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The iPod experience: Does $400 really get you that much play?

by Remy Martin (remymartin@mac.com), December 10, 2001

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Everybody and their dog already has an iPod review out before me, but I had to delay mine a while as one generally needs an iPod to conduct an iPod review. The odds of getting an “evaluation unit” from Apple seemed highly dubious and I simply had many other expenses to take care of before I could drop four benjamins on an iPod. In fact, I still have too many expenses to justify getting one, thanks to the “bang-up” job I did on my car. But if my neighbor wants to spend two weeks hunting in Montana, I will gladly keep his iPod company while he is gone. All I have to do is feed the dog.

The first thing I noted about the iPod is the size and heft. The size really is amazingly small, and it feels a lot heavier than it looks. I looked around the house for things I could compare it to. Steve Jobs was right in that a deck of cards is about the same size. For the weight, I decided that a can of tuna is a fairly good representation. Loading my MP3s was more than easy. After installing iTunes 2, I uploaded around 2GB, 472 songs to be exact, of music in five or six minutes. Before the iPod, I was jonesing for the VAIO Music Clip that another friend of mine had. It’s no bigger than a lighter and gets you about an hour of music. However, the process of transferring music onto that device is painful – and after transferring music to the iPod, I realized that Apple had trumped Sony with the design of the iPod. As Soup said before, the iPod truly is a best-of-breed device.

After I got my music on the iPod, I decided that I would have to put it through a gauntlet of sorts. I needed to see how far the RDF spread. Would simple possession of this MP3 player instantly transfer me to cool status and change my life forever? As the byline says, does it come with $400 worth of “play?”

On the road again (Test 1: the car)

I have a decent enough daily commute, so I decided to sacrifice some of my radio listening time to find out the iPod’s usefulness while in motion. I used a simple line-out to tape car CD kit to accomplish the task, and it was sufficient. I spent much of the time trying to figure out where I wanted to put the iPod as I was driving. There was a good place below the tape deck and I was thinking of perhaps the center console, but I decided that the iPod was best hanging in front of my ashtray, which I never use. To do this, I took an old leather shaving kit and gracefully jammed it into place using the ashtray to secure it. I then cut a space so I could see the display and use the top part of the scrolling wheel to select lists. Not a perfect setup because the iPod must be turned on and playing (my solution covers the play/pause button), but good enough for me. On the other hand, with the satellite radio services that are starting to pop up, maybe I don’t need MP3s in the car anymore – or perhaps that’s the other way around.

It goes without saying that if you manage to strain the iPod’s 20-minute shock buffer in the car, you’ve got bigger problems to worry about than sound quality.

Off to Dilbertville (Test 2: the office)

The iPod draws the usual oohs and aahs. I had no reason to show off the iPod anywhere, so the only people to see it were people normally traveling by my desk. While all who saw it loved it, some of the PC guys snickered when I told them how much it was, with even the odd “That’s half an iMac” joke thrown my way. But for the most part the iPod was not at the office for playing MP3s. I took it there to shuttle my work between the office and home. Again, as expected, there were no issues with use. Since iPod charges by FireWire, it means that I don’t have to worry about a charger at work. That’s convenient because that’s one less place I have to worry about leaving the charger and because it makes it really easy to find a space for the iPod around the computer. Sometimes Steve’s obsession with reducing cable clutter really pays off!

Please listen quietly (Test 3: the library)

One particularly nice weekend, I decided to take the iPod to the library of a nearby Ivy League institution to gauge interest of the normal passerby. Having just graduated from college, I figured I could still pass as an undergrad or graduate student without too much fuss. Therefore, I lodged myself firmly in a leather chair with some Catullus and Ovid to bide my time. At one point an attractive young woman came and asked me what the iPod was. I told her what it was and she asked where I could get one. I explained a little more, but told her it was for Macs only (so far). She smiled and said, “I hope I could use yours when I wake up in the morning, then.” This whole library scene, of course, did not really happen. It’s just a little wake-up call to the fanboys and everybody else who may think this little device is going to raise your status. If you’re looking to impress people, buy a Porsche.

In reality, my library experience was quite serene. I actually went to read the Latin and hoped to test the iPod earbuds against some other headphones that I have and perhaps some others in the library. I did actually ask a few people to try their headphones and to try the earbuds. After all of this ad hoc testing, my consumer quality hearing was not able to notice much of anything that would set the earbuds apart as either really good or really bad, but you audiophiles may feel free to correct me.

Bottom line?

After a fortnight of testing, the iPod did not disappoint. I may not have put it through the most rigorous testing, but I believe I went through a lot of different scenarios to give an idea of what to expect, which is that everything you have read on the Internet is pretty much true. Yes, the scroll wheel is that cool and easy to use and yes, the iPod would be even better if Apple could somehow add voice recording to the device. As I give my little test unit back, I really do feel that I have solidified my choice to ditch my love of the VAIO and get an iPod when the time is right for me, which is hopefully signified by a Christmas rebate.

Questions and comments are always welcome.<remymartin@mac.com>

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