Say Hello to iPod — Say Thank You to XPlay

The iPod is the coolest gizmo that I’ve seen in at least four years. I mean it’s incredible. Pricey? Sure. Snobby? Well yeah, since the iPod requires FireWire (rare on most PC’s) and iTunes2 which requires Mac OS 9 or higher only – the $399-$499 price tag doesn’t help any either. Elegant? You better believe it. So what make it so good? Design. No other way to describe it. IBM had a spurt of great design some time in the 90’s. Remember the butterfly keyboard? Great idea, but who could have foreseen notebook screens growing to 14″ and 15″, allowing a near full size keyboard? And the TouchPoint (or whatever they called it) – that mini-joystick in the center of a keyboard that buried the trackball but got itself buried by the touch pad common on most notebooks today.

Holy Crap! Did Randy say APPLE? Is this the same guy that once had a Commodore Vic 20 and coveted a Commodore 64 because of the 64KB RAM that it offered? Yep. I said Apple. Why? (Note – this should probably found it’s way to the GeekStuff area, but it’s too “non-Geek related” not to share.)

Design. Apple’s been doing it well since 1984, with the original Mac, with a few years off in the mid-90’s. They didn’t always have “it” – the Lisa, before the original Macintosh, was large, clunky and way too expensive – that’s why most of you have heard of it! But look at everything else. The first PowerBook, with the huge trackball (a favourite of mine, anyway) was awesome. The original iMac (now the eMac) was a throw back to the original Mac, but with all the right features and enhancements. The “new” iMac looks like a modern art sculpture with a large round base, a 360-degree swivel 15″ flat panel and other neat voice related features (my Vet recently upgraded to this, which is why I know them well enough on sight.) Lots of power in the right price range. OS-X – show some Windows user the Aqua interface, with the spinning windows and the multi-sized task bar and they’ll pee themselves in glee (and jealousy.) Or what about that kick ass wide screen flat panel screen, with the clear frames, making it look even bigger. They got their shit together.

Enter the iPod. This is my third MP3 player. The first, the RomeMP3 player, was and remains a great idea. They designed the MP3 player in the form of a cassette tape, so you can either listen with headphones or by popping it into a cassette player – since it uses MMC cards, you can expand it to 128MB. Neat eh? Problems with RomeMP3 are it’s pricey, they won’t ship to the US (don’t ask what I went through to get mine – enough to say it’s been to more places around the world than I have) and it doesn’t work in some tape players. It worked in my Jeep but not my VW. Also, it does some strange things with REW/FF – this is where their design team broke down. You hit rewind on the tape deck and expect it to stop after one song – not so! You have to guess where to stop it which is hard at 55mph, or 88kph for that matter. My second player was an RCA Lyra2. Great little bugger, that! Uses CompactFlash (CF) cards, which I have in abundance – so that could go well into 512MB without concern. Runs on 2 AA batteries, has a built in FM tuner, supports WMA files in addition to MP3, and can be upgraded for new formats since it loads the converters on the fly. Problems? Takes forever to startup. At least 1 1/2 minutes just to hear the first song. This is my own low tolerance for waiting – you would think I’d know by now that whenever you go with a generic, it takes longer to run. It also turns itself off on occasion, if paused. Otherwise a nice device.

So why the Woody for the iPod? Lets see. 10 hours of play back on one charge, since the battery is rechargeable and has more power than disposables. Slick screen with at least six lines plus some simple graphics (in that damned Mac-looking font too, but it’s OK with me) and a white-paper backlit screen. If you get a 6-pin FireWire adapter for your PC, you will charge your iPod while connected to your PC; the Mac gets this automatically since all their ports are 6-pin. If you have a Sony notebook (of which I have two) you already have a FireWire connector, called iLink. This is a 4-pin connection (gotta get a 4-pin to 6-pin wire – even CompUSA and Staples have them) and you will not be able to charge while connected. The kick-ass user interface consists of four navigation buttons (Menu, Play/Pause, Next Track, Prev Track), one glider wheel which is used for navigation and volume, and one select button which is at the center of the glider. That’s it. Oh, there’s a Hold button, which will lock all button related functions to save the battery. And the size? No CF or MMC here. They give you a hard drive. A 10GB hard drive. Not MB. GB. As in 2000 songs, if you use the “standard” MP3 compression. 4000 if you drop the bit rate. Oh, and before you give me shit about “how long would that take to download” story, I dropped all thirteen tracks from the new Rush CD in about 30 seconds. FireWire is fast – 400Mbps in fact, which is 4 times as fast as most of today’s LANs. Get this – the AC adapter is modular: you connect the FireWire into the plug if you just want to charge and not charge with connected to the PC, but the plug itself is modular too. You can pop off the US plug adapter and pop on an international plug. It’s ingenious.

Wait wait wait – didn’t I say that the iPod required iTunes2 which is Mac only? Well it does, out of the box. Enter XPlay from Mediafour. If I could I would take these boys and girls out for drinks, get them laid, and buy’m cigars (and yes, I would do the same for the women that work there – equal rights and all.) As Steve would tell you, I’ve a hard on for the iPod since day one, but wouldn’t spend that amount of money for a device that “sorta had support” for the PC. Well, Mediafour is the grand-poo-bah here. They’ve integrated the iPod with the PC. Adds support for WinAmp playlists, since the iPod gives you sorting by Song Title, Playlists, and grouping by Artist, as well as converting songs on the fly. It just shows up as another hard drive. It also shows up in Media Player as a mobile device. XPlay also allows you management of the iPod firmware, should Apple have another release of it. It also allows you to copy VCF type contacts to the iPod, since iPod 1.1 allows Contacts storage, like a PDA. 1.1 also added an equalizer function, by the way – haven’t even looked at that yet. All that and it’s just $30. Well under $30, but I don’t know if it was $29.99 or $29.00. Either way, it’s affordable for a tight ass like me and that’s just freakin’ awesome.

Well, anyway, you get the idea. iPod is now for the PC (given enough hardware: FireWire PCI/PCMCIA card, FireWire Cable, and XPlay) and it’s incredible. I understand that there’s some competition coming too – Toshiba has a similar device coming, at least with the same specs, and it’s PC oriented. I’ve seen pictures of it from some of the Japanese sites – it can’t compare. It’s not “cool” enough but it’s close. Alls I know is that I’ve had the iPod on all this time, on the train – no skips and perfect CD quality sound. If I could just get the “high powered executive” that’s next to me, reading a PowerPoint slide, to stop sucking his fingers, it would be a grand ride to work today :)

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