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scrottie (4167)

scrottie
  scott@slowass.net
http://slowass.net/

My email address is scott@slowass.net. Spam me harder! *moan*

Journal of scrottie (4167)

Thursday March 23, 2006
06:57 PM

Critical Review of the Apple iPod Nano

[ #29088 ]

I've been thinking of getting an mp3 player and finally got one, as a gift. I had a Rio MP500 with 32 megs of flash, which was one of the original mp3 players, but it holds obnoxiously few tracks even at 64kbps vbr, and my main machine didn't have a parallel port.

I would have got one a long time ago but the upselling was too effective -- I thought I'd just pick up a cheap 1 gig flash based player, which can be had for under $100, but if I'm going to do that, I might as well spend $50 more and get an iPod Nano; and if I'm going to do that, I might as well spend $50 and get another gig on the Nano; but if I do that, I might as well spend another $50 and get radically more storage with a HD based iPod; and for just a little more, I can double the storage again. But I don't have $400, so I don't buy anything. But now girlfriend got tired of hearing me lament the lack of a working portable music player and got me a 4 gig Nano -- sweet!

Compared to my MP300, the iPod's battery life is just sad. It's supposed to do 16 hours, but I've seen it do as little as 6. If you're doing something like skiing, you'll find your battery going dead on you. A single double AA in the MP300 would keep it going for a month's worth of usage. Considering Apple replaces the battery in the Nano for the cost of the Nano and the little lithium ion pack is the size of a finger tip, I feel ripped off. I know the thing sells because it's small, but I personally would have at least 24 hours worth of play time out of it (or a manufacturers estimate of about 50... same thing).

The MP300 didn't have a backlight, but it's simple black and white segmented LCD screen was far more readable in indoor and outdoor conditions than the iPod without its backlight, so the color screen is a net loss for viewability. When the backlight turns out, you can't see, unless you're in bright daylight or you walk over to a lamp and point the iPod directly at it, so I find myself tapping the clickwheel a lot just so I can see what track is on. I was never unable to read the display on the MP300.

The MP300 accepted some cheap, junky format of Flash card whose name I forget, and they inserted in a little slot. This way, the storage could be expanded. I never bothered to actually do this as the format only offered limited upgradability (the Rio wouldn't actually understood cards larger than 64 megs, I think) and I didn't want to buy a flash reader for some stupid, crappy format. However, I was severely tempted to. I never would have stopped using the MP300 if it used a flash format that let me buy multi-gig flash cards for it. The iPod uses HPFS and/or VFAT filesystems which are reasonably standard (well understood, well documented, well supported, even if not patent free) but it won't automatically make available tracks you copy onto it. You're supposed to run Apple's iTunes software, which tries to sell you stuff and maintains the iTunesDB file. So you must run special software. This puts it in the same boat as the MP300.

The iPod is exactly the wrong weight -- it's light enough that the weigh of headphones cords dangling off the edge of the desk or table are heavy enough to pull it off the table, but heavy enough that it pulls itself free from the cord once the slack is taken up. The net result is that I cannot leave it on the desk and listen to it. I must put it in my pocket. Otherwise, it just falls off the desk, pulls free of the cord, lands on the floor, and bounces off under a pile of cables. It's extremely annoying. So everytime I want to skip a song, I have to straighten my body, reach down in my pocket, pull it out, turn the hold switch off, push the forward button, turn the hold switch on, ram it back in my pocket, move my arm free of the headphones cord, and sit back straight again. Indications are that the iPod is going to go the way of the MP300 but much more quickly than the MP300 did. I'm thinking about taping a weight to it, or taping the headphones in, or something.

I wanted a portable mp3 player primarily for biking, inline skating, and the like. Setting out to bike with the thing, I go about a mile before I get it on. It takes a good long time to boot up, and it seems to completely turn off its DRAM banks and power itself off cold after it sits for a while. Navigating the menus takes a while too -- there's no button you can push to instantly get music, unlike the MP300. I know Apple likes a spartan physical interface coupled with a flashy graphical interface, but this is too far in the extreme. An extra "play some God damned music right the fuck now" button is highly in order. I can easily imagine a scenario where an obnoxious suite type person starts yammering at me and the effect would be completely lost if I couldn't just put my headphones on and push one button to shut them up. Fumbling for upwards of half a minute just doesn't have the same effect. Hell, even tape players had a "Play" button. I'm sure I've seen cartoons or shows where someone sat there with big headphones on and when someone started talking at them, they reached into their pocket and mashed that Play button. The iPod is a step backwards from the cassette tape in one very important, very real way.

It has trouble driving big headphones. It sounds okay, but it's clearly having trouble. To be fair, most portable devices do, but back in the days of tapes, I'd pick up tape recorders rather than tape players. Those are designed to drive an external speaker and as such had the balls to drive some nice big cans and power deep bass. But the iPod is clearly trying. The deep bass doesn't boom, but you can hear it. And it plays hell with the already barely adequate battery. Of course, I'm giving my crappy little battery premature battery failure by forcing it to try to power the headphones, so after a couple of months of use, I'm going to have a $250 repair bill with Apple. I think I'm going to enjoy my tunes a lot less knowing I'm paying by the minute. And of course, the little white headphones are wretched, tiny, distorted, high-pitched pieces of crap that resonate at all of the wrong frequencies just like all "earbud" headphones, but they're white. I don't expect Apple to pack nice big cans with the thing, but people's unwillingness to replace or use anything but the Apple headphones miffs me.

However, the iPod runs Linux. Doom isn't the only thing they got going -- you can write memos, there's a nice Tempest clone, there's a MacPaint like paint program, you can make Podzilla look like almost any desktop machine you've used (C=64, Apple ][, Apple OS 1, Amiga, etc, etc), and best of all, you can do your own ideas rather than just being a worthless vacuum of a brainless consumer. What good is life if you can't participate? This was the major, major selling point for me for the iPod, thought I admit I was intrigued by the praise for the things user interface and it's small size, both of which I've long since gotten over.

Summary: The iPod is like a skinny, young, dumb blond. Hanging out with it makes you popular by appearances, and it's pretty, but it gets on your nerves like nuts, especially if you're older and you've had others before and aren't automatically ready to accept the charms as the end all and be all and you're vaguely miffed why everyone else thinks they're the end all and be all. I find myself wanting to physically abuse the device. But it runs Linux.

Summary 2: Apple had a chance to improve on other mp3 players; they did when it comes to style and flash but not in usability, with the sole exception of the touchwheel for quickly seeking through long lists. In many ways, it fails to improve on horrible shortcomings of early mp3 players, and in other ways, it's a step back. I'm not sure who gave them the awards they're always boasting about the thing having won, but it was obviously fellow idiots who granted them. Perhaps other mp3 players really are better but somehow I suspect not, as people tend to immitate suckage.

Even more editorializing: What the hell is wrong with everyone else that they can't write a critical review and get sucked up in the same hype that people already have access?

To anyone who would reply with a comment: Please do not reply and disagree with a premise without addressing the conclusions. I clearly set up a relation between my observations (premises) and my opinions (conclusions) so I don't think it's too much to ask for you to do the same. If you reply disagreeing with something, I'm going to assume that you have reached different conclusions, so do us the favor of telling us what those conclusions/opinions are. Disagreeing with premises (technical points, details, whatever) but not a conclusion gives the appearance of attempting to invalidate an entire essay/argument/blog entry based on one piece of evidence, but this is clearly a fallacy, and by playing into this fallacy, endless discussion of nits ensues with no point in sight.

-scott

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  • I don't have a nano, but I've played with them a few times and owned other models. Your technical difficulties (low battery life, hard to read screen, cold boots, poor sound) seem quite unusual and probably indicate a defect. I'd take it back ASAP while it's still under warranty. I've heard (and had) a lot of complaints about ipods, but never those.

    To anyone who would reply with a comment: Please do not reply and disagree with a premise without addressing the conclusions.

    I don't disagree. The ip

  • If you have a Linux or FreeBSD machine you can use gtkpod [gtkpod.org] to access your ipod and do without iTunes (which I also find annoying to the point of unusability). I bought a 40GB ipod because at the time it was the cheapest option (due to university discount) but wouldn't do so again. There's a common theme running through all Apple products which is also true for the ipods: if you want to use them exactly the way the designer envisioned you using them they're good to excellent, if you want to do anything else t

    • Hi, thanks for taking time to comment. Just by the way, I really wanted to be able to just cp -R/rsync files on to it from shell and have it play those, so I hobbled together something in Perl to build an iTunesDB from the mp3s on the thing. Someone later pointed out that the 8.3 FOOBAR~1.MP3 MS-DOS trick works so I've added that feature and am getting ready to upload the new version. That's linked from a previous blog entry here. Also by the way, the overly-bad review was more provoked by annoyance at othe
  • To anyone who would reply with a comment: Please do not reply and disagree with a premise without addressing the conclusions.

    Where's the fun in that! : )

  • Wow. 6 hours is considerably shorter battery life-span than mine gets; I've often spent 7-8 hours in a row listening to it and had 1/4 charge at the end. ...but your note about the big headphones seems likely to be the reason for this.

    I don't know whether you can get an adapter that will power unpowered headphones with AA batteries, but if you're set on using your existing good headphones, that might be worth a look. I've used headphones that take batteries that I've liked, also.

    I use a set of Sony ear-bu
    --

    -DA [coder.com]

  • I'm sure I'm not going to be satisfying the constraints-on-reply listed in the original, but it's not really the overall conclusion that I'm challenging, but rather more whether the listed experience is in any way typical.

    Long boot time? My 4GB nano boots in about 3 seconds from cold, which is truckloads faster than the earlier players. Battery life is pretty much in line with the advertised figure, modulo a lot of futzing around along the way. (That is, hitting "shuffle" and play achieves around the sugges