Apple's latest iteration of the iPod sounds terrific, and its video capabilities open up another world in portable multimedia
My old iPod was a wreck. The screen was shattered (I had sat on it once), the tracking wheel didn't work. The music went dead at the slightest touch. For a few months I could listen to songs blindly, provided I handled the machine gingerly. But around Christmas it began playing the same song again and again. This 20-gig iPod was only a year old, and as far as I was concerned, worth about as much as a hockey puck.
So on a January afternoon, I went to the store determined to avoid the quirkiness of hard drives. I didn't need 30 or 60 gigabytes of marginal music. No, I'd buy a nice little Apple (AAPL) iPod nano and load its flash memory with four gigs of my very favorite songs (see BW Online, 10/7/05, "The Nano Strikes the Right Chords"). As it happened, the nanos were out of stock. So I emerged from the store $314 poorer and carrying a 30-GB black video iPod.
SEEING IS BELIEVING.
It's beautiful, less than a half-inch thin and elegant. The sound quality is terrific, but that came as no surprise. Except for the thinness, I would have said much the same about my future hockey puck a year ago. It wasn't until I hitched the new iPod to the computer and began touring the iTunes site that I began to give fervent thanks that the nanos had been out of stock.
The difference is video: crystal-clear images on a bright color screen. Though I had barely considered video when buying the iPod, I quickly turned on the iTunes site to video podcasts. There I downloaded a free Washingtonpost.com report from Banda Aceh, one year after the tsunami. I clicked it on. Stereo in the ears, and Indonesia came to life on the 2.5-inch screen. A dog was barking, a chicken scurried ahead of a truck, people were talking, palm trees swayed. I felt like I had the future of video in my hands -- or at least one important outlet for it -- and all I wanted was more.
Truth be told, I haven't spent all that much time looking at videos. I downloaded a condensed version of the Rose Bowl and an episode of NBC's (GE) The Office for $1.99 each. And I subscribe to a few video podcasts, including Rocketboom. But I'm betting that gobs of downloadable video, from mainstream to basement studios, will be coming in the next months (see BW Online, 1/23/06, "Is the Web the New Hollywood?"). With the video iPod, I'm ready for it -- provided I don't sit on the machine again.
The fragility of the iPod remains my biggest concern. I have it covered in the protective plastic "skin" from my old iPod (a fat lot of good that did). Since the new iPod is thinner and a tad wider -- to allow for the bigger screen -- it looks a bit like an elegant deer wrapped in a moose's hide.
I've also left in place the strip of protective plastic that covers the screen. Protection is a must. (If you visit blog search engine technorati.com and search for "ipod screen scratches," you'll find plenty of bloggers already complaining.)
The Apple Web site claims that the new iPods get up to 20 hours of music on a single charge. The key words there are "up to." I haven't gotten close to that performance. But that may be because my kids grab it to look at videos, which eat through the battery much quicker. So far, it hasn't been a problem, because when I sync it to the computer every night for the latest podcasts, it recharges.
I wouldn't bet on it for a long flight. But a quick check on the blogs finds one passenger who reports watching videos continuously from Dallas to San Francisco, even in the bathroom (which could get to be a problem).
Commenters on BW Online's Blogspotting.net have a few beefs about the video iPod. One writes that the tracking wheel is a tad too sensitive. Sometimes the pulse of the thumb can move the cursor from one song to the next. Another laments that protective cases are out of stock in many stores.
And for PC users, an Adobe application for uploading digital photos to the iPod can slow down the synchronization process. Aside from those quibbles, my advice is to get one of these devices -- and hold onto it tightly while catching the coming mobile video boom from a front-row seat.