October 24, 2003
iPod: First Impressions
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Right off, I will admit that I have an interest in finding this to be a nice machine, having just plunked down $450, including tax, for the little thing. That said, I think it goes beyond that bias to say that this is a sweet device.
The first thing that strikes you is the size; you always expect it to be bigger. The common measure, that it is about the size of a deck of playing cards, is pretty much right on. But the iPod also has weight--not too much, but enough to make it feel definitely solid--a feeling which is reinforced by the polished metal backing. I've had one other MP3 player, the one from Iomega, and have seen a lot more, and it is all to easy to find ones that are too big (the ones with capacities similar to the iPod) or even too small; this machine gives you the impression of being just the right size and having just the right heft to be a solid, and (very subjectively) a deservedly expensive piece of equipment. Remember in the first Jurassic Park movie, the kid finds the infrared goggles in the car? He asks the adult if he can play with them; the adult asks, "Are they heavy?" The kid answers "Yes," and the adult replies, "Then they're expensive. Put them back." That's what this feels like. Totally subjective, but that's part of the experience.
One nice extra point was that the battery was about 75% charged, right out of the box. I hate getting a new toy, and then have to just sit and look at it, inactive, for several hours while it charges for the first time. The first thing I did, naturally, was to plug it into the computer. You set the iPod onto its base (also hefty for its size), and the cable from that ends in a FireWire connector. Now I have about 2,500+ songs from my CD collection saved on my PowerBook G4 hard drive. You plug in the iPod and two things happen: first, the iPod starts charging right through the data cable (Firewire cables have six wires, four for data and two for power); and second, iTunes pops up and the iPod starts synching. 10 or 15 minutes later, my entire collection has been transferred over with room to spare. That extra room can be used as external data storage--put anything you like into it. With a Belkin flash card reader, you can download your digital camera photos into it, a feature I could have used while traveling in Spain.
Open up the iSync application, and in a few minutes, my iCal calendar and Address Book have both been copied to the iPod as well. The beautiful thing is, it all just works. Smoothly. No bugs, no hassles, no figuring anything out; in less than 20 minutes, most of which I just spent surfing the web while the computer worked, all was done. It was ready to go.
The one hassle I expected was the expected limited ability, from one jog dial and five buttons, to effectively operate the machine, especially considering the fact that two and a half thousand songs were on the thing. But they did a very good job with this. It's like a single, extended, hierarchical menu (it even has the menu font Apple uses). The jog dial (works like a trackpad, solid-state) acts as a scroll wheel; dial this way or the other, and you move up and down the list, quickly. Tap the button at its center and you move into the next submenu; tap the "Menu" button to move back. For example, choosing a single piece this way: Browse >> Albums >> Jurassic Park >> Theme From Jurassic Park. Very quickly, you can narrow down your selection. Feedback is given by little clicks, which you can mute if you like. And the menus are customizable; you can choose to have "Albums" in the top menu, for example, or turn off "Extras" (Address Book, Calendar, Games, etc.).
You can also arrange Playlists in iTunes; while on your computer, create a playlist (Command-N); let's call it "80's Rock" for the sake of the example. Choose a group of songs you want to play, drop them in, and you're ready to go. Set the iPod back into the cradle, and it will automatically sync to the changes you made. Remove the iPod, and now just select Playlists >> 80's Rock, and you're there. You do surprisingly little looking around--disappointing at first, because playing with the dial and buttons can be fun.
The headphones are fairly good, better than any set of ear-pods I've used. And that's important for me. Those pods never seem to fit my ears right, possibly due in part to the fact that I had one ear half-bit off by a St. Bernard when I was seven; plastic surgery repaired the worst of it, but the ear is still a bit off norm, so the pod can bite. These actually feel OK, however subjective that impression may be. The remote controller is designed well as far as shape, size, and layout, but the clip is disappointingly narrow; it barely holds on to whatever part of my shirt I clip it on to. They should have done better on that one.
The sound is also good, at least to me--I'm no audiophile, so what might be unacceptable to a connoisseur, sounds OK to me. I go by general quality and volume. My former MP3 player never was able to play loud enough; on the iPod, the loudest setting is too loud for me; and that's OK by my book. And there are still lots of features I haven't tried yet--using the calendar and address book in practice, trying out the random shuffle feature, or even finding the true extent of the battery life. More on that later.
I've only had it a day, but already I feel comfortable with it, and can use it without having to think or figure. So, first impression--a very nice little chunk of machinery here.