Review: iPod (30 GB)
Developer: Apple Computer
Requirements: Macintosh with built-in FireWire and Mac OS X 10.1.5; or PC with FireWire or USB 2.0 and Windows ME.
Recommended: Mac OS X 10.2
In the world of sports, it is often said that defending a championship is harder than winning it in the first place. Most everyone wants to be the best at what they do. Furthermore, they know that to be the best, you have to beat the best.
It’s been almost two years since Daniel Chvatik poked and prodded the original iPod and proclaimed it to be “Excellent.” Since that time, Apple has tweaked the iPod here and there, adding a solid-state scroll wheel, larger drives, and some new software features, but mostly keeping the iPod the same. While competitors were playing catch-up with the original iPods, Apple was quietly working on the next generation of iPods.
If you want to know the ins and outs of the iPod, I suggest you read Daniel’s review. For the most part, I will be focusing on what Apple has come up with in the mean time.
First and foremost, the iPod is a portable music player. The first and second generation iPods were already widely considered the best portable music players available. How was Apple supposed to improve on something that did a relatively narrow task so well?
After using a 30 GB iPod, I see that the answer is “Add More.” After doing that, “Add Less.”
The first difference that most people will notice is that the front of the iPod has been redesigned. I was actually a little surprised when I saw this because the four control buttons around the central scroll wheel had become a bit of trademark of the iPod. Instead, the new iPods have four touch-sensitive buttons between the screen and the scroll wheel. The buttons are, from left to right, previous track, menu, play/pause, and next track.
Some people voiced concerns when they saw the iPod’s new button layout. There were concerns that the it would not be as easy to operate one-handed. I have fairly normal-sized hands and haven’t found this to be a problem. Also, the buttons have enough of a lip around them so you can usually feel for a particular button without pressing the wrong one.
The four new buttons also work in concert with the iPod’s backlight. When the backlight is on, the button labels glow red. When the backlight turns off, both the screen and the button labels slowly fade to dark instead of cutting out immediately. It’s a nice effect.
Once you get beyond the redesigned front panel, you will start seeing some of the other changes Apple made to the exterior of the iPod. On the top of the iPod, the headphone/remote control port has been redesigned, the hold switch is smaller, and the FireWire port is gone.
Looking at the bottom of the iPod reveals the Dock connector that replaces the FireWire port. The Dock connector has several advantages over the FireWire port it replaces. It’s smaller, which means it fits easier onto the 10 and 15 GB iPods (which are slimmer than the 30 GB model). It connects to the new Dock, supports audio-out, and supports syncing via USB 2.0 (Windows-only).
Software-wise, the new iPods runs version 2.0 (2.0.1 as of this writing) of the iPod operating system. New features of 2.0 include support for AAC files, On-The-Go Playlists, Notes, customization of the main menu, and two new games. Since ATPM first reviewed the iPod, Apple also added Contacts, a Calendar, an Alarm, and Audible.com support.
As most of you probably know, AAC is the format that Apple uses to distribute songs via the iTunes Music Store. In theory, AAC files sound better at lower bit rates than MP3 files, so it is possible to store more songs on your iPod if you encode your music as AAC files. As you would expect, the iPod supports both the protected and unprotected flavors of AAC.
The On-The-Go playlist lets you generate a temporary playlist as you listen to your iPod. You just scroll to a song, album, or artist and hold the center button for a few seconds and the selection is added to your playlist.
There is only a single On-The-Go playlist on your iPod and it is erased whenever you sync with iTunes, so you should still create your permanent playlists at your Mac. Once a song is added to your On-The-Go playlist, it can only be removed by clearing the whole playlist or syncing your iPod. Since you can easily skip any song you don’t want to hear, this isn’t major.
Notes is a light-weight text reader for the iPod with some surprising features. It supports some basic formatting via HTML tags. You can also link to other notes, folders, or songs. In the case of songs, the linking can be by track name or a number of different attributes.
Main menu customization lets you decide what is shown at the root level of the iPod. If all you care about is listening to music, you can hide any of the other options. If you really like Games but don’t care about any of the other items in Extras, you can add Games to the main menu and hide the Extras item. The only item that can’t be removed from the main menu is the Settings command.
The two new games are Solitaire and Parachute, joining Brick, which was first present in the iPod as an Easter Egg. Solitaire is actually Klondike, which seems to be the version of solitaire that everybody knows. It’s a little odd to play with a scroll wheel, especially when you’re moving from one side of the screen to the other, but it is a good way to pass the time. In Parachute, you attempt to shoot down helicopters and paratroopers who are trying to destroy your base. Combined with Brick, these games provide some level of entertainment, but they do tend to pause from time to time when you are changing tracks.
I’ve covered the “Adding More,” so now on to the “Adding Less.” Even with these new hardware and software features, Apple managed to reduce the size of the new iPod. Though a hair taller (.08 inches, to be exact), the 30 GB iPod is .03 inches narrower and .05 inches slimmer than the original iPod. It also comes in at 6.2 ounces, slightly less the original iPod’s 6.5 ounces. These are the measurements from Daniel’s review of the 5 GB iPod. If I remember correctly, the 20 GB iPod was slightly larger than the 5 GB model to account for physical differences in the hard drives, but I don’t have those figures handy.
One side effect of the iPod’s trimming is a shorter battery life. The original iPod was rated to get 10 hours out of a charge whereas the newer iPods are only rated for 8 hours. This rarely bothers me since I usually make it through a whole day at work without recharging—the only times I really need to reach for the charging cable at the office is when I forget to charge the iPod the previous night.
The Dock is easily one of the more talked-about features of the new iPod. At the bare minimum, the Dock lets you get your iPod off the table while you are charging it so you won’t scratch up the metal backing. I also find it easier to put the iPod in the Dock and remove it as opposed to connecting and disconnecting the Dock cable directly to the iPod. This is partly because the Dock is stationary and I don’t have to hold it while I’m inserting the iPod, and partly because the Dock cable has two release buttons you need to press to disconnect it from the iPod (or the Dock, for that matter).
A docking station alone would be welcomed by many iPod owners for the reasons I mentioned, but Apple went one step farther by adding a Line Out jack to the rear of the Dock. The Line Out jack makes it simple to connect your iPod to you existing stereo system or powered speakers without having a cable dangling from the top of your iPod. Also if you can keep a Dock next to your stereo, you never need to plug and unplug cables when you want to grab your iPod and go.
Since the Dock connects to your computer via the same cable as the iPod, you can also plug the Dock directly into the wall. This is useful if you will be using the iPod as a stereo component for an extended period of time.
The one problem I’ve had with the Dock is the port layout on the back—I do not think it’s possible to unplug the Dock cable while something is connected to the Line Out jack. There just isn’t enough room to fit your finger between the jacks to press the release on the Dock cable.
When the original iPod was released, I was skeptical. It sounded like a good idea, but I wasn’t sure if it sure if it would fly with a price tag pushing $400. It turned out Apple was right and people came flocking. Now, whenever a new music player comes along, reviewers inevitably see how it stacks up against the iPod. Occasionally, the players have something the iPod lacks, like an FM tuner or built-in car adapter, but the reviewers almost always proclaim that the challenger falls short of the iPod.
Now, in that fine tradition, I declare that the 30 GB iPod not only challenges the original iPod, but bests it. It only took two years for somebody to beat the best, but it appears that Apple once again has a winner with the newest iPod.