A Tale of Two iPods: iPod vs hPod
With the release of the new HP-branded version of the iPod, many consumers -- especially those using Windows-based PCs -- are wondering whether they should buy the original Apple-branded model or HP's version. We did some research to help you make the right decision; read on for all the details.
Hardware and Software Similarities
In terms of hardware, the Apple and HP iPods are identical -- if you buy an iPod you're getting an iPod. The included accessories are also the same: earphones, AC adapter, FireWire cable, USB 2.0 cable, and (with the 40GB model) iPod dock. In fact, without the retail packaging to tip you off, the only way to tell the difference between the two versions is a small HP logo on the back of the HP iPod (just above the Apple logo, which remains).
In addition, both iPods also use Apple's acclaimed iTunes music software to manage and play music on your computer and to sync music between your computer and your portable player. (The CD included in the box with HP-branded iPods provides only the Windows version, whereas an Apple iPod includes both Mac and Windows iTunes/iPod software.)
(If you're thinking that HP's Printable Tattoos, which allow you to "skin" your iPod with removable, wraparound stickers, are a difference between the two versions, note that these Tattoos will work with any click-wheel iPod, even those from Apple. They'll be available in both pre-printed and ready-to-print versions by late September.)
The differences between the two models begin to surface when you look at support and additional software. In terms of support, Apple-branded iPods include a 1-year warranty, but only 90 days of free phone support; those terms are further restricted in that all repairs after the first six months require a $30 shipping and handling fee, and the free phone support applies to only a single incident within the first 90 days after purchase. HP, on the other hand, provides a full year of both hardware warranty and phone support, with toll-free technical support available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; they also provide out-of-warranty support via email. As for in-person support, Apple iPod users can visit Apple retail stores for assistance; HP iPod users can visit authorized service centers such as Best Buy and CompUSA.
Apple and HP's iPod after-sale services also differ in terms of focus and expertise. HP's technical support focuses on Windows users, while Apple will continue to support both platforms. However, an HP spokesperson told us that they expect their Windows support to be superior to that of Apple, mainly due to the company's "breadth of knowledge on the Windows platform." (A good number of HP support personnel have already gone through iPod/iTunes-focused training.) On the other hand, HP will not support an HP iPod running on a Mac.
HP has also attempted to improve the iPod experience for Windows users through better Windows-centric documentation. A handy setup poster -- one that visually demonstrates how to set up your iPod, how to rip music to iTunes, and how to download music to the iPod -- is included in the box, and the user guides are designed by HP for Windows users. Apple's instructions cover both platforms.
Apple provides three support options for out-of-warranty iPods. The $59 AppleCare Protection Plan for iPod extends the iPod's warranty to 2 full years for both hardware and phone support. If your Apple iPod is no longer covered under warranty (standard or AppleCare), a $99 battery replacement service is available to consumers whose iPod battery will no longer hold a charge. Finally, out-of-warranty iPods that require hardware service for any other issue can be replaced for a fee of $249. According to HP, these options are also available for the HP-branded iPod, but customers will need to purchase and take advantage of them through HP rather than Apple. In addition, according to a company representative, later this year HP will offer accidental damage coverage for HP-branded iPods that will offer protection from "unexpected spills and damage."
Software and Compatibility
In addition to the included iTunes software, HP has added its HP Tunes application -- an application that benefits those customers who own an HP Media Center PC. Whereas the iTunes application provides what HP calls the "2-foot experience" -- an interface to your music when sitting in front of your computer -- HP Tunes, when used with an HP Media Center computer, provides a "10-foot experience." Using HP Tunes and the HP Media Center's remote control, you can control your music from across the room. HP Tunes also allows you to access the iTunes music library of another computer on your local network. (Note that if you have an HP Media Center, you can use HP Tunes even if you buy an Apple-branded iPod.)
HP has emphasized its wider retail presence, noting that its iPods will be available in many more stores than Apple's iPods. So it should be easier than ever to purchase an iPod. Although HP originally announced retail availability of its version of the iPod for September 12, many retailers reported having them in stock prior to that date, and they should be widely available over the next few weeks.
If it seems overly simple to say that Mac users will probably want to stick with Apple's iPod and Windows users should consider the HP version, it is. But it's also a position with some merit. If you're a Mac user considering buying an HP iPod for the better warranty, keep in mind that you won't be able to call HP for technical support. And when it comes to software, drivers, and computer hardware, Apple should be far better equipped to support Mac users, shorter warranty notwithstanding. Conversely, we would expect HP to be more experienced when it comes to troubleshooting software problems with Windows PCs -- especially those from HP. (When it comes to support with the iPod itself, we would expect Apple to have the upper hand as the developer and manufacturer.)
With that in mind, we don't see much reason for Mac users to purchase an HP-branded iPod unless that iPod is sold at a significant savings and the Mac user is comfortable troubleshooting software issues on their own. Similarly, owners of HP-branded Windows PCs will probably want to go for a matching HP iPod. Other Windows users should weigh the pros and cons of each.