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Thursday, October 07, 2004  

Review: The fourth-generation iPod

Six weeks into experiencing the latest version of the iPod, I've decided it is time to talk about it. But, first, some background. I am a veteran 'Pod person. I bought an iPod as soon as the original, the 5 GB model, was released. I've owned each of its successors. The shortest relationship was for about four months, with my 40 GB third-generation iPod. I replaced it with the 40 GB fourth-generation device, named Titaness. During my three years of experience with Apple Computer's MP3 player/hard drive, I've used it more often and I've become more satisfied.

There are innovations in the latest version. I've found them to be improvements.

~ The third-generation model's pressable buttons have been replaced with a clickable scroll wheel. One presses the arrows to achieve the functions: go to the menu, go forward, go backward, and stop.

~ The device's battery life has been extended to twelve hours, according to the manufacturer. The previous estimate of battery life was eight hours. I cannot say with certainty whether I've used Titaness for twelve hours without charging her. But, I have never received the out of power response from my fourth-generation iPod, even when I forgot to put her in the charging dock overnight. I did run out of power with previous models. That can be frustrating because it usually happens when one most wants to 'disappear' into one's portable music.

~ The price of the iPod has been reduced. The 20 GB version sells for $299. The 40 GB version sells for $399. You may find them for a few bucks less, but, as the elite of its market, the iPod has a pretty stable price. There is a catch. Previous models came with a case, a $40 value, included. The fourth-generation doesn't. The iPod scratches easily. You will need to buy a case. So, you save from $30 to $60, not $100 for the 40 GB model. You must purchase the dock and remote control as accessories for the 20 GB iPod, in addition to a case. Either can be omitted, but both make using the device easier.

Speaking of cases, they aren't readily available yet. Apple makes surprise announcements of new products. Manufacturers of peripherals and other paraphernalia are rushing to catch up with the newest version of the iPod, released in July. I'm still using a third-generation case, which means I must either remove the iPod from the case to access the scroll wheel or use the remote control.

Other aspects of the iPod are not new, but are still neat. Foremost is the device's compatibility with both Macintosh and Windows-compatible computers. That change in Apple's marketing strategy has led millions of consumers to 'think different.' The ability of the iPod to act as a hard drive, on which one can back up one's entire computer, is another feature that makes it a must have, in my opinion. The iPod replaces bulky Zip drives or external hard drives. One gets two products, an MP3 player and a hard drive, for one price. And, both fit in your pocket. Let's not forget the iPod's content companion, the iTunes Music Store. The store has expanded its catalog to include more mainstream artists and now offers support for audiobooks, via Audible. Among the choices currently available are the presidential debates, hours after they occur. Sound from both iTMS purchases and CDs that you copy to iTunes is better than ever. Now, one can use 'lossless' imports to iTunes to guarantee the same quality of sound as the original, according to Apple.

Sometimes, I look back at technology and am puzzled by how tacky it seems in hindsight. Serial adapters. SCSI chains. The Iomega Clik! Drive. However, I believe the iPod is a product that will pass the test of time.

Reasonably related

~ Visit Apple's iPod page for general information about the device.

~ Want the the technical lowdown? ZDNet Reviews explains it all to you.

10:00 PM