In other words, Apple has made a good thing even better, although we still wish that the company would include a carrying case and a belt clip, particularly given the iPod's rather hefty price tag.
As far as design is concerned, Apple did everything right with the original iPod, and it didn't make any changes to the cosmetics with this version. When you open the box, the first thing that you notice (after the multilingual sticker urging you not to steal music) is the casing, which is made of shiny stainless steel on the back and a thick slab of Lucite on the front. A large screen enables you to easily view the device's straightforward menu structure, and songs categorised by playlist, album or artist are all easy to find. We particularly appreciated the scroll wheel on the front of the device that allows you to effortlessly navigate through the menus. When holding the 185g device in one hand, you can click through every song, album or playlist very rapidly.
Unlike other jog dials or button navigation systems, the scroll wheel accelerates as you turn it, allowing for the kind of manoeuvring that's necessary to get through 10GB-worth of MP3s (about 2,000 songs encoded at a bit rate of 160Kbit/s) in mere seconds. The iPod's sonics are quite good, producing clean sound through decent earbuds and featuring no fewer than 31 EQ settings, thanks to new the new firmware. As noted, the equalisation feature was absent in the 5GB version.
One problem that we wish Apple would address in its next firmware upgrade is the lack of a Resume feature. When listening to audiobooks, we had to scroll all the way through the long recording to find where we'd left off. As of now, the iPod resumes only between songs.
But in all of our testing, the iPod never missed a beat because it plays tunes from a skip-free flash-memory buffer that relays music from the hard drive. Still, if you want something specifically for jogging, you might be better off with a lighter flash-based MP3 player, which doesn't have moving parts. As yet, the effects that jogging has on hard drive-based players is unknown.
Before the iPod appeared, USB was the fastest way to transfer files to an MP3 player. Thanks to the iPod's FireWire (IEEE 1394) connection, filling up all 10GB takes only 20 minutes. Performing the same feat via USB 1.1 would take at least 10 hours. And the iPod not only has the fastest file transfers, but also the smartest. It's the first MP3 player to automatically sync to jukebox software (in this case, iTunes 2.x ). Just plug the iPod into your Mac, sit back, and watch iTunes start up and transfer every new song, album, and playlist onto the unit. At the same time, your new contacts transfer from compatible applications -- currently Palm Desktop 4.0 or later and Entourage for Mac OS X or Mac OS 9, but not Outlook in any of its incarnations. The FireWire connection also recharges the iPod's battery, which lasts 10 hours. If you're not near your computer, you can recharge the unit with an ultra-compact folding adapter that plugs into any wall outlet and powers up the iPod through the same FireWire socket.
The iPod doubles as a portable storage device to transport all file types between two compatible computers. Out of deference to copyright holders, it can sync MP3s to iTunes only on a single Mac. However, by activating the View Hidden Folders preference, you can get around this protection and freely ferry MP3s between computers.
One common complaint has been the iPod's lack of Windows support. At the product announcement, Apple CEO Steve Jobs mentioned that such compatibility would eventually arrive, but he didn't seem to be in a big rush to add it. In the meantime, Windows users can buy a £15 to £60 FireWire card and Mediafour's $40 (£27.84) XPlay, software (still a preview release) to get tunes and data onto the iPod. However, PC users still won't be able to transfer contact lists or autosync the iPod with the music on their computer.
Besides its steep asking price, the only problems with this new iPod are its lack of a belt clip, a carrying case and a Resume function -- as well as the native Windows incompatibility. Third-party manufacturers have solved most of those problems, and Apple will likely add a Resume function in future firmware upgrades, but it would be nice if the company included everything up front. That said, this is still the best MP3 player we've tested to date.
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