By Brandon M. Suman
The iPod is a magical thing. It's almost like a pet. There are few gadgets that exude as much personality. It's almost like a comfort blanket, when your iPod is in your pocket, you know you won't have to live in silence. Scary walks home at night in sinister neighborhoods go faster with my favorite music. (Of course, wearing shiny white iPod earbuds increases your odds of getting mugged, but oh well.)
I purchased my first iPod on the bleeding edge of the revolution- until last week, I was carrying the original 5GB iPod. I named her "Jenna," after a girl I admired at the time, and the iPod (not the girl) has been by my side ever since. That was prior to the days of solid state control wheels, dock connectors, or super-rounded corners, of course. The spinning scroll wheel had a tendency to spontaneously change volume while I walked, and the thing was too thick to be mounted to my belt without being an inconvenience. Nonetheless, I loved it, and found it to be most useful in the car, connecting it to my Taurus's stereo with one of those cassette tape adapters. (Those things still amaze me.)
Needless to say, when my new iPod arrived, it was an exciting day. The free text laser-engraving proved useful and attractive. I simply chose to have my name and phone number embedded for posterity. Helpful, I figured, for identification if anyone tries to steal it.
The new iPod is a huge improvement over my original version, but a fairly mild generation-revision from the 3G lineup. I am aware of rumors, however, that the new iPod is entirely redesigned from the ground up, and contains some special new abilities that have yet to be realized by its software. (Cross your fingers and watch for updates!) While it may be slightly thinner than the last model, the big outward difference is the light gray "click wheel" that places the usual buttons right on top of the scroll wheel, an interface used previously in the iPod Mini. After a week or so of experimentation, I wholeheartedly embrace the new click wheel.
The original iPod placed the navigation directly around the scroll wheel. This made navigation with one hand very easy, and the buttons were easy to memorize. ("Menu" was just above, "Play/Pause" was just below, and the track skip buttons were to the left and right.) When Apple placed the buttons in a four-in-a-row layout above the scroll wheel I cried for the disappearance of the directional-memorization system. Now where was that pesky play button again? Third from the left?
The click wheel brings back my "up down left right" system, and improves on it. I don't even have to reach my thumb above the wheel, I just press the top of the wheel itself. My only fear with this system would be that it would somehow inhibit the scroll wheel's performance. I am pleased to report that it does not.
I was slightly disappointed by Apple's choice of gray for the scroll wheel color. An all-white device is so pure-looking, and this is the iPod's first departure from this thinking. The scroll wheel surface, however, is more than just a different color. The material is textured, soft and smooth, almost like a piece of paper. It makes a perfect surface for scrolling, it gives just enough resistance to complete the illusion of a spinning wheel. It does seem probable that this surface would be more easily marred by dirt from your fingers, the gray color may have been chosen to limit the noticeability of this problem.
I am almost entirely happy with the way the iPod looks and performs. I can nearly get my entire music collection on a 40GB iPod (mine currently contains about 6000 songs.) I still can't get all my music on my iPod, however- and I can't wait until that day. Heck, I'd like to be able to store my favorite movies on my iPod, too- so I can plug the iPod into my television and stop lugging DVDs around to parties. (Are you listening, Apple!?) Of course, that would require an even bigger hard drive in this little gadget. One thing at a time.
Software-wise, the iPod works and acts just like you'd expect it to. I can now customize my main menu, which is a sweet deal for me (I only ever navigate by artist anyway, better to have fewer options if I'm not going to use the others.) The games are still good, and the other palm-pilotesque address book / calendar storage could be useful, though I doubt I'll take advantage of it. The biggest software advancement, in my opinion, is the new On-The-Go playlist option, I can finally generate a playlist using the iPod itself, without the assistance of iTunes.
My iPod was cheaper than the last 40GB model, but it doesn't contain a belt clip case or remote control. (The iPod remote is pretty lousy anyway, but the case would have been really nice.) As a 40GB owner, I get a dock, which is a wonderful thing. It keeps my iPod sitting upright and happy and free of scratches, which makes me happy, too. I've acquired the habit of carrying the dock with me just to have a little stand for my Pod. Also, the white earbuds included with my iPod have a defect, the right side makes these static-y popping sounds- I need to call Apple about that, though I'm confident that the situation will be resolved.
The overall iPod experience is as magical as it was with the original so many years ago now. Kudos to Apple for finding a way to make technology so convenient and useful. I can only hope that the iPod magic and simplicity finds its way to other devices, like my WaterPik™. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to see if Michelle minds having an iPod named after her.