A Weekend with the 4G iPod

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I spent the weekend using the new fourth-generation iPod, and in addition to discovering a quirky new feature, I put the rest of the product through its paces. (Expect my full review shortly.)

In terms of battery life, I'm happy to report that the new iPod came through. Twice I played it all day, on a shuffle through thousands of rock songs (at medium volume with a pair of headphones plugged in). The first time, it played for slightly longer than 11 hours before dying. The second, it played 12 hours (almost to the second) before dreaming the dreamless sleep of iPods. So Apple's claims of 12-hour battery life seem genuine, although of course if you use your backlight, activate the hard drive a lot, and the like, it'll drop performance a little bit.

I admit I don't get the new Music menu. I'm a big playlist user, so I'm not thrilled that "Playlists" has been taken off the main menu. But it's easy enough to turn that back on, via Settings: Main Menu. And while I was there, I removed Apple's new Shuffle Songs feature, since I am not someone who ever, ever shuffles through his entire music library. (There are too many oddball live tracks and songs from my daughter's Kindermusik classes -- I prefer shuffle through playlists or artists.)

But the Music menu itself. It's just funny. Because at the same time Apple has changed "Browse" to "Music," it's added an Audiobooks sub-menu that lists all your audiobooks. Audiobooks, under the Music menu! It's silly.

Previously I used a third-generation iPod, and it's taken some time to get used to the click wheel and (especially) the act of physically clicking on the wheel and the center button. But it's also been a nostalgia trip, since the experience of using this new iPod is very much like the first two iPod generations. In fact, in some ways I view the third-generation iPod as an evolutionary dead-end. If you tried a second-generation iPod (a touch-wheel with the circular ring of buttons at the compass points) and then switched to a fourth-generation iPod, it would be a pretty seamless transition.

I keep my music library on a Mac in my house, and so when I come to work I plug my iPod into my Mac and use it as my library. That means, unfortunately, that I have to use the iPod's "manual mode" rather than setting the iPod to auto-sync to a library. And honestly, I'm getting tired of being treated as a second-class iPod citizen.

First off, iTunes withholds several features -- including Party Shuffle and Sharing -- from people who keep their music libraries on their iPods. Now comes a whole set of fourth-generation enhancements to the iPod's On-the-Go playlists, which let you add and remove songs as well as save multiple playlists. That's all great, but those new playlists are only accessible if you're using (you guessed it) an auto-syncing iPod. The moment I plug my iPod into my Mac, all the on-the-go playlists are eradicated. It's frustrating.

One last thing I noticed: The iPod still doesn't mirror iTunes' option to let you collect all your music from compilations under a single "Compilations" artist item, filtering weird one-track artists out of your main artist list. It's a nice feature that was added to iTunes 4; it would be nice to see the iPod support it, too.

All in all, though, I had a pleasant time with my new iPod this weekend. It's definitely a step forward. And I can't tell you how great it is not to have those touch-sensitive buttons anymore.

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