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Friday, January 1, 2010

Apple 3G iPod 15GB

Since its introduction in late ‘01, the Apple iPod has been regarded as one of the best HD-based MP3 players. Not surprisingly, it has outsold all other hard drive-based MP3 players despite its higher price tag. Simple user interface, small footprint and fashionable styling made it what it is. When Apple announced the newest generation iPod, I didn’t think they would drastically move away from the basic design. Many felt the button placement on the old one and ergonomics was unbeatable. I would have to agree on that one, as I found operating the old iPod an easy and intuitive function. Once I saw the 3D renderings of the new iPod, I was shocked to see that the button layout had been changed and in favor of placing the four main function buttons across the top of the scroll wheel. I thought this had to be a joke, as the old layout was far superior. Apple likes to surprise us with strange designs, but always placing usability first.
Enter the new iPod which was officially introduced by Steve Jobs on April 28th, 2003. As usual Apple style, the shipment of the product after announcement would be very short. It shipped in just four days.The new iPod was officially sold on May 2nd, but many retailers such as CompUSA sold them a day in advance. This is where I bought mine on May 1st. From what I can tell, the Apple stores stocked many iPods, and there were no shortages to report. I actually picked up a second unit for my girlfriend on May 3rd, and my local Apple store had plenty in stock. It really looks like Apple went all out to make this as easily available as possible. Gone are the long delayed shipment and shortages. This is in my opinion is an excellent execution and a great launch by Apple.
Price wise, Apple actually lowered the MSRP of all the units relative to older models. The new versions come in 10, 15 and 30GB flavors at $299, $399 and $499 respectively. The ‘base’ model 10GB lacks the docking station, case and remote control. By all means, it looks like the 15GB may be the darling of the bunch, offering large storage space, all accessories and a relatively reasonable price tag. I will also note that the 30GB is also a bit heavier and thicker in size compared to the 10 and 15GB offerings. But, the size difference will be hard to discern on such a small unit already. I believe Apple has uniquely positioned itself with pricing. The nearest competitor, the creative nomad Zen, comes in 20GB but at $299. People looking for a portable hard drive-based MP3 player will most likely compare the 20GB Zen with the 10GB iPod based on the same pricing. But if dug deeper, you will find the Zen a much heavier and more difficult device to use. But the fact remains, that Apple and Creative have a product with the same MSRP, and most likely the battle will be fought there. I believe only iPod fanatics will splurge for the 30GB model. I bought the 15GB version, and this review is based on that version.
This new version of the iPod marks the first signifigant update and design change, since the first generation iPods were introduced. The updated list of features is quite impressive. And updating an award winning innovative design such as the first iPod was not an easy task for Apple.
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Out of the box experience
I entitled this the, ‘out of the box experience’ because when you open your first iPod, there is no other sensation quite like it. It was very similar to driving my first hi-powered sports car. From the moment you slip in, you know you’re in for a treat. The box is unusually designed, as it is a perfect cube, and the outer cover slips off to reveal the clamshell style package that folds open from the middle. Great care was taken when designing the package as Apple has always been about details, details and more details. After opening the box, you will begin to ‘peel’ off layers of products and begin to notice the little details Apple has used designing and engineering each product. The FireWire cable is not thick and bulky, but rather thin, light and elegant in design. The dock is very heavy, and the whole bottom is made out of non-slipping rubber. The remote looks like a piece of art. Overall, you just get the impression that you get what you paid for. It’s the details that count when looking at the big picture. Interestingly enough, the iPod itself is covered in a plastic wrap that says: ‘Don’t steal music.’ in the front.
Whats in the box (15 and 30GB versions):
  • iPod unit
  • Docking station
  • Wired remote control
  • Case
  • Proprietary FireWire cable that plugs into either the dock or iPod itself
  • 6pin to 4pin FireWire adapter
  • Software and instruction manual
  • Earbuds
  • Port Covers X 2
  • Power Adapter
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First impressions and installation
This review will focus on using my iPod 15GB on a Windows PC.I don’t have a Mac, but I would be very interested to try iTunes 4 with AAC encoded song files. Perhaps I will add an addendum to this review later.
When you first plug in the iPod, windows will recognize the unit as an ‘iPod’ but will not be formatted for windows use. To do so, you will need to install the Windows updater software from the CD. For the sake of trying, I actually went through the whole ‘recommended’ install process. What happens is after plugging in the iPod, the windows installer will load the updater to format the iPod for windows use. At this point, you have to run through a lengthy registration process with no option to skip. I thought this was a very tasteless move by Apple. Forcing someone to register before continuing is very rude. At any rate, after the software is done setting the version of your iPod, it will start installing Musicmatch software for loading MP3s. Musicmatch was not developed by Apple, rather it was a widely used application for Windows users and Apple partnered with Musicmatch to provide support for the iPod. For most users, Musicmatch is a very confusing and bloated application to use. I don’t like how Musicmatch took over playing all my MP3 files without my consent. When it comes down to it, Musicmatch will work, but there is far better software for managing your music and syncing MP3s to iPod. I use EphPod, which is a free download you can get at Installation and usage is very easy. EphPod can be used to transfer files, or it can be quite powerful, as you can edit ID3 tags with it as well. In my opinion, EphPod is worlds better than Musicmatch, and best of all, it’s free! There are of course, other options as well, such as Media Center 9, XPlay, etc. I have not used these, but to all that’s interested, you can find discussions about them on the iLounge forums.
A common misconception about the docking station when the new iPod was first announced, was that you had to use it in order for the iPod to transfer music or charge. That is simply not the case. Mostly, the only real difference between the older iPod and the new one, is that on one end of the FireWire cable, you have the standard 6-pin FireWire plug, and on the other end you have a proprietary plug. The proprietary end can be plugged directly into the iPod itself or into the dock. The only real feature the docking station offers, is a LINE OUT port (more on that later) and it acts as a stand for iPod. The new cable is a proprietary design, so you can’t use any off-the-shelf FireWire cable as in the past. First I felt; this was a drawback as I had multiple cables for each use. For example, I had a cable plugged into the charger, and one on the back of my computer. If I wanted to transfer music, I just unplugged it from the charger, and plugged it into the cable that’s plugged into my computer. With the new cable, and since I have only one, I had to unplug the cable whenever I wanted to charge or transfer music. It gets even worse as I occasionally use my iPod to move files from work and home and now, I would have to bring the cable with me. I’m sure one of the first accessories most will purchase will be extra cables. But at $19, it’s not as reasonably priced compared to a standard FireWire cable.
One of the most asked for options was the addition of a line out port. Headphone and audio enthusiasts alike have always wanted a clean, uncluttered output signal to connect to their own amplifiers. A line out will completely bypass the on board headphone amp providing for a much cleaner signal. This in turn will allow you to connect the iPod and use it as a source for a hi-end home amplifier or headphone amplifier. Since I’m actually somewhat of a headphone enthusiast, one of the first tests I did was to test the signal or quality of the line-out using my home-built Meta42 opamp based headphone amp and a pair of Sennheiser HD600 headphones. The HD600s has an impedance of 300ohm, making a headphone amp a much needed tool to drive those headphones. Using just the headphone plug of the iPod, the HD600s can be driven, but very poorly. The sound is very thin and weak. While using the new line-out with the headphone amp, the HD600s sounded very good. On my 320Kps lame encoded MP3s, the sound was excellent. When I first listened, I swore I could hear the differences between the MP3s and the original CD.But, I think it may be due to the iPod being a slightly brighter source and revealed a bit more highs or treble than my CD source (Sony D-25S) Overall, I think the LINE OUT is nicely executed and very high quality sound wise. One thing to note, you do not need the FireWire cable plugged into the dock to use it. You can just plug the iPod directly into the cable and move it around to wherever it is needed.
I found the iPod to have excellent sound quality. The onboard headphone amp is plenty powerful to drive most of today’s portable headphones. I tested the iPod with various headphones such as the Etymotic ER-4S and a relatively cheap and inexpensive Koss KSC-35. The Etymotic headphones are very neutral and are somewhat hard to drive for most portable devices. Since I have the ‘S’ version, it is highly recommended by Etymotic for use with an amp. With my previous iPod’s, I had no problem driving the ER-4S headphones with great strength and ear bleeding volumes. The ER-4S headphones match up great with the iPod, as the quality is beyond excellent. The bass on the Etymotic’s will take some getting used to, as you can’t really feel it, but you can hear it. It’s quite the sensation. You will literally have a symphony in your head, and you will completely be cut off from any outside noise. I found this combo excellent for plane travel and general bedroom listening. With both the iPod and the ER-4 headphones, you literally have a world class music system that can fit in the palm of your hands! On the other hand, I also tested the iPod with the highly regarded under $50 headphone that is the Koss KSC-35. I must say, I was completely blown away by this combo. The Koss and iPod seemed to have a special synergy. I use this combo at work, and I couldn’t be happier. This proves to me, that the iPod is a great unit for driving different headphones at different quality levels and price points. The iPod exhibited absolutely no hiss and is dead silent. For the most part, I am very satisfied with the sound quality of the iPod, and I noticed no difference good or bad between the old units and the new ones. Unfortunately the new iPod carries over the EQ settings from the previous one, but is poorly integrated. Occasionally, when using the EQ, I will notice my MP3s will clip or distort. I never noticed this when the EQ settings are off, and I can only attribute this to the EQ algorithms that Apple has implemented. Rather than having a hardware based EQ, they probably use a software based solution that is highly inadequate for most usage.
I’ve never been a big fan of the wired remote, and this new remote is exactly the same as the old one. The only difference is that the plug to the iPod features two plugs; headphone and remote plug. I believe Apple stated that this will make the new remote sturdier to connect. Users reported the tiny contacts on the old iPod headphone port were breaking while trying to make sure the wired remote plug was properly ‘seated’. There have also been some reports that there will be a new recording mic option that uses those two extra prongs as well. In time, we’ll see what exactly Apple has in store for us.
The power adapter is also exactly the same as the old models and is interchangeable. I used my old power adapter (for charging in a wall outlet) with the new iPod and it worked without problems. I’m glad to know that Apple did not change the things that were functionally perfect.
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UI = User Interface
One of the best features and selling point of the older iPod was its GUI, or graphical user interface. It was very well designed and easily enough to use but powerful enough to satisfy all the techies. It was truly one of those designs that were absolutely easy and intuitive to learn, and doing anything requires very few button presses. The new iPods use iPod Software version 2.0. Those of us familiar with the old version will be immediately at ease with the new version. The first things I noticed is that you can now customize the ‘Main Menu’. What that means is that if you don’t want a certain option or feature to appear on the ‘Main Menu’ screen, you can turn it ‘Off’ or ‘On’. For example, don’t like the calendar and game functions? Just select ‘Off’ in ‘Settings’ > ‘Main Menu’.
We now have an ‘On-The-Go’ playlist. You can create a playlist within the iPod. It’s very easy to use. While playing a song, browse to whatever song or playlist you wish, hold the center button, you’ll see a quick flash highlighting the item, and now the song or playlist has been added to your ‘On-The-Go’ playlist. You can access this playlist by browsing playlists again and select the on the go playlist. It’s really easy to use and a much needed addition to the iPod.
Among the numerous additions, Apple provided two new games; solitaire and parachute. It was in no way a selling point for me. What I want from an MP3 player is the ability to play MP3s well and with no fuss or hassle. I know Apple tried to be true to this first and foremost, but the games are a nicely added touch.
Old vs. New
While the old iPod was in no way outdated, there were little quirks that most didn’t like but lived with. When doing a direct comparison between the old and new you can see that Apple addressed some of the quirks and finally fixed or updated them. On the old iPod, when you manually shut down or put the unit to ‘sleep’, the next time you turned it on, it would forget the last song where you left off. With the new iPod, it will return to the exact song that you left with.
Although the unit itself and the UI are different from old vs. new, there were things that were not improved. Much has been discussed about the reduced battery life, and although I have not done any long term testing, I don’t know what the fuss is all about. I’ve rarely been away from my power adapter long enough to drain the battery, but I can see why others may have this concern.
The new iPod is much thinner and sleeker than the old model. I never thought the old design was obsolete, but when doing a direct comparison, the new design looks just that much better. Of course, this is subjective, but if you place an old iPod and new iPod side by side I’m sure you’ll agree.
The old iPod’s headphone port had a small white collar with tiny contacts for use with the wired remote. The new headphone port is now embedded into the unit along with a new, separate port for using the wired remote’s combo plug. The remote’s combo plug and new ports provide a secure connection and minimizes the chances for breakage.
The back of the unit is the same exact polished metal as the old iPod, and is still very prone to scratches and fingerprints. The front cover of the unit is made of Lucite, as are old model iPods.
The touchbuttons on the new models are questionable as well. Although I found it suitable, I’d rather have mechanical buttons. But, it does allow Apple to design a thinner iPod, without any moving parts. Often I pressed the touchbutton and it did nothing. Time will tell whether this will become annoying. The touchbuttons are backlit in an unusual orange/red. The touchwheel is smaller in diameter, and smooth to the touch.
The LCD has been upgraded with ‘higher resolution’. From what I can tell when doing a direct comparison, the new LCD offers more pixels so the resolution is a bit higher. The new bluish tint backlight is a welcome addition as well. It looks absolutely mesmerizing when operating the new iPod in complete darkness. Overall, the new iPod offers unparalleled styling that is unique, fun and fully functional.
I think, the new iPod is a worthy upgrade to the excellent older iPod. For people new to iPods, skip the older one and go straight for the new one. Although you may not notice all the little improvements of the older one, what you will get is a cleverly designed unit that does an excellent job for what it is: An MP3 player like no other.

Apple 2G iPod 20GB Mac

iLounge, after much anticipation, has acquired a new iPod 20GB to review. I’ll be taking a look at the 20GB and all it’s new accessories including the new remote and iPod case. Some of what I’m about to say was mentioned in my earlier report, “First Look: iPod 20GB”.
New Packaging

As you can see from the photos, Apple redesigned the iPod packaging. I like to think Apple was inspired by the iLounge grey color scheme and round corner shapes as we borrowed the orange from the iPod package. If you notice, Apple managed to fit the new accessories into the packaging without changing the original box dimensions.

The iPod 20GB
The iPod 20GB is thicker, heavier and there is now a trackpad scroll wheel. The iPod 20GB is about 10% thicker than the iPod 5GB (previous and new models). In our photos, you’ll notice the size difference is not easily noticed. The 20GB is slightly heavier, but not by much. The reason for the thicker dimensions and heavier weight is due to the Toshiba 20GB hard drive inside.

No doubt case makers will be updating their designs to fit the thicker iPod 20GB and some may also be changing their existing case designs to accommodate the thinner 10GB model. I performed a quick fit test on the following cases:
MARWARE: SportSuit Basic (tight, but fits ok)
MARWARE: SportSuit Sleeve (fits)
MARWARE: SportSuit Convertible (tight, but fits ok)
OP/TECH iPod pouch (fits)
The Pouch (fits)
The iPod Store Neoprene case (tight, but fits ok)
XtremeMac Deluxe case: (tight, but fits)
e-pac case: (fit is too tight)
Vaja case: (does not fit)
Xigma case: (does not fit)
Krusell Classic Leather case (tight, but fits ok)
Krusell Handit case (does not fit)
Groove Jacket (tight, but fits ok)
Waterfield Designs Sooper Dooper case (tight, but fits ok)
Willow Design BiFold case (fit is too tight)
The majority of cases now available do not fit or are too tight and don’t fit properly. We’ll have to wait for the case makers to release new models.
As I had mentioned in First Look: iPod 20GB, I didn’t care for the new trackpad scroll wheel. I believe with time that could change. It’s the old “it’s new and I have to get used to it” cliche. Many iLoungers have expressed they like the new trackpad scroll wheel and describe the finish as being “soft” and “smooth” when navigating the user interface.

At to the top of the iPod 20GB you’ll find that Apple has designed the chromed metal to surround the FireWire port, audio port and “Hold” switch. Previous model iPods had white plastic.
The FireWire port has a white plastic port cover with a grey rubber gasket on its underside. The gasket extends to form an “L” shaped hinge for the cover. In the included iPod Users Guide, it states, “The FireWire port cover (available with some models of iPod) is designed to be removable. If it comes off, you can reinsert it.” I removed it and reinserted it without any problems.

There has been a slight modification to the “Hold” switch. It’s now longer, and the finger grip has moved from the end of the left side (previous models) to the middle.
The iPod 20GB shipped with Software Updater 1.2 installed, but we won’t be able to take advantage of iCalendars until Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar is released. Included on the 20GB hard drive are Contacts and Calendars folders, iTunes 2.0.4 for Mac OS 9 and iTunes 3 for Mac OS X installers.
Along with the hours of music you can pack onto the 20GB hard drive, look at all the storage space you have to transport data. A battery powered, 20GB hard drive with everything you need in your pocket. iLounger Jeremy said it best, “Battery-powered FireWire hard drives are cool unto themselves.” We have to agree.
The Remote
It’s about time Apple released a remote for the iPod. Good things come to those who wait and in usual Apple fashion, it’s beautiful and simple to use. The front panel is made from the same polished, chrome metal casing as found on the iPod (but thicker), and the back is white plastic and features a spring clip.

The on/off switch is a tiny, white elongated piece of plastic on the left side. The on and off positions are indicated by a tiny green and red dot. The control buttons include volume, reverse, forward, play and pause. These buttons are also metal, but with a matte finish.
When you want to use the remote, plug it into the audio port on the iPod (make sure to push it in firmly), and then plug your ear/headphones into the audio port on the remote. Turn your iPod on and choose a song to play. Turn your remote to “on” indicated by the green dot. You now have control of your song via the remote. I didn’t have any problems using the remote, and am quite happy with its performance.

The Case
I’ve reviewed many cases and as I sit here with my back to a table full of iPod cases I think I know what a good iPod case is when I see it. The Apple iPod case is both elegant and simple in form. The case is not a fully functional case, because there is no access to the scroll wheel. You’ll have to pull the iPod out each time you want to use it.

The case is constructed from a U-shaped cardboard insert, covered in tightly woven, black nylon. The finish is smooth to the touch, and the stitching is impeccable. One-size-fits-all, because the elastic sides accommodate the difference in thickness between the 5GB, 10GB and 20GB models. On the back panel is a black plastic and metal belt clip. Though the Apple iPod case is nice, I think many of our readers will be searching for a case to better suit their needs, provides full functionality and better protection.
The Earphones
A common complaint among iPod owners was the uncomfortable and oversized original earphones. Apple took notice and redesigned the new earphones to be smaller than previous models. I’ve worn them for several hours without any discomfort.

I always liked the sound reproduction of the original earphones, and the new models are just as good. The new earphones reproduce full, rich sound, good bass and just enough highs to make the whole listening experience wonderful. As I write this, I have my EQ set to “Lounge” (how appropriate) and listening to Louis Armstrong wail a tune on his trumpet.
The iPod Software CD
The software CD includes iTunes 2.0.4 for Mac OS 9 and iTunes 3 for Mac OS X. After installing iTunes 3, I connected the iPod 20GB and it asked to name my iPod. Let it be known that the new official iLounge iPod is named “loungePod.” iTunes then began syncing all my existing playlists to “loungePod.” I wanted to perform a quick test of the new Smart Playlist feature. From the iTunes menu, I chose “File”, “New Smart Playlist.” and proceeded to create rules for a playlist limited to 50 songs with “BitRate” greater than 128 and listed by Artist. It worked perfectly. iLounge will have more on using iTunes 3 and iPod at a later date.

Also included in the CD packaging is a handy “iPod Users Guide” and an “At A Glance” foldout brochure describing the various functions and features of the iPod 20GB and remote.
The Bottom Line
There is no denying that the new iPod 20GB is the mightiest of all MP3 players available. It’s a beautiful, simple and easy to use palm sized MP3 player that packs a 20GB punch. As the digital music explosion continues to rock the world of MP3 enthusiasts, the new iPod models have solidified Apple’s position as the dominant force within the portable MP3 player industry. No one does it like Apple and if Apple can help it, no one ever will. Ipod, you pod, will everyone iPod? Only time will tell.

Apple 2G iPod 10GB PC

iPod Envy
Being a PC user, I was quite envious of the Apple camp when the original iPod was introduced. Here was a portable MP3 player that not only held tons of songs in a little package; it did it with style!
Soon enough, utilities such as EphPod and XPlay were introduced which allowed PC users to access the iPod from Windows. Sure they worked, but sideliners like myself were waiting for something a little more official.
Thanks Uncle Steve!
Rejoice! On July 17, 2002, at MacWorld in NYC, Steve Jobs introduced a new iPod lineup. To the surprise of many, included were models which officially support Windows. Is Apple conceding that Windows has a larger user base than Mac OS? Is it a Trojan horse to attract PC users to Apple hardware? Who cares? It just rocks!
Show Me the Goods
So, if you were an excited PC user on July 17th, you went on Apple’s website and ordered the PC iPod, twiddled your thumbs for a month and a half, and on the last week of August your little bundle of love arrived. When I say a little bundle, I mean a little bundle. Never would I suspect such power to come in such a tiny box.
In that box you will find the iPod, remote control, earphones, rapid charger, FireWire cable with 6pin to 4pin adapter, carrying case, and a CD-ROM package containing software and instruction manuals.
The Pod
Even after playing with friend’s iPods and display models I was still amazed at the size and elegant design of the device. The front is a simple white design, consisting of only a display, five buttons, and a scroll pad. On the top of the unit is a covered FireWire port, earphones jack, and hold switch. The back is simply a sexy chrome finish with a large Apple logo in the center.
The key to Apple’s success in the computer market has always been simplicity. This philosophy is carried over to the iPod. Navigation, for instance, is extremely simple. The scroll pad is used to select menu choices, the center button acts as the enter key. To go back a level, simply hit the “menu” button and you jump up to the previous menu. Volume is adjusted via the scroll pad once a song is playing.
Music collections can be browsed by artist, album, song, genre, or composer. 90% of the time the song you want to hear is a couple spins of the scroll pad and a click or two away.
The new scroll pad (10GB and 20GB models only), which replaces the mechanical scroll wheel of the older iPods, works great. It’s quite sensitive to touch, but never over sensitive. It’s a big plus because it rids the iPod of any (superficial) moving parts.
It’s amazing to see the thought that went into the design of the iPod. I have seen other portable MP3 players that use to 10 buttons to do what the iPod does in 5. I think the problem with other devices is that they follow the cassette player metaphor. Apple saw no need for a separate stop button or volume controls. Less button-clutter leads to a clean, easy to use interface.
The Remote
Included with the new 10 and 20 gigabyte iPods is a wired remote. It’s a simple device housing four buttons for playing, track navigation, and volume. On the side is a small hold switch.
After using the remote on my Nomad II for a couple of years the iPod remote feels a little heavy in comparison. Its chrome finish adds to its beauty but also gives it weight. Also, the clip does not have a large “bite” and I found it slipping off what it was holding onto more than once.
One last thing that threw me was the fact that the buttons maintain the same arrangement when the remote is flipped vertically. I find myself hitting pause when I mean to hit volume and back when I mean to press forward. A different button arrangement would have made it easier to know which button did what by touch alone.
Nonetheless, if you don’t want to whip out your iPod just to change the volume or jump to the next song, the remote is a necessity. While living in New York City the last thing I want to do is flash my shiny new iPod on the F train late at night. Kudos to Apple for including the remote, I find I cannot make due without it.
The Case
There’s not much to say about the case. It’s ordinary looking, has an attached belt clip and sports a U-shaped nylon design with thick backing. The case covers the iPod’s face and buttons, so using the remote is necessary when the unit is in the case.
One thing I do not like about the case is that it leaves the sides of the device exposed. It would break my heart to see the side of my iPod scratched, especially if it were in a case that’s supposed to be protecting it. My advice to anyone serious about keeping their iPod in good condition is to go online and look for a case that covers the entire device. The iPod case market is already fairly large, and many have been reviewed by iLounge.
However, if iPod preservation is not your top priority, the included case will certainly suffice.
Let’s Light This Candle
Well, never one to read a manual, the first thing I did after cracking open the box was to connect the iPod up to my PC. I needed to install software for Windows XP to recognize it as anything other than a mass storage device. In order to sync my songs, I needed to install MUSICMATCH Jukebox (MMJB).
You Sir, are no iTunes
MMJB is where the differences better the Windows and Mac iPods become noticeable. While Mac iPod users get to use iTunes, Apple’s premier media player, Windows users are stuck with the less popular (and less aesthetically pleasing) MMJB.
Weeks before my iPod arrived I downloaded an evaluation copy of MMJB to bang my MP3 collection into shape. MMJB contains many tools to help keep your collection’s ID3 tags and filenames in order. It is essential that your collection’s ID3 tags are in some semblance of order to avoid a messy, difficult to browse iPod. MMJB’s tools are easy to use and quite powerful. ID3 tags can be created from the MP3 file’s name or even looked up on the Internet through MUSICMATCH’s database.
After playing around with MMJB for a while I came to the conclusion that I would not want to use it for anything other than syncing my iPod. There are plenty of better media players available for Windows. On a whole MMJB, just seems clunky.
Upon hooking up my iPod to my PC the first time, the initial sync would not work. MMJB would become unresponsive and freeze about halfway into the sync. I had to use the “iPod Updater” utility included with the installation to re-initialize the device to get the sync started again. Something about the failed sync caused the device to no longer be recognized by MMJB.
After re-initializing the device, MMJB started adding songs to my iPod but suddenly it crashed with a Windows exception. After it crashed three times in a row, I figured out it was one particular song that was causing the problem. For some reason the presence of that song would crash MMJB on sync, so I deleted it from the playlist and the sync worked fine. After about 30 minutes my iPod was loaded with around 2500 songs (your mileage may vary) and I was ready to roll.
As an experiment, I added a couple of new songs to the playlist to see how long a small sync would take. I thought it would be much quicker. It took just short of 10 minutes to add the two new songs. The software seemed to be scanning the iPod 99% of the time, as if it were searching and updating its database. I hope this can be improved in a future version.
Despite all of the current bugs in MMJB, it’s still enough to get you syncing and listening to songs on your iPod. Hopefully, an update is not far away that will address the bugs I encountered.
But How Does It Sound?
All the well-thought design in the world is not going to matter if the sound is not up to par. I am happy to say the iPod sounds wonderful. The included earphones really crank out deep bass and crisp highs. I myself prefer “behind the head” style headphones, so I picked up a pair of Sony MDR-G52 headphones ($20 everywhere), which sound a bit “fuller,” compared to the included earphones.
Included with the 1.2 firmware (the software that runs on the iPod itself) are equalizer presets. There are 21 presets, including Classical, Electronic and everything in-between. I would have liked to see a user-defined preset, being I have my personal bass to treble preference I set on all my devices. No such luck, perhaps in an update.
Windows Interoperability
Windows recognizes the iPod as a mass storage device. It assigns it a drive letter which allows it to be seen as an ordinary hard disk. The FireWire access to the drive is blazing. As an experiment, I copied a little over 100 megabytes of data to the iPod and it took roughly 10 seconds. It’s a perfect solution for transferring large files to and from the office.
Contacts & Calendar
The 1.2 version of iPod’s firmware contains PDA type functionality with support for contacts and calendars.
To add a contact, you must export it from a program like Outlook to a vCard file and copy the file to the “Contacts” folder on the iPod. Similarly, appointments can be added by exporting them into iCalendar or vCalendar format and copying them onto the “Calendar” folder on the device.
The only down side is that this can only be done one contact or appointment at a time. Mac users enjoy automatic synchronization via iCal. There’s no such luck under Windows. I am sure it’s only a short matter of time before some clever programmer writes a program to automatically sync contact and calendar information from Outlook, Notes, etc.
The Bottom Line
The iPod is without a doubt the current king of all portable media players. Now that it fully supports Windows there should be little reason to look at any other portable hard disk driven device. If you are unsure which model to go with, I recommend the 10GB model. For $100 more than the 5GB model, you get a remote, case, scroll pad, and did I mention double the space?
If you are a big-time music lover, or are going to be using the FireWire hard disk support to transfer large files, I recommend the 20GB model. It’s slightly thicker and heavier than the 5 and 10 gigabyte models but you the extra 2000 or so songs you can store more than makes up for it.

Photo of the Week: iPhone 3G in New York

This week’s featured photo is from our iPhones Around the World gallery, and shows an iPhone 3G at Niagara Falls State Park in New York overlooking Niagara Falls. To share your photos and to be considered for our Photo of the Week, you simply need to submit your own photo to one of our galleries. So get out there, take some pictures with your iPod or iPhone, and maybe your submission will be our next Photo of the Week!

iPhone Gems: Low Grav Racer 2, Skater Nation + Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X

After working at a brisk pace to clear out the many new games that have been released over the past month, we finally feel largely caught up on the backlog of new iPhone and iPod touch releases we’ve wanted to cover. This week’s third and final edition of iPhone Gems looks at three more titles that we’ve been playing recently: Gameloft’s Skater Nation has been sitting on the back burner for the past week, while the company’s more recent Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X airplane shooter also caught our attention, and Low Grav Racer 2 from Cobra Mobile merited a write-up, as well.
As with the last edition of iPhone Gems, each of these titles fell just below the B+ recommendation level that we use as a threshold for strongly recommending a game as worthy of every reader’s consideration, but they’re all in the zone for fans of their specific genres. Read on for all the details.
Low Grav Racer 2
Nearly a year ago, we reviewed a Wipeout clone called Low Grav Racer, a $6 futuristic racing game from Cobra Mobile that suffered from problematic controls but had just enough interesting 3-D artwork to “legitimately impress” at the time. Now Cobra Mobile is back with Low Grav Racer 2 ($3), and there are many reasons to like it: the price is right, the controls are much better, and the aesthetics have been given an additional layer of polish. Our feelings can be neatly summed up in one sentence: LGR2 is nearly as close to a Wipeout-caliber experience as a game can come without having the class or intensity of Sony’s games.
Start with the subject of class—an area that the Wipeout games originally brought to the fore with ship, font, and other visual contributions from now-defunct design firm The Designers Republic. Low Grav Racer 2 doesn’t include the beautiful or gritty cityscapes, the believable vehicles, or the iconic power-ups—the music is also completely forgettable rather than exciting—but it still manages to offer some cool tricks: its boldly-colored 18 tracks run at fluid frame rates and include large, seriously cool background objects that suffer from less pop-up than in the original game, despite the continued presence of multiple vehicles on screen at once, each with glowing vapor trails and the occasional burst of weapon fire. Three speed classes are offered, even the most basic of which feels quite fast by iPhone racing game standards, and six ships are available to select from. We only noticed hiccups in the graphics engine when we shifted from the default behind-ship view into cockpit view mode, and then, the issues were due to some track-smacking camera problems rather than anything else.
Cobra Mobile’s assortment of weapons are once again a few steps behind Sony’s in visuals but extremely similar in functionality—lock-on single missiles, trident-style triple missiles, bombs, speed boosts, and shields are all presented as color-coded stars on the tracks, which makes them easy to spot and, with a little practice, to identify before a pick-up. Though the weapons have little of the flair that they could and should include, there are occasional exceptions, such as some polygon-based speed boost indicators that fill the screen and look pretty cool.
Intensity is the title’s other major issue: tracks range from at-least-a-little-too-wide to narrow, but suffer from a common issue in that there’s too rarely a sense of real peril in jousting with other vehicles, or in using weapons. Get hit with a missile or a bomb and you slow down and spin around, rather than bursting into flames and chunks a la Wipeout. If anything’s really missing from Low Grav Racer 2, it’s the potential for knocking out an opponent or being knocked out by one; the greatest penalty the game offers, instead, is to come in fourth, fifth, or sixth, thereby refusing to unlock the next track.
Believe it or not, that sufficed to keep us playing: the track designs were interesting enough and the game moved quickly enough that we wanted to see what was next. For a $3 asking price, that’s not bad, and those seeking something more—say, competition—can enjoy online Plus+ leaderboards in the absence of a multiplayer mode. With additional tweaking, Low Grav Racer 2 could have the powerful firefights of a Wipeout title and an online racing competition to make its levels just that much more compelling, but our guess is that the company will hold back on major tweaks in favor of another sequel. We’ll be anxious to see what it does in any case; LGR2 is a nice step forward from its predecessor and shows that a Wipeout-quality racer for the iPhone draws nearer, even if it hasn’t quite happened yet. iLounge Rating: B.
Skater Nation and Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X
As we’ve acknowledged with Best of the Year Awards for two years in a row, Gameloft is the top game developer in the App Store—no ifs, ands, or buts about it. It came from nowhere to release games across virtually every conceivable theme, and now has games that range from competent to great in such diverse genres as action, puzzles, fighting, driving, sports, edutainment, and shooting. With the release of Skater Nation ($7) and Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X ($7), the company has added another two feathers to its cap in the form of a skating game and a military flight combat title, but this blistering expansion has had a consequence: some of the titles are starting to feel like soulless place holders—flags in the ground to stake claims to any genre that might interest someone, lacking the little extra spark of brilliance or something special that distinguishes a really good game from one that’s just sort of there.
Start with Skater Nation, which uses a modified version of the graphics engine developed for Gameloft’s Grand Theft Auto-alike Gangstar to display 10 large, open-edged skating environments set in the expected urban settings: skate parks, a construction site, city streets, and abandoned warehouse-like buildings. From a technical standpoint, these environments are impressively filled with ramps, pipes to grind on, and completely three-dimensional structures in the foreground and distance, all contributing to a plausibility rarely seen on handheld gaming devices. All that’s missing is life: no one’s walking, biking, or driving around in any of these places. The few cars you’ll see are immobile, and though you’ll sometimes come across an animated texture or two, you’re the only thing moving most of the time. This isn’t exactly a shock—other iPhone skating titles have the same issue, and skating games are frequently focused on you and your tricks—but Skater Nation feels like a sterile concoction rather than a game built by and for skaters; love them or hate them, Tony Hawk and S.K.A.T.E. console games at least feel like they have a little more soul.
Thankfully, Gameloft gives you some choice of how you’ll look and what you’ll ride. You can choose from a variety of different skaters, male and female, as well as several skateboards, each with individually selectable wheels and trucks; of course, you unlock additional skaters and decks as the game goes on. A career mode takes you through competitions, and a free ride mode lets you practice in any of the game’s areas at your own pace, with a nice teleport feature to take you from area to area without extended skating. Decent enough rock music from unknown artists plays from a virtual jukebox with its own forward and reverse track buttons, accessed via a musical note icon in the upper right corner of the screen.
So from a check-the-box standpoint, Skater Nation checks all the boxes. It relies on a functional virtual joystick and two buttons for almost all of the control, save for a wonky device-tilting feature for balancing tricks; fifteen minutes of playing around is enough time to generally get the hang of combining the joystick with button presses to jump, grind, and execute more complex tricks. But, like the environments, the skating action here feels lifeless: the character models may have the tattoos and grungy clothes of edgy skaters, but they perform tricks as if they’re going through the motions, and though there are quite a few areas to explore, they blur into and overlap each other enough to feel samey. Even the brief thrill of finding a helicopter that takes you up a tall hill and street, allowing you to enjoy the rush of skating down, is less than entirely satisfying: you enter the copter and emerge at the top of the hill, without any opportunity to enjoy the ride.
Given that other skating titles on the iPhone and iPod touch have all had their own issues—Vans SK8 too few environments—the fact that Skater Nation includes any mission structure at all, multiple characters, and fine controls will be enough to make it appeal to some users: it is in that regard a validation of Gameloft’s apparent strategy to stake its claim, even imperfectly, in under-served genres. But it’s surely missing the special touches that would make it more than a fair placeholder, and truly worthy of its $7 asking price given that its competitors are both less expensive. Consider it worth checking out as soon as it drops below $5 or receives a significant update. iLounge Rating: B-.
Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X might be an entirely different game, but the story’s mostly the same: once again, Gameloft has a solid 3-D engine, fine music, and good enough gameplay on its side, but nothing quite rises to the level of actual impressiveness—particularly after the release of Namco’s way-too-short but technically thrilling Ace Combat Xi last week. In typical Gameloft fashion, you’re offered the initial choice of several different planes—all actually licensed—with the ability to unlock more as the game goes on, and you’re taken through 13 missions that require you to fly, adjust speeds, select targets, and destroy them with missiles, as well as using flares to scuttle locked-on enemy weapons.
Though Ace Combat Xi is pretty close to peerless in terms of its ability to create realistic 3-D environments for military flying missions, H.A.W.X does a good enough job until you fly really close to the ground—at that point, which comes fairly often, you’ll see that buildings, enemy vehicles, and terrain are rendered with relatively few polygons. Between the Tom Clancy license and a surprisingly robust but not fantastic collection of voice samples, Gameloft fills the missions with so much on- and off-topic narrative that you can get distracted a little from the omissions in the artwork and the substantial absence of music; H.A.W.X is clearly a game for people who think that flying shooters too often lack for plot, and don’t mind their storylines falling into sub-Top Gun-caliber writing and acting.
Aesthetics aside, the single biggest issue with H.A.W.X is control: Namco made accelerometer-based flying surprisingly precise and fun in Ace Combat Xi, but Gameloft’s planes—perhaps more realistically, but less enjoyably—always seem to feel like their turning radiuses are just a little too wide, no matter what throttle speed you’re at, and even if that’s the way a plane is supposed to handle, the results feel off: you might do barrel roll after barrel roll, circle six times around a helicopter before being able to line it up in your sights, or find yourself flying at dangerously low elevations rather than striking ground targets with precision from the sky. Gameloft does include a virtual stick-based control alternative, and the game isn’t exactly punishing in difficulty—even when enemies have a lock on you—but H.A.W.X doesn’t feel great; it’s just passable.
The redemption here, and the reason it merits a general-level recommendation despite its flaws, is its breadth: Gameloft sells H.A.W.X for less than Ace Combat Xi and includes two and a half times as many missions, which individually last at least a little longer, plus local Wi-Fi and Bluetooth multiplayer modes for up to four-player dogfighting—death match or team death match modes are offered. Had Namco populated Ace Combat with an appropriate number of missions and not tried to nickel and dime players with In-App Purchases, there mightn’t be any need for discussion of its competitors, but by simply showing up and delivering a full game for its asking price, Gameloft feels like the turtle who beat the hare. Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X doesn’t have much sparkle, but at the end of the day, it delivers enough entertainment value to be worth considering for fans of the genre; as with Skater Nation, it’ll be even more compelling if and when its price drops below $5.

iPhone Gems: A.D.D, Battleship + Snow Moto Racing / Lite

Welcome to this week’s edition of iPhone Gems! Today, we’re looking at three small but cool recent releases, plus a free demo title, spanning completely different genres: A.D.D. is a hyperkinetic series of offbeat mini-gams, Battleship is an updated version of the classic board game, and Snow Moto Racing is a budget-priced snowmobile race title with a Lite demo version.
All three of these games merited B+ or higher ratings, in part due to their reasonable pricing, but also as a result of fun gameplay. Read on for the details.
A.D.D. - Addictive Dumb Distractions
Many months have passed since I.U.G.O. Mobile released a teaser of a game called A.D.D. Lite, which apparently went through one of Apple’s now-infamous app approval nightmares: rather than sticking to the mildly childish fare found in Nintendo’s series of WarioWare games, which it was clearly duplicating, I.U.G.O. submitted an application full of tasteless little mini-games that apparently riled Apple’s app reviewers, causing the game to sit for months in a state of disapproval. This was a shame: Nintendo had proved with WarioWare that presenting players with a series of “think fast!” brief challenges was a winning game formula, and A.D.D. Lite was a clear sign that I.U.G.O. understood its value and how to appeal to the slightly older iPhone/iPod touch demographic.
So it’s good news that A.D.D. ($2) is finally available, packed with over 80 mini-games, and promising more to come. Apple has approved modified versions of most of the original games, slapped the title with a 17+ age restriction, and enabled the company to pump out updates with new content. What’s here right now is very close to a full game—arguably more than enough for the price—so if you like the idea of getting only the slightest advance clue of what you’ll be doing for the next five or six seconds, then doing it, then moving on to a different random experience, now’s the time to give this game a shot. You’re quickly shown an icon that indicates whether the challenge demands touch, accelerometer turning, multi-touch, or accelerometer shaking, and then you’re tossed right into a weird situation with a timer. Think quickly about what to do and then do it, or you’ll lose one of your lives; lose all of your lives and the game ends.
The surprise: tasteless though the games might have been, they’re funny—there’s enough subversive humor on display here to satisfy any teenaged or twenty-something fan of the WarioWare series, starting from a quickly flashed title (“Booty Call”) to the game (quickly dial a phone number on an on-screen cell phone from a piece of paper), with stages that are as kiddie and Wario-like as zit-popping, creative as shaking up cans of soda before shelving them—with a little giggle—and crazy as salting slugs, injecting tomatoes, and destroying neighborhoods with rolling boulders. It’s all tied together with a TV-like interface and repeating, crazy intermission music, which helps keep the excitement level high.
A.D.D. isn’t for everyone. Dour players will find it to be juvenile, and those looking for a deep, rewarding game or something truly original won’t find it here. But as WarioWare clones go, it’s very close to great, and will only get better as I.U.G.O. continues to add mini-games to bulk it up. We hope that the company builds on this title and develops a smart sequel strategy, as it has the potential to be a tentpole series for this platform: digital distribution was made for games like this. iLounge Rating: B+.
Electronic Arts has been hit or miss in its board game ports to Apple’s devices, but it has had more hits than misses, and Battleship ($3) is quite possibly its best conversion yet. Like quite a few earlier developers, EA has taken the strategic guessing game—one that equips two players with grid-like boards, five ships, and pegs that are used to mark guesses of their opponents’ ships positions—and given it both new paint and features. The result is a highly impressive, reasonably priced update to a game that could easily have become boring quickly; it’s the rare title we’d actually suggest both for individual purchase, and for multiplayer purchase with friends.
Battleship’s standard game mode is just like the board game: two players take turns guessing each others’ ship positions on the grid, one hit at a time. EA glams this mode up with some impressive little cinematics, which start with a cannon firing, switch to an overhead view of the water getting shelled—a plunk into the water if the space is empty, otherwise an explosion—and then finish with close-ups of the ships taking direct hits before sinking into the ocean. These scenes and the core Battleship title are cool in and of themselves, but they’re taken to the next level by EA’s addition of SuperWeapons mode, which adds more powerful attacks and defenses to your arsenal, limiting your use of multi-shot weapons to once every several turns.
SuperWeapons mode also brings additional cinematics to the game, with even more impressive new effects. A camera spots the bottom of a plane as it prepares to drop massive bombs, sweeps a helicopter as it fires a chain gun, or watches as a sea mine parachutes into the water, moving across grid spots between turns. EA includes 13 different SuperWeapons, each with its own capabilities, and they’re unlocked one-by-one as you continue to play the game. Your ability to select several weapons per game and play against Wi-Fi or Bluetooth opponents are both great incentives to keep playing, but even if you’re playing alone and in the single-weapon mode, the visuals are a big draw—you can skip them and accelerate the glacial pace of the main game by just tapping on the screen.
If there are any issues with Battleship, they’re small: the game has a somewhat minimalist approach to music, using realistic naval sound effects, whistles, and military drums here and there rather than providing a soundtrack, and EA has made the “tap to fire” map system feel just a little too imprecise. On the positive side, there’s a subtle, sonar-like coloring of the grid on your first tap, requiring a second tap on the same square for firing confirmation, but we found that the taps too often didn’t line up perfectly—our big fingers, perhaps?—so a slight modification to the tap detection scheme could be in order to increase its precision. Other than that, Battleship is a great little title, very reasonably priced, and entirely worth purchasing for both fans of the board game and players looking for a cool new way to spend their time. iLounge Rating: A-.
Snow Moto Racing + Lite
The last titles in this roundup are both from Resolution InteractiveSnow Moto Racing ($1) and Lite. Resolution has previously released the jetski game Aqua Moto Racing and the ATV title Dirt Moto Racing, so now Snow Moto Racing brings snowmobile racing into the collection at an almost crazy low price.
One point needs to be made up front about Snow Moto Racing: the price makes a huge, huge difference with this title—while we’re uncomfortable calling it a “great” game in the sense that it would deserve an A rating, we’re also struck by the fact that brand new titles much, much less ambitious than this one sold for $5 for Click Wheel iPods only a year ago, and the simple fact that Snow Moto Racing offers a good enough racing game for only $1 may well compel people to buy it. We wouldn’t dissuade anyone from doing so.
It is a competent if somewhat uninspired racing game, providing six race tracks that all look very similar to one another but have small differences—some are entirely snowy, others have semi-plowed tracks, others have limited horizons and actually falling snow—plus eight riders on snowmobiles at the same time. The single biggest challenge in Snow Moto, initially, is in figuring out the lay of the tracks: if you get into the lead, the snow-covered path ahead might not be obvious enough, and the game doesn’t include any dynamic guiding arrows to help you reverse an overly sharp turn. Everything is checkpoint-based, so if you’re looking for a yellow checkpoint, you’re generally heading in the right direction, but if you turn too sharply, you might miss the correct next marker and skip ahead to something too far up the track; the game will let you restart from where you were supposed to be, with a penalty for the mistake. At some point, you’ll begin to understand clues in the scenery, and realize that once you’ve mastered the track, coming from behind to beat your opponents is downright easy. A trick system is also included, but unnecessary to win races.
Resolution has done a good enough job with the controls and the aesthetics to sate but not blow away serious iPhone and iPod touch gamers. The default control scheme uses good accelerometer-based steering and handles acceleration and braking automatically; you can take manual control of speed if you want some additional challenge. Snow Moto’s graphics aren’t completely smooth, but they’re close: the frame rate drops a little here and there, and the generally rounded snowy tracks are undone by rough edges of trees, but otherwise the courses look good and move well; the riders similarly aren’t beautifully animated, but are detailed and solid enough for a budget-priced title. A looping, upbeat audio track plays as you race, with engine sounds and checkpoint clearing clinks providing most of the other sound. Multiplayer is offered via Bluetooth only, rather than Wi-Fi.
If you’re on the fence about trying Snow Moto Racing for $1, Snow Moto Racing Lite is available as a quick, free demo version that shows off the game’s engine in a sample level; there’s no reason not to try it first if you’re wondering about whether to invest in the full game. But for snowmobile fans and fans of simple race games in general, Snow Moto Racing will be pretty close to a no-brainer purchase at its $1 asking price: should Resolution add additional levels and polish—or perhaps just an online multiplayer mode—this game could easily become one of the iPhone and iPod touch’s wintertime greats.