Jewish World Review Sept. 13, 2002 / 7 Tishrei, 5763

I came, I saw, iPod

By Mark Kellner | The iPod from Apple Computer is at once a great success for the Mac-maker as well as a neat way to carry a whole lot of music - up to 4,000 songs -- in your pocket. First launched in October 2001 with only 5 GB of capacity, the iPod is back for an encore with a new 20 GB model retailing for $499.

Along with a quadrupling of the capacity of the original model, the new iPod has a wired remote control, a more precise touch wheel to navigate the device's menus, and a clip-on carrying case that is bound to be the envy of your fellow commuters. It connects to desktop PCs using the IEE 1394, or FireWire standard, which is much faster than the USB connections of other audio players. According to Apple, a 70-minute CD can be downloaded to the iPod in 9 seconds, versus nearly 5 minutes for the USB-connected Rio Riot MP3 player, made by SONICblue Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif.

If the new device was merely a tiny, super-fast hard disk drive that connected to both Macintosh computers and Windows-based PCs, there were not be much difficulty in justifying its price or buying one quickly. But the iPod is much more than a freestanding hard drive. It is first and foremost a repository for digital music and a superb player for home, office, car or jogging trail. The sound it produces is amazing both for its quality and consistency.

Using a cassette adapter to connect the device to the stereo in my Hyundai Santa Fe, I tooled along roads in Southern California listening to crystal-clear sound, without any skips or stops when hitting bumps or potholes, which might occasionally be experience with a portable CD player similarly connected, or even a trunk-mounted CD-changer.

And unlike a CD changer, it's possible, using software on the host computer, to arrange a play list to suit your mood or desires. On the Mac, the software is Apple's iTunes version 3, a music and streaming audio player that gathers up your songs and lets you shuffle and arrange them easily.

A special version of MusicMatch's Jukebox should be available for Windows users shortly; in the meantime, MediaFour's Xplay, $30, does the job just as well. It works with older iPods and the newest models, installs well on a Windows computer and makes the iPod "talk" to music libraries on the host device.

However, with both Mac and Windows systems, the "conversation" is one way. You can download songs from the computer to an "associated" iPod, but you can't transfer songs from an iPod to a computer. In this the iPod becomes the "roach motel" of MP3 devices: the songs check in, but they don't check out. Apple says, wisely, that this is meant to discourage piracy and mass redistribution of copyrighted music.

There are other useful features of the iPod: it can act as a portable hard drive, you can use desktop software from Apple to manage a calendar and store appointments. But these seem secondary to the overall quality of the iPod device, which is truly outstanding as a digital music player. Combining speed with superior sound, it's difficult to imagine why anyone might want any other device.

The new controls on the device - more sensitive and responsive - make using the iPod a pleasure; the menus are easy to negotiate and a "lock" button can prevent accidents when walking or jogging. I'm also impressed by the power capacity of the unit's lithium ion battery, which fully charged can run the iPod for 10 hours straight.

In short, there's much to like about the iPod, and if you're doing your holiday shopping early this year, it's a gift certain to draw oohs and ahhs when unwrapped.

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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.

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