As you open the box of the new iPod, you have to remove a sealing sticker that carries the words ‘Designed by Apple in California’. Of course the iPod is manufactured in the Far East, but the over-riding impression is of West Coast cool.
Although the iPod is essentially an MP3 player, as it has a hard drive you can also use it as a storage device. While that is true of many MP3 players, including the devices based on flash memory, you’ll find your iPod has plenty of storage capacity. The original iPod came in 5GB, 10GB and 15GB versions, but it’s been revised to 10GB, 15GB and 30GB. Our 15GB unit had 13.8GB available for use which is good for some 2,200 songs recorded at a high-quality setting of 192KB/sec. You’ll get more at lower sampling rates, with Apple reckoning on 7,500 songs for the top-capacity version.
Despite the hard drive technology the iPod is a tiny unit, about the size of a pack of playing cards but half as thick. This is thanks to the low profile, 1.8-inch Toshiba hard drive, and it is genuinely pocket-sized. It also looks very stylish, with the front half moulded in pearl white and the back formed from stainless steel. While it would be foolish to abuse the hardware it certainly feels well made and robust.
The monochrome LCD display is a decent size and shows details of the current track with a progress bar showing both elapsed time and time remaining, as well as a battery indicator and the option of a clock.
You control the iPod with four buttons that have a gorgeous luminous pink backlight, but the really neat part is menu navigation. A circular track uses the same touchpad technology that you find in notebooks and in the centre is a button that works in the same way. Scrolling and selecting could hardly be easier or more intuitive, and there are no moving parts to go wrong either. On the other hand the controls are hopeless for the three games that Apple includes, and they are best ignored.
In addition to the main unit there’s a charging cable, the all-important white earphones, an in-line remote control so you can tuck the iPod away in an inside pocket or your bag, a carrying case and a docking station. Naturally iPod uses a Firewire connection but a big selling point of the new iPod is that it also has a USB interface, with a USB 2.0 software update due soon. This is a little disingenuous as the USB cable is an optional extra.
Apple includes an adapter so you can also use the smaller four-pin Firewire port. When the iPod is placed in the dock it fires up the included MusicMatch software with an iPod plug-in that searches your PC for music and creates an index. Synchronising the iPod transfers music at a respectable speed, and the files are logically arranged by artist and album, assuming you used CDDB when you first ripped them. Annoyingly the tracks are arranged in alphabetical order rather than as per the original running order, but that seems to be the case with most MP3 equipment.
What does it sound like? It’s one of the best MP3 players we’ve ever heard. It’s not quite up to Minidisc standards, but as a mobile music player with an enormous capacity it’s beyond reproach.
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