iPod: 3rd Generation, by Apple
Posted: 8-Jan-2004

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Apple Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Judd Spitzer Class: HARDWARE

After much consternation, I did it! I broke down and purchased an iPod. It wasn't that I didn't want one of those sleek musical devices that exude coolness. It was more of a cost analysis issue, and I'll get into that in a bit.

Overview
The 3rd Generation iPod, by Apple Computer, is a fully functional firewire hard drive with firmware enabling it to play a variety of music formats, including MP3, AAC, and WAV. The unit itself is smaller than a deck of playing cards, and has a monochromatic display with backlit capabilities, enabling a user to view the contents of music on the device. The interface has no moving parts, but rather uses a touch-based technology, similar to trackpad technology. The back of the iPod is a shiny stainless steel, while the face is a snow white.

Requirements
The iPod requires connectivity to either a Mac running OS X or OS 9 with a Firewire Port, or a Windows PC running XP and either a Firewire Port or a USB 2.0 port. The preferred software for music management on the Mac is iTunes 4.2, and now iTunes for Windows on the PC. Musicmatch software is available as well for PC users. Mac users can also enjoy the additional software interface capabilities provided by iSync for updating contact and calendar information.

Setup
Set up is a snap. The unit is virtually ready to go out of the box. My unit appeared to have some charge already. The most important thing is to load the iPod software for your Mac, and update the firmware of the unit if necessary. A software CD is included.

In Use
Getting past the beauty and design, one may wonder if the iPod is really all that great. Does it really live up to the promise? The short answer is that it does live up to the promise, and then some.

If you're looking to use this as your exercise music machine, I can unequivocally state that it can take some decent up and down runners abuse. My test was 20 minutes on a tread mill, keeping my pacing between 6-7 MPH. The iPod didn't skip a beat. I was worried about possibly damaging it, but the literature promises that the iPod was designed for people with active lifestyles. I would have to agree. From all my usage, it has demonstrated that it is shock resistant!

Battery life is a pretty contentious issue. Apple promises about 8 hours of battery life out of the iPod, depending upon usage. While some users have reported differences out of their use, I can confirm that I have gotten a minimum of 6 full hours of play with my use. My real issue with the iPod battery is that I can't tell how much time I actually have left. The iPod displays a battery icon that depicts the estimated battery life; however, it isn't very accurate. I know I can go at least an hour or more when the icon looks as if the iPod is just about drained of power. Maybe this will be fixed in an upcoming firmware update.

As far as design, Apple designers had to make some serious decisions with the iPod when they decided that they were making a music player. They chose to keep this a closed box architecture where the user can not change batteries, swap files using removable digital media, or write software for the player. For the first two issues, companies have been swift to make these and other 3rd party hardware add-ons a reality. For instance, you can buy a small battery pack that uses AA batteries to continue powering your iPod, even when the internal battery runs out. Another company makes a device allowing you to add your digital camera media to your iPod. This allows you to go on an extended vacation and snap all the picts you like without having to worry about using up all the digital film in your camera. With these available solutions, I would have to say that the design is very savvy.

Sound Quality
The iPod does an excellent job of playing the different music files. My ear can not tell the difference between a CD and the AAC format. I notice that different CDs convert at different recording levels, so you may have to adjust the volume from one song to the next. This is not automatically accomplished via software. There is, however, a built in equalizer that enables you to choose a better audio output for the music you are listening to.

Interface
As a Mac user, the music management abilities of the iPod are outstanding. There is seamless continuity between iTunes and the iPod. You can manage the songs directly using your Mac and delete the songs off of the iPod that you no longer desire. Additionally, you can use the iPod as an extra hard drive, with boot capabilities no less. It takes a short time to update the iPod, and this demonstrates the real need for high-speed I/O ports.

The interface itself resembles the iTunes interface, with limited space and functionality, of course. I call it iTunesLite. The great thing about the iPod is that it allows you to use your iTunes play lists, as well as browse by song, artist, album, and more. Unlike iTunes, unfortunately, the iPod does not offer a way of searching for music by entering key words (hey, if my cell phone can do that, why not the iPod?).

Extras
The iPod comes with a few games: Solitaire, Brick, Parachute and Music Quiz. I don't find myself compelled to play them, so I don't know of these are of any great use. It also has some limited organizer functions, a calendar, notes, and a contacts listing (all of which can be synchronized with iSync). Finally, it also comes with a decent alarm clock.

Summary
The iPod is an excellent device for people who are ready to move away from CDs and go digital. This will allow you to have most of your favorite music with you whereever you go. Prices start at $299 for the 15 Gig version, but I would recommend that you buy the $399 20 Gig version. First, 20 Gigs and above come with over $100 worth of accessories (a Dock, Remote Control, and Carrying Case), before you even consider the fact that you are getting twice as much memory in the device. With the variety of different portable music players available, the iPod is the clear choice. It features more than just music too. Simply put, the iPod provides a portable firewire drive with contact and calendar management, high speed music synchronizing using iTunes, decent battery life, and 3rd party accessories.

I've shown this to many of my friends, and they are in awe. It truly is a fantastic piece of hardware that you will use everyday. Whether it be driving back and forth to and from work, or doing your 8 hours behind the keyboard, you will find that the iPod brings enjoyment to regular mundane activities. As Yoda would say, "Amaze your friends, you will!" It's music capacity, solid performance and intuitive features make this the must have digital music device.

Pros

  • High speed interface
  • Compact design with long battery life
  • High capacity
  • Also serves as a hard drive
  • 3rd Party Add-Ons


Cons

  • A little too pricey for some
  • 3rd party software unavailable for games and organizers.
  • Needs a better off switch
  • Will discharge in the cradle if the computer falls asleep
  • Internal battery was not designed to be changed by the average user


Overall Rating

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice