Walkman… Discman… MiniDisc… Sony has ruled the portable-music market for decades. But the arrival of Apple’s iPod – massive capacity, ultra-compact smart design – put Sony’s ancient-tech products to shame. You only have to show someone an iPod for them to want one immediately. Previously, price and lack of Windows capability put many off. Neither of these complaints now holds true. The pocket-sized iPod is the cream of the digital-music player market, and Apple has added a larger-capacity model – as well as making it work for Windows PCs. Prices are down, too, and the top two models come with a carry-case and wired remote-control. The iPod is a smart and efficient, as well as stylish, design, but its best feature is its super-speedy FireWire autosyncing. At 400Mbps, FireWire is 30 times faster than USB – the connector for most other MP3 players. This means the iPod can be automatically updated in seconds, rather than many minutes. Another FireWire benefit is that the iPod automatically charges whenever you’re connected to a Mac. (You can also recharge the 10-hour lithium-polymer battery using the AC adaptor.) Windows users get a FireWire adaptor with the iPod, as FireWire is less common on PCs. iPod synchronizes with iTunes software; now up to version 3 for OS X (2 for OS 9), keeping iPod music and playlists up to date. On the Windows side, the iPod works with the PC media player Musicmatch Jukebox Plus. Again, every song or playlist you add automatically transfers to the iPod. Another reason that the iPod stands above other MP3 players is its 20 minutes of skip protection, thanks to a 32MB solid-state memory cache. Most portable CD players boast only 10-20 seconds of skip protection to stop music being affected by sudden movements as you walk, jog or just sit on a bumpy train. Play away
At a 160Kbps compression rate (the default setting for encoding MP3s in iTunes), Apple claims that 20GB equals approximately 4,000 songs – about 400 CDs. My 5GB iPod maxed out at just over 1,000 songs, so this is a fair claim on Apple’s part. At 128Kbps – a compression level that’s suitable for listening on headphones outside, but not if you attach your iPod to your stereo at home – you could squeeze 5,200 songs onto 20GB, as long as you’re not keeping large data files on the hard disk. Aside from increasing capacity, Apple has made some subtle but excellent improvements to the top models. On the white-backlightable 2-inch LCD display you browse your music by playlist, artist, genre or song with a simple yet sophisticated scroll wheel. Both the 10GB and 20GB iPods include a new touch-sensitive, static scroll-wheel that’s less vulnerable to dust or dirt because it has no moving parts. It’s a real wow for current iPod users, who’ll marvel at its ultra-smooth feel. iPod dynamically adjusts the scrolling speed based on the length of your song list. The 5GB’s scroll-wheel is the same as before (relying on tiny bearings that boast tolerance found only in medical instruments, according to Apple) and is still fine – just not as smooth as the others. All still make a tiny clicking sound (if you want them to) when you move the scroll wheel. The new scroll-wheel allows the 10GB model to be 10 per cent thinner and lighter. The 20GB iPod is 1mm thicker than the original width, due to its double-platter hard drive. All iPods are noticeably smaller than their rivals, such as the Nomad Jukebox 3 and Rio Riot. All three iPod’s are 10cm high and 6.1cm wide. The 5GB iPod has a of 20mm, weighing 185g. The 10GB model weighs the same, but is thinner at 18mm. The 20GB iPod is 21mm thick, and weighs 204g. New attachments
The 10GB and 20GB models include a slip-in carrying case with belt clip that protects iPod from scratches, water and dirt. These models are also protected by a new built-in cover for the FireWire port; this appears quite flimsy, but, treated with care, should last the distance. They also come with a tiny wired remote-control that lets you fast-forward or rewind a track, and play, pause and adjust volume without having to reach for the iPod body. Its silvery surface loves fingerprints, but allows the carry-case to do without a scroll-wheel window. All three iPods benefit from an industry-first thin FireWire cable for much easier carriage than the previous bulky FireWire cable – expect to see this thin FireWire in more Apple products. And all the new iPods come with improved headphones that are smaller, with new Neodynamim transducer magnets for, Apple claims, “enhanced bass response, smoother mid-range transitions, and accurate high-end reproduction”. The sound is as sharp as ever – even at medium MP3 compression, it’s difficult to tell the difference between it and a standard portable CD player (except fewer jumps). Aside from music, you can use your iPod as a portable external hard drive, and also as a Contacts database, as it lets you view names and addresses (on vCards) downloaded from applications such as Microsoft Entourage, Palm Desktop and Mac OS X’s Address Book. With OS X 10.2’s iCal calendar application you can download your calendar, and carry all your contact information around with you – while listening to Eminem or Johnny Mathis (see photo bottom left). An alarm can be set to remind you about upcoming events on your schedule.
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