I got my new 30 gig iPod today, and while I don't plan on rambling on as long as I did in my review of the original iPod, I've still got a few things to say.
The first thing to notice about the new unit is definitely the button placement, and I think that's probably one of my most significant points of contention with the redesign. I don't care for the new button placement either aesthetically or functionally. Aesthetically, I thought the old buttons offered a unique visual style that was unique to the iPod, and their locations mapped well onto their functions. In their new locations, the buttons are fairly boring. Functionally, the new button location is very frustrating, but I'm wondering how much of that is because of muscle memory. If I'm holding the iPod in the palm of my hand, I've got to learn to reach to a different place for the buttons, and I can no longer tell the buttons apart by their shape and location.
The thing is, trying to tell the buttons apart by shape wouldn't work with the new iPod in the first place, because the buttons are no longer physical buttons. Instead, they're now touch sensitive buttons, so there are no moving parts. Unfortunately, they're very touch sensitive, and I've already accidentally skipped songs several times. Of course, they're only touch sensitive if you touch them: My old method of controlling my iPod by pressing the buttons through the material of my pants is no longer a viable option, because even if I could tell which button is which, it wouldn't respond.
Right after the iPod 2.0 was announced, I had a few IM conversations, and we couldn't understand why the buttons were moved around on the face of the unit. While I'm still not happy about the rearrangement, now that I've used it I at least understand why the locations were altered. If the new touch sensitive buttons were in their old locations, people would accidentally activate the buttons all the time while using the scroll wheel. The touch sensitive buttons just wouldn't have worked surrounding the scroll wheel, so they had to move somewhere. Of course, I think the only reason they switched to the solid state buttons in the first place was so that they could add the completely frivolous orange button backlight, but don't start me down that topic of discussion.
From the sounds of things, the iPod 2.0 is pretty unusable for my method of operation, eh? Well, what saves this redesign from Benjy's Book of Disaster is the iPod Remote. The remote serves all of my song skipping playing pausing needs from wherever I choose to clip it. Better still, I can enable the hold switch on the iPod and still use the remote to manipulate my iPod (the remote has its own hold switch), so that I don't accidentally skip songs when taking the iPod out of my pocket.
Of course, the remote itself has a few flaws, but most of them aren't resolvable. I still haven't settled on a final place to clip the remote, but the best place I've found so far is just along the bottom of my t-shirt. Unfortunately, when it's clipped there, it's so close to the iPod that I end up having to stuff all of the extra cable into my pocket. And between that and taking the iPod in and out of my pocket and the inability of the remote cable to rotate, the cable ends up getting wound up if I accidentally rotate my iPod while putting it in my pocket. I'm sure I'll work out a solution to these problems, but for now it's kind of irritating.
Another minor complaint about the remote is just that the buttons are fairly tiny. As is, the forward/back buttons are smaller than the tip of my pinky. It seems like there would have been room to make them a little bigger than they are. Also, it feels significantly more fragile than the iPod itself, which makes me afraid of breaking it. And a $40 accessory -- especially one that is apparently going to be integral to my usage of the device -- isn't one I particularly want to break.
Another concern I discussed with friends on IM was the fear of getting pocket crap into the newly positioned bottom port on the iPod. But not to fear, because Apple bundled a couple of little port covers in the box... which will be great until I lose both of them...
The Dock is a fairly nicely designed hunk of plastic, but I don't see it fitting into my current iPod usage scheme. If I had a desktop, I could definitely see leaving the dock plugged in and just dropping the iPod into that each night, but with my laptop in bed next to me at night, my iPod just usually ends up plugged into that and under a pillow or something, and the cable is fine for that. One subtle feature I do like about the Dock is that it has a line out, so I could leave speakers hooked up to the dock and then use the docked iPod as a little stereo. Maybe once I get a job, I'll leave the Dock at work or something. Of course, that'll require me dropping $20 on an extra cable so I could just keep my primary cable at home so I wouldn't forget it at work...
And finishing up on the hardware side of things, I actually tried using Apple's headphones today, and they were alright. I think my ears must be different sizes, though, because while the right bud stayed in my ear just fine, the left one kept moving around and falling out. Maybe putting the foam covers on the earbuds will help things... I guess I'll stick with the Apple ear buds for awhile to see how they work out.
On to the software side of things, the very first thing I checked out was the On-the-go playlist, and it works as advertised. And actually, it's even better than that, because when you're browsing, you can just hold the select button on any artist, album, genre, etc, or even another playlist, and it will add that whole set of songs to your On-the-go playlist. My only complaint about the way they implemented the On-the-go playlist is that there's no way to remove individual songs from the playlist, and the only option is to "Clear all." It'd be nice if holding down the select button on a song when in OTG would remove the song, but instead it just ends up playing it. Another nice option might be to "Remove songs after they've played."
Oh, I guess one other really minor complaint about the OTG playlist is that I can't sync the playlist back to my Mac, but I don't think that's a feature I'd ever actually want to use.
The second software feature I checked out was the ability to rate songs on the go. Getting to rating features was fairly intuitive, and I figured it out on my first try: From the "now playing" screen, click select once to switch from volume to seek, and click select again to switch from seek to rate. But then the problems started: First, the scroll wheel is really really sensitive on this operation, and with a twitch of my finger the rating flies from zero to five. Okay, so I started to very slowly move the rating back, only to have the iPod suddenly switch back to controlling volume instead of rating, and I ended up turning up the volume very suddenly and blasting my ears.
That's not so good. And actually, I noticed a few other spots where the iPod doesn't pay attention to the fact that you're actually using it and it probably shouldn't change the mode just now. In particular, the back light will turn off regardless of the fact that you're actively spinning the scroll wheel, or playing a game, for example. So, the iPod could do with a slightly better idle time detection method.
Speaking of the backlight turning off, when it turns off automatically, it doesn't just turn off suddenly. Instead, it does a very cool fade out as it turns off. And speaking of the backlight, as I mentioned above, the buttons on the iPod are now backlit. La-de-da. Y'know, if I could tell them apart by touch they wouldn't need to be backlit. Bah.
Here are an assortment of other observations:
- The iPod can finally be operated while it's plugged into my computer, which was especially handy while writing this review, because I was able to play with its iTunes integration and the iPod itself without unplugging it repeatedly.
- There's now an option to have the clock in the title of the now playing screen, which is pretty convenient.
- Though I can now customize the main menu, I just wish I could put the "Shuffle" options at the very top of the Settings menu, like it used to be before the 1.1 firmware update. I miss just being able to double or triple click on "Settings" to change my shuffle options, considering how often I do it.
- The second time I plugged my iPod into my laptop, after I listened to it all day, it showed a graphic of a magnifying glass and a spinning disk, which I can only assume was some sort of fscking... I never saw my old iPod do this, and it took about 30 minutes... I can't imagine why it decided to do it then, considering I hadn't forcefully reset it or anything... Hopefully it doesn't have to do that very often, because it took way too long, and I couldn't figure out any way to cancel it.
- It's really nice to not have to use the broken "playlist selection" dialog in iTunes now that all of my music fits on my iPod. Of course, that doesn't change the fact that the "playlist selection" dialog is still practically useless. I filed feedback about this at least 3 times regarding iTunes 2 and 3, but now I guess I need to file some more. I really hope that dialog is fixed before I have to use it again.
- One thing that they did fix that I filed feedback about was when iTunes finished updating your iPod, it would forcefully switch you back to the iPod playlist, which, if you were doing anything else in iTunes, was really frustrating. Of course, it still forcefully switches you to the iPod playlist when you first plug in an iPod, but at least that's in response to some user action, so it's less infuriating.
- Another thing they (sort of) fixed that I filed feedback about was the "Some of the songs in the iTunes music Library were not copied to the iPod because they could not be found / cannot be played on an iPod" dialog. Before, that dialog did not tell you what songs were causing the problems, and it offered you the option of "Do not warn me again." Thankfully, in iTunes 4.0, that dialog is a little improved, and now reads "Some of the songs in the iTunes music library, including the song "Ant", were not copied to the iPod because they could not be found." Okay, that's very helpful, but note the part of the dialog that reads "including." Yes, that's right, more than just Ant can't be found, but that's all it's telling me about. It'll pop up one of each type of dialog, and after I resolve those and attempt to sync again, it tells me about the next problem songs. And for reference, the song it tells you about seems to be the one that is the first problem song based on the current column you're currently sorting by in your music Library. This is stupid. Obviously it should just list all of the songs that can't be found. How hard could that be? Feedback!
- Syncing 27 gigs of music takes a long time. Admittedly, thanks to Firewire it was only about 30 minutes, but that's still a lot longer than it takes to upload 5 gigs. Of course I was expecting this, but it was still notable the first time I had to do it, and I was waiting anxiously to play with the iPod while my entire music collection was copied over.
- When I was first browsing the freshly copied 27 gigs of music on the new iPod, it was very slow. I had to hit play several times before it started, and it took 1 or 2 seconds to change screens while browsing, compared to my old iPod which was pretty much instantaneous. However, the next time I interacted with it this had resolved itself. But just now when I was playing with OTG playlists, it paused for a long time and then jumped around in response to some input which it had queued up. So it seems like it has some performance issues at times... Hopefully they optimize the software more.
Overall, I'm happy with it just for the ability to have all of my music on my iPod and the On the Go playlist. I'm very relieved that I now have a copy of all of my music on my iPod, because I haven't had a backup of my music since back in November when I bought my Powerbook. Needless to say, I was pretty worried when I spilled soda on my PowerBook in March and it was in the shop. And the On the Go playlist makes my 27 gigs of music manageable, allowing me to easily pick albums or artists that I feel like listening to and then listening to those on shuffle or shuffle by album as appropriate. And once I get bored of what's in there, I can just add more!
Sure, I've got minor problems with it, but I'm left wondering if they're actually significant problems, or if the small problems are all that's left to complain about next to the relative perfection of the rest of the unit, or if the minor problems just seem that much worse because I use my iPod so often. Whatever the case, they're there, and they're going to annoy me until Apple hopefully fixes them. In the meantime, I'll be regularly filling out feedback forms.
I guess the only real question left to address is whether you should get a new iPod or buy a used old iPod. If your music fits on one of the older iPods, then the only reasons to get a new iPod would be the On-the-Go playlist and the possibility that future Apple software updates will add more features. And if you don't have that much music, then you can probably make some pretty good playlists that you can copy to the iPod, and those will be good substitutes for the On the Go playlist. So overall, I'd lean towards recommending the good old faithful original iPod over this revision.
Heh, and in the end, I wrote 100 more words here than I did in my review of the original iPod. I've now written 5,000 words of iPod reviews... So much for not rambling.