling fee for all repairs handled six months after the iPod’s purchase. By contrast, buyers of iPod+hp hardware get HP Total Care – a year of unlimited access to Hewlett Packard’s customer service hotline; while not as well-regarded as Apple’s, this is a better option after your second problem than none at all. Better yet, no ridiculous shipping and handling fees are applied for repairs during HP’s one-year warranty.

And then there’s the issue of off-the-shelf price. While both companies retail their iPods at around the same price (40 GB $399.00 (Apple), $399.99 (HP); 20GB $299.00 (Apple), $299.99 (HP)), HP’s iPods have been appearing at fairly significant discounts at online retailers since before they were released. With the exception of storewide coupons, few retailers diverge from Apple’s own iPod prices, and a $5 discount on an Apple iPod is unfortunately considered fairly aggressive. HP’s iPods have frequently appeared at discounts of $30-40 since their release, and even as much as $50 off, creating a better value for consumers since Apple’s and HP’s pack-ins are (other than manuals) the same.

Hardware Differences

The body of the iPod+hp is virtually identical to that of Apple’s own fourth-generation iPods. In footprint, thickness, colors, controls, screens and weight, they’re the same. HP’s iPod, however, has a smaller iPod logo, an additional HP Invent logo, and a unique serial number (ten digits, versus Apple’s eleven, starting with a number rather than a letter). HP’s also lacks the iPod’s C-Tick logo, which would show that the product complies with Australian standards for low electromagnetic (EMC) radio interference.


The text at the bottom of the two units differs as well. HP’s 40GB iPod reads:

Designed by Apple in California   Assembled in China MP000
Model: MP103 Product No. PE436A Rated 5-30Vdc 1.0A Max.
TM and (C) 2004 Apple Computer, Inc. All rights reserved.

Apple’s 40GB iPod reads:

Designed by Apple in California   Assembled in China
Model No.: A1059 EMC No.: 1995 Rated 5-30Vdc 1.0A Max.
TM and (C) 2004 Apple Computer, Inc. All rights reserved.

Other than their rear casings, the units are identical down to the legal notices in their firmware: HP gets no billing, even in the menus. And the 40GB unit we tested exhibits the same static and hard drive accessing audio defect we’ve heard in Apple’s standard fourth-generation iPods. So save for a slight cosmetic difference, the Apple iPod from HP is just the same as Apple’s iPod from a hardware standpoint.

Installation and Software

Though iLounge largely uses Macs with its iPods these days, we have previously noted that there are installation issues with the PC versions of iPod software – ones that previously could screw the iPod up a bit, but now have been reduced to mere annoyances. Unfortunately, those annoyances continue on the HP version of the iPod installation disc, which is basically the same as Apple’s save for an occasional hint in small text that the CD was customized for HP, and the inclusion of PDF versions of HP’s manuals.


We experienced the same iPod PC USB installation issues with the iPod+hp that we’ve experienced with older iPods – the need to format the iPod when it arrived, the odd “your hardware has been detected but may not function properly” messages from Windows XP, iTunes’ refusal to recognize the iPod when connected via USB, and so on.