I’ve had my iPod for almost a week now, and here’s a few observations about it. First, it’s small, just slightly bigger than the rio 600 that I use when I go to the gym. The size difference when compared to the Archos Jukebox or the Nomad Jukebox makes a huge difference when I use it in my car, or when traveling. It’s not noticeably heavy either. While I wish that it came with some sort of case, it fits without issue in my Incase MD/MP3 Music Belt which also has a pocket for the earbud style headphones it shipped with. (I highly recommend Incase’s product line, as I use their bags for my laptops as well.)
As far as design and interface goes, this is, without a doubt, the best MP3 product I have used to date. The integrated scroll wheel makes it quite easy to navigate through the large amount of music that the device holds, and the simplicity of having only five buttons and a hold switch made learning to use the device a snap. The only thing really lacking from the device management interface is the ability to construct playlists on the fly. You are expected to do this using the iTunes 2 application that manages the music stored on the device. The use of the Chicago font has made the interface really easy to read, and the “now playing” information screen scrolls to allow you to see beyond the limits of the screen size when song or artist names are very long. No such option exists in the song list view, and I wish that they had done something to allow you to see the full title of the highlighted song scroll. The backlight is bright and makes the screen very readable in low light conditions. In comparison to the Nomad Jukebox, and the RioVolt, two other devices I have owned which need to navigate through similar amounts of music and settings, the iPod is much more readable and usable. The back of the device is a chromed stainless steel that is so shiny that it can be used as a shaving mirror. The downside to that is that it smudges really easily. The front of the device is incased in a quarter inch thick plexiglass shield that protects the LCD screen. Again, this will scratch really easily, which will lead to my being more protective of the device than most of my portable audio devices. The top of the device, which contains the Firewire port, headphone jack, and hold switch is easily accessible, and the device will stand vertically. I do wonder why they didn’t include a cover or bumper for the exposed Firewire port. It seems that someone who is careless with their iPod could unintentionally damage this very important connector.
The device charges when attached to the computer via the same firewire connection it uses to synch the mp3 files. Additionally, the device comes with a dedicated charger that plugs into an electrical socket for charging without a computer. I haven’t used the device for longer than two hours thus far, but the battery still showed a full charge after the two hour listening session. Charging seems very rapid via the firewire connection, but I have not, as yet, doen any tests to see just how long it takes to charge an empty or close to empty battery.
The iPod comes with no user manual, but a quick start guide is provided. The iPod help file, which installs with iTunes 2, is pretty comprehensive. Again, the device is so straightforward that the only thing I have actually had to look up was the location of the iPod options within iTunes 2. The CD included contains only the installers for the Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X versions of iTunes 2. I was surprised by this because Apple ships all of their machines with a bunch of MP3’s pre-installed now. In addition, the device had no MP3’s on it out of the box. They missed an opportunity to push some stuff on us there, which is not something I would expect from Apple.
The earbud heaphones that ship with the device are very nice, and they sound great. They are slightly larger than most earbud style headphones I have used previously. They are comfortable in my ears, so much so that I managed to fall asleep on a plane yesterday with them in my ears. I would imagine that the level of comfort with them will vary with the size and shape of an individual’s ears, and people with smaller ears may find them a bit large. They ship with a straight “stem” rather than the L-shaped most audio devices ship with now, and this makes fitting the device into either a vertical or horizontal case with the headphones plugged in more difficult. The device, in general, sounds very good, as I would expect it to. I don’t feel that there is a large difference between any of the devices I have used in terms of sound quality. The iPod doesn’t have controls that allow you to adjust the bass and treble of music you are listening to while you are listening to it. Again, this is something that you are expected to do with the iTunes application. This is one case where I really think it would be helpful to have the feature built into the device. It’s quite difficult to judge how things are going to sound through headphones without going through them using the headphones on the computer first.
Setting the device up with my computer, a first generation Powerbook G4/500 running MacOS X 10.1.1, took only a few minutes. I had already installed iTunes 2 when it was released by Apple the previous week, and no additional software was required. Upon attaching the Firewire cable to the iPod, iTunes launched and asked me what name I wanted to assign to the device automatically. The initial synch of my music, which at that point was only about 300 songs, took about three minutes. In comparison, my initial synch of my Nomad Jukebox took well over an hour. The difference makes the addition of new music to the device much less of an ordeal. Since the initial synch, I have ripped and added about 300 additional songs to the device, with the synching part of the process being neglible in comparison to the time it takes to rip from the CD’s. Aside from the interface and size, this is, to me, the hugest selling point of this device. While listening to music, the device buffers a large chunk of music to it’s RAM, so that it is unusual to feel the hard drive spinning. Another huge upside to this is that there is not a huge pause in between songs like the other hard drive based players I have used. iTunes allows the user to either synch their entire library, specific playlists within their library, or manually manage the transfer of files without iTunes doing the transfers automatically. I find iTunes 2 to be clean sounding and easy to use as a desktop player, and the integration with the device is flawless.
Finally, a quick tweak of the iPod settings in iTunes (accessed by clicking on the iPod options button) allows you to mount the device as an external hard drive. This does not give you access to the music on the device, probably to keep the RIAA happy, but there are already hacks out there that allow the user to see and transfer the music. (See the free file access link below for one.) I have not, as of yet, used the hard drive feature beyond just mounting it and testing a file transfer, but I can imagine that it will come in handy in the future, and makes the device that much more flexible and useful. Personally, I think Apple has differentiated this device from its competition enough to justify the price. If you have questions about the above, or are curious about something I failed to mention, please feel free to email me, and I will update this posting with additional details in response to your questions.