Since Apple released the iPod, mine has been a constant companion, organizing my life and completely changing the way I listen to music. That is a lot to ask of a gadget that is about the size of a deck of cards. But its five, 10- or 20- Gigabyte hard drive can hold an extensive library of songs (1,000, 2,000, and 4,000, according to Apple), while there is still room for all kinds of files, calendars and contact information, and everything remains easily accessible. This device is close to perfect and has only a few minor flaws.
The scroll wheel is, simply put, an ingenious way of navigating the thousands of files that can be on the iPod. (The 10 and 20 GB models have a circular touchpad with a button in the middle). The user just rotates the scroll wheel to toggle through the menus. The button in the center selects and moves the user into sub-menus, while the menu button above the scroll wheel moves a step back. Songs can be browsed by artist, song, album, genre, or, for jazz and classical music fans, composer. The display can also show the foreign characters of song titles and artist, which is good for foreign acts like BjÃ¶rk, RÃ¶yksopp or Sigur RÃ³s.
Finding a song is extremely easy and takes seconds, and is easier than the awkward navigation interfaces of other MP3 players. The older Nomad II MG I had numerous uses of the same buttons, which made it confusing even after daily use for a week or two. The new Nomad Jukebox is probably the only comparable MP3 player, but it is larger and bulkier and thus difficult to fit into normal-sized pockets. The Nomad also uses a USB connection that takes much longer to copy the songs. The iPod uses Fire Wire (also called i.LINK and IEEE 1394 on Windows machines) and accomplishes the same in minutes.
The iPod also allows for automatic synchronization with entire music libraries on your computer. The practical upshot is that the iPod will always contain all the music that is on the computer. On the Mac platform, every time a song is played on the iPod; it is noted in play counts that are synchronized as well. While this seems impractical at first, it offers, along with something called “smart play lists,” an entirely new way of managing music. In the free music player iTunes 3 (available at www.apple.com), smart play lists can be created that automatically update themselves and sync with the iPod. For example, I have a playlist called “Jazz” that automatically lists songs that fit the jazz genre and have not listened to in, say, the last four days. I always have jazz songs around that I like, even if I have not listened to them in a while. This can be done with a wide range of settings, including ratings that can be assigned to each song, certain genres, artists, etc.
However, the iPod does not allow playlists to be created while it is not plugged into a computer, a flaw so many people complained about already that it will hopefully be addressed in a future software revision.
When Apple released the iPod, it was heralded as a breakthrough digital device, rather than simply an MP3 player. Apple has indicated that big plans for it are in store, and there is already a cult following. Recent updates are available for free on the Web and have brought new features like calendars, contacts and a now easily accessible game through software upgrades. The contact information currently has to be moved by hand into a folder on the iPod, which is as easy as dragging the contacts out of an application into the folder. The same goes for calendars that were created by applications like iCal, Entourage or Outlook Express. There are, however, several free or shareware applications that do this automatically (available at www.versiontracker.com), and Apple is beta-testing a free application called iSync. Along with the built-in alarm function, it helps to at least be a reminder about upcoming assignments, chores and classes.
There are a few other downsides to the iPod. The backside of the case, while attractive in polished metal, scratches very easily, which is annoying considering the price. As long as it is kept in its case, which comes with the 10 and 20 GB models, it is well protected.
And then there’s the price. The hefty price is the major downside to the iPod, ranging from $299 to $499 for the three models (each available in Windows and Mac versions).
Even though the price for the iPod is rather steep, it is a worthwhile investment if music is an integral part of your life and you want an easy-to-use PDA to boot.
Sebastian Meyer is an Oracle production assistant. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org