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Name: iPod Type of product: Portable music player / remote storage device Manufacturer: Apple Release date: November 2001 (most recent version August 2004) Price: $300 - $400 (manufacturer’s price)
Very few people nowadays will give you bewildered looks when you start talking about the iPod: that little white thing that plays thousands of songs? Yeah I’ve heard of that. Those of us who have followed the iPod progression (and that ain’t just a few of us) know that it has been around since late 2001, but it is really only since the release of its third version that it was truly taken seriously. Now when it comes to new technologies, you probably all know how it is: each year scouring stores all around for the newest piece of kit to get your nails into, instantly becoming the envy of your friends and co-workers. It is only then that you discover that what you have purchased is in actual fact either a complete bore after half an hour, or a total heap of junk, and that its only use is as a dust collector in a box somewhere. Not so with the iPod. A true gem in its class, it has not needed excessive advertising to sell, as with your typical impulse buy.
Originally the iPod started out as a 5GB do, for 1,000 songs. In the modern world (all of 3 years later), one can purchase 20 or 40GB iPods, or the new 4GB mini iPods (smaller, but like smarties, they’re in different colours). The following review is based on the ‘average’ iPod, i.e. the 20GB third version, with a touch-dial, although readers should be aware of the newer version, with a ‘touch-switch/dial’.
In order to make use of your wonderful new iPod you will require: One computer. This can be either desktop or laptop, Mac or PC with a firewire ports (USB 2.0 can be used with the firewire to USB converter). However PC users beware: the iPod only functions with Windows NT or Windows XP. So those of you still plodding around on 98 or ME (how could you?), you need an upgrade. One set of ears. Two or more can be used if you have a splitter cable. One or many types of musical taste (good and/or bad).
The physical specs of the iPod, and what you get when you buy.
Holding the iPod is not like holding your TV remote control or a mobile phone, it has a unique feeling, not overly heavy, but compact for its size: 5.6 oz for 4.1 by 2.4 by 0.57 inches (for 20GB model). However should you decide for whatever reason that you should not be holding it any longer, I am told it is exceptionally resistant to everyday bashes and bumps galore, however I have not yet had the courage to throw hundreds of pounds worth of equipment against the wall. There is only one join that connects the front (white) and back (silver metal) panels but this is tightly sealed and is barely noticeable to the touch. One of the most striking features of the iPod is the large screen a 2-inch (diagonal) greyscale LCD,
Pictures of Apple iPod 20 GB
Can you see my iPod?
which is a welcome relief to portable CD or MD player users. The screen itself is equipped with a backlight (LED), which lights up the screen in blue, and the symbols on the four buttons below in red. These four buttons, along with the jog dial beneath it are touch-sensitive, thus nullifying the threat of your traditional electrical circuit switches with the newer, more reliable technology. In the new fourth version, the dial and buttons are conbined into one, allowing the actual iPod to be smaller. The touch technology still remains. This does however necessitate the use of the ‘hold’ button when not using the buttons or dial, as they are very sensitive. The hold button is the typical slide button one associates with portable music equipment, and when the orange colour is shown, indicates that the hold function is active, and it is located on the top of the iPod, on the right hand side. In the middle is the headphone socket, with an additional socket next to it for the remote control. At the bottom there is a port, which is used to connect the firewire cable to the iPod. When this port is not in use, a detachable cover is provided. The battery power of the iPod is said to last up to 12 hours, but an estimate of 6 to 8 hours is more reasonable. The iPod can be charged up in two ways: either with the AC adapter or by connecting the iPod to a computer, although this is considerably slower. The headphones are also white, with a light grey cable and are the ‘ear bud’ type. The overall frequency response is excellent, especially in the lower frequency ranges when you consider the type of headphones they are. The one downside I have found with these headphones is that the foam never wants to stay on the earpieces, and so losing the foam becomes a problem.
There a few extra items that come with the iPod when you purchase it. Firstly, the so-called ‘iPod dock’, or to us mere mortals, the stand. It is basically an extension of the port at the bottom of the iPod, which allow the iPod to be secure and upright. The dock is roughly 4.5 by 4 inches and is just over an inch thick. Like the iPod itself, it is also fairly compact, the slot in which stands it in is at an angle, so the iPod is slightly leaning back. The port on the dock is located at the rear. The remote control is very similar to those used for Minidisc players and portable CD players, with your four main functions: play / pause, forward, back and volume control. It plugs in to the two sockets at the top of the iPod and the headphones connect to the opposite side of the remote. There is also a large clip on the back of the remote for obvious purposes. Also provided is a carrying case, which, although not particularly secure or flexible, does allow for it to be easily accessed, as the iPod just slips in or out. It is black in colour and of a synthetic fabric, hardened at the front and the back. The iPod AC plug is a very handy one indeed. It comes in two parts: the body, which allows the firewire cable to connect to the power source, and the adapter which connects to the body, and is suited to the country the iPod was purchased in. What this does allow is for user to be able to simply change the adapter part of the plug without needing to resort to your everyday adapters, which is particularly useful if you move to a different country. Like all equipment that connects to the iPod, the AC plug is white. The final accessory is the installer CD, equipped with the drivers necessary to connect your iPod to your computer. Also included on the CD is a version of iTunes (most likely to be out of date when you buy it, but it’s free to download).
What does it do?
Foremost, the iPod is a music-playing device. Essentially it is a hard drive with iTunes installed on it and a basic sound card, which allows the user to listen to files iTunes can read; this is the main reason why it is imperative to have iTunes for the iPod to work. For the record, the original idea behind iTunes was to have a program that converted CD files and compressed them down to an mp3 equivalent for Macs. Now when one considers that the average music file will be approximately 4-5MB, the 20GB version plays up to 5,000 songs the 40 GB up to 10,000 songs… etc. Additionally, the iPod has a less publicised use, which is the function of hard drive, as I mentioned above. This enables the iPod to become a remote storage device.
How does it work?
Unfortunately, you can’t just buy an iPod and expect it to work; it does need to be loaded with songs, and is not necessarily the easiest thing to do for a computer novice. The idea is you import the songs you want into iTunes, which automatically converts them into a format that can be read by the iPod. Then when the iPod is connected and recognised by the program (it appears in the menu on the left), to simply drag the songs onto the iPod icon.
Once the songs are on the iPod however, it becomes a different matter. To switch on just press play, to switch off just press play a bit longer. Then, either press play and let the good times roll, or use one of the two search engines on the device. These are Playlists and Browse. In Playlists, the user has the option of choosing things such as ‘My Top Rated’, ‘Most Recently Played’, ‘Top 25 Most Played’ or genre specific playlists. However, perhaps the greatest drawback, only the most recently played or top 25 playlists can be defined on the iPod itself, the rest must be established before transferring the songs, in iTunes. This becomes frustrating and annoying if you just want to select certain songs to listen to, but which are not specifically one after the other in the main library of songs. Browse opens up a search engine of the database itself. It can be viewed alphabetically by artist, album, song, genre or composer. Once the desired song is found, a tap on the button in the middle of the dial and you’re away.
There are four other options in the main menu during playback. 'Extras' leads the user to ‘Clock’, ‘Contacts’ (must be established in iTunes), ‘Calendar’, which serves as an organiser, ‘Notes’ (must also be established in iTunes) and ‘Games’. Here the iPod becomes so much more than a music device, more than a lump of computer memory. In the tap of a finger you have an all singing music game show, or a fancy (and expensive) alarm clock… Suffice to say that it is merely a ploy to keep those of us wanting extra reasons to justify purchasing the iPod happy, but in fairness, the calendar and clock functions are quite useful and easy to use. In ‘Settings’ the user can reconfigure the main menu to his or her liking, and also adjust the typical play settings shuffle and repeat. The renowned EQ controls are located in this menu. Although they do not allow band specific attenuation, the iPod offers a range of EQ presets that would rival any HiFi. Other options include the more general settings: backlight timer, time and date, clicker (each time the cursor moves on the iPod when you use the dial, the iPod clicks… nice eh?) and Language (ever wanted an iPod in Suomi? You got it). Back to the main menu, by clicking on ‘Backlight’, predictably, you activate the backlight. There is also a shortcut for this, you can toggle the backlight on and off by simply holding down the menu button. Finally ‘Now Playing’ takes you to a screen which shows you the information of the song currently playing, as well the position in the song, how long it has left to play… etc. Also, one must note that although when in any of the above menus, the forward and back buttons will toggle between consecutive songs, the volume can only be changed in the ‘Now Playing’ screen, and that the ‘Now Playing’ option is only available in the main menu when a song has been selected for play.
Now if that wasn’t enough for you, you should know that Apple have now gone ballistic on the accessories front, with gadgets left, right and centre. You have your wonderful car charger kits, car radio connectors, wireless FM connectors and your car holders, while you also have your various speaker kits, spare batteries, voice recorders and groovy new remotes. Ultimately if you want to have a look at iPod accessories on the Apple website, knowing that while they are beautifully designed and at the top of their range, quality comes at a very hefty price.
Quality for your lolly?
When you put things into perspective, they don’t look so clever. The iPod is essentially a portable music player, and it costs a whopping £300. However, I would point to the fact that very few mp3 players on the market offer such a huge memory capacity, with a reliable and simple interface. You can weigh up the cons, the relatively short battery life, the odd restricted function, and even the occasional freeze up of the software (in which case, well, you’re stuck until it sorts itself out). However in my eyes, the pros far outweigh these drawbacks, and you could do a lot worse with £300.