Apple's iPod, a 6.5-ounce MP3 player the size of a deck of cards, is one of the most exciting products to come from Apple in years. Powered by FireWire, the iPod can hold up to 5GB of data, providing a compelling balance of size and capacity. However, this combination of features comes at a relatively high price: $399.
But How Does It Work?
Between the iPod's stainless-steel back and Lucite front is a hard drive large enough to hold roughly 1,000 songs encoded in MP3 format at 160 kbps. The drive's enormous cache-32MB of solid-state RAM-virtually eliminates skipping; shaking the iPod and banging it against things didn't interrupt smooth play. (However, we don't recommend this-shaking and banging can damage the hard disk.)
Accessing your music files via the iPod is easy. The 1.5-by-1.5-inch screen has very crisp text, and a bright backlight makes the display easy to see in the dark. The controls are designed for one-handed use and can be awkward at first, but once we became accustomed to them, the interface's ingenuity was apparent. Unlike the Nomad Jukebox and portable CD players, the iPod is small enough to fit comfortably in a pocket. But Apple doesn't include a belt clip, case, or arm band like those that come with other music players. And even though the included white ear-bud headphones provide good-quality sound, we found them too large to use comfortably for long periods of time.
Made for Macs
There are other MP3 players that work with the Mac (see "Breakthrough Artist," Mac Beat, elsewhere in this issue), but none has been as integrated with Apple's iTunes. In fact, the iPod's release coincides with that program's first major upgrade: iTunes 2. The iPod synchronizes with your iTunes 2 music library, automatically updating itself. You can also switch to manual mode and pick just the songs and playlists you want to transfer.iPod attempts to safeguard intellectual property by syncing with only one copy of iTunes at a time. Trying to sync with a friend's iTunes library (or even another of yours) will overwrite all music on your iPod with that library. But the copyright protection is not ironclad. By switching to manual mode, you can transfer MP3 files from someone else's iTunes playlist. The iPod has a smaller hard drive than the 20GB Nomad Jukebox, but its FireWire interface makes the USB connections on all other MP3 players seem slower than molasses.
We tested the iPod by copying 333 songs (1.35GB) to it, and the results were impressive. Using a Power Mac G4/450, it took 4 minutes and 58 seconds in Mac OS 9.2.1 and just 3 minutes and 5 seconds in Mac OS X 10.1. You can even use the iPod's hard drive to transfer other types of files, since the iPod appears on your desktop as a regular portable FireWire hard drive.
Connecting an iPod to your Mac also charges the iPod's internal lithium polymer battery, or you can connect the FireWire cable to the iPod's included AC adapter for a quick charge.
Macworld's Buying Advice
The Apple iPod sounds like a dream come true-and for anyone with a love of music and a Mac that has a FireWire port, it is one. Although $399 places the iPod at the high end of the portable music player market, that investment buys you a stylish, high-capacity player with Mac connectivity second to none.