When I first heard the details about the iPod, Apple's
breakthrough digital device, I thought it sounded okay, but wasn't
a must-have item for me. However, now that I've used one for almost
a week, I've changed my mind.
I received an evaluation unit of the iPod the day before I drove
from Nashville to Indianapolis to cover the EDUCAUSE conference — a
five-hour haul. I downloaded half a dozen albums (Sara Evans, Elton
John and Ryan Gold) to listen to on the road. No, I'm not a
dangerous driver. I didn't plug in the ear bud headphones that come
with the iPod. Instead, I used a cassette plug-in adapter, which
I've used previously for my portable CD player, to play the songs
on the iPod through my car's speakers.
You simply plug a cassette-shaped device into your cassette
player and the other end into the earphone jack on your iPod. Hit
play and the songs on the digital device play through the
automobile speakers. The audio quality wasn't as crystal clear as
with a good set of headphones or high quality external speakers,
but the songs sounded good and certainly made a long trip down the
interstate more enjoyable.
But that's not what really sold me on the iPod. As I always do
when heading on a business trip, I began backing up files from my
desktop Mac to my external VST FireWire hard drive–only to find
that the hard drive had died.
The solution was for the iPod to do double duty as a FireWire
hard drive. I enabled the FireWire disk mode option, and it
immediately mounted on the desktop. I then used it as I would any
other 5 GB hard drive. I backed up my word processing and e-mail
files for transfer to my iBook. With iTunes 2.0 installed on both
my desktop and laptop Mac, this was a seamless process. The result:
I ended up with a combination music player/hard disk drive that was
6.5 ounces and slipped into my pocket.
The iPod and iTunes are extremely easy to use. I love the ease
of audio synchronization. Just plug the device into your Mac via a
FireWire cable and the portable device and your iTunes library sync
easily and quickly.
When using the iPod for digital music, its navigation is the
best I've ever seen. It's a no-brainer to organize and scroll
through lots of music files thanks to the scroll wheel on the
The iPod has a built-in amplifier that provides a smooth sound.
The ear-bud headphones, with 18mm drivers using Neodymium
transducer magnets sound great. But they, and all the headphones
like them, tend to make my ears sore after a while. And they have a
tendency to fall out of my ears.
The iPod's use of FireWire is one of its strong points. Apple
says it's over 30 times faster than USB-based music players. I
haven't actually gotten my stopwatch out to test this, but it feels
extremely fast. Plus, its FireWire cable is of the six-pin variety,
so the iPod's battery charges when it's connected to your Mac. This
is the first time that anyone has created a product that charges
off FireWire, and it certainly reduces cable clutter. Still, Apple
kindly includes an external power adapter in case you're on the
road without a Mac.
The iPod is powered by a built-in rechargeable Lithium Polymer
battery that Apple says will handle 10 hours of playback on a
single charge. I'm on hour 11 now and there's life in the thing
yet. A battery that actually exceeds its specs? Now that's
As you'd probably guess from Apple's products of recent years,
the iPod looks great. It's sleek with a front that's a soft,
iBook-like white encased in clear plastic. The back is shiny silver
metal. Alas, both the plastic and the metal scratch easily.
What else did I like? The iPod's 160×128 backlit LCD has great
contrast and is easy to read. The digital device can pick up a song
again if it falls asleep during playback. And the hold switch is
very useful for thwarting accidental pauses, fast-forwards and
There have been complaints that Apple should make the iPod work
with other music jukeboxes besides iTunes and that the device
should be Windows compatible. From my personal viewpoint, I'm
perfectly happy using it with iTunes due to the perfect integration
between the software and the hardware. And iTunes 2 itself is
mighty fine. The latest version of Apple's music software includes
support for several languages (including Japanese), the ability to
burn MP3 files onto a CD, an equalizer and crossfader.
As for connectivity with Windows devices, well, if Apple isn't
worried about any lost sales in this area, then I could care less.
It works with my Mac and if that causes some envy among Windows
users, well then maybe they should look at the Mac platform to see
what else they're missing.
I do agree with others that Apple should have included a belt
clip with the iPod. Although Apple says it's designed for a pocket,
runners such as myself could use a belt clip when logging in our
daily miles. After all, it contains 32MB of playback buffer memory,
which allows it to load up 20 minutes of music ahead of playback to
ensure there's no skipping.
However, MacCentral reader John Gettler found a US$10 solution:
a universal clip that's available for ordering online. He thinks
Apple should offer the clip as an accessory.
Also, Apple needs a cover for the FireWire opening on the top of
the device. Rainwater and dirt could certainly ruin it.
And the thing that would really make the iPod indispensable for
me would be the capability to record audio files via a microphone
and drag them to my Mac. For a roving reporter, this would be
But even without the things on my wish list, I'm now a lighter
traveler. My portable CD player stays at home, along with my
external FireWire drive. Both have been replaced by a 6.5-ounce
Is it worth $399 to me? Definitely.
Now if only there were only a PIM (personal information manager)
that would auto sync with my Mac's contact/calendar info via
FireWire as smoothly as the iPod does with my music library (hint,