Apple iPod review: Apple iPod

Speaking of syncing, the updated version of iTunes for both Mac and Windows is smoother than anything else on the market. Once you drop the device into its cradle, iTunes starts up and can automatically sync the iPod to your music collection. iTunes can also create MP3 and AAC files from your CDs. The iPod handles AAC files like MP3 files, but AAC sounds better at the same bit rate. The player also supports WAV/AIFF and spoken-word Audible files, which can now be purchased from the iTunes Music Store, right from within iTunes. Also, iTunes can resample songs to a certain bit rate, apply volume leveling (a.k.a. normalization), and digitally enhance songs while transferring them.

Some people want to use the iPod to share music between multiple computers. You can, but it's not easy. Syncing to iTunes is possible with only one machine. But there is an unattractive alternative. We were able to copy MP3 files from the iPod to a second computer's hard drive in Windows by turning on "View hidden files and folders" and browsing the iPod's internal directories in My Computer until we found the music. Mac users can do the same thing if they install &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eresexcellence%2Ecom%2Fsupport%5Ffiles%2Fresedit%2Eshtml" target="_blank">ResEdit. However, when we reconnected the iPod to the primary machine, the device wouldn't mount as a drive until we reset it.

On the other hand, the iPod has no problem transporting data files between computers (Macs or PCs) when you activate Enable FireWire Disk. In this approach, the iPod mounts as a data drive, but it hides music files in the default mode.

Apple now offers two accessories for the dockable iPod: the Belkin voice recorder and media reader. The voice recorder adds a microphone and a 16mm speaker for recording WAV and AIFF files, which then transfer automatically to your Mac or PC during syncing. The media reader turns the iPod into a digital photo wallet. The module lets you pull digital pictures from your digicam's Compact Flash I/II, SmartMedia, SD/MMC media, or MemoryStick to make more room for new photos without having to upload the previous batch to a computer.

Three more extra treats: An alarm clock that can beep or play the song of your choice through a home stereo, three games (Brick, Parachute, and Solitaire), and the ability to play tunes from the iPod's hard drive while it's connected to your computer (so you can delete your music collection from your computer's drive to free up space).

The iPod's sound quality is great. Apple won't release the signal-to-noise ratio, but the player sounds quite clean to our ears--even cleaner through the cradle's line-out jack, which bypasses the device's volume circuitry. And it's more than loud enough, even through our large test headphones, outputting 30mW per channel.

Apple claims the internal lithium-ion battery will last 8 hours, but that's with the button backlighting and the EQ turned off and the volume limited to 50 percent. With heavy use, involving lots of backlighting and On The Go playlist creation, our test unit lasted about 6 hours. However, Apple has solved the old iPod's battery problem (the life of the nonreplaceable battery dropped to 1 to 3 hours after about a year of use) with an included firmware upgrade. The battery charges in about 2 hours, 40 minutes, with or without the cradle, from a FireWire port or the square, white AC wall adapter that comes with the iPod.

Our MP3 files transferred speedily over FireWire at around 3.3MB per second (equivalent to about one song each second) from Macs and Windows machines.