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Both XPlay and EphPod require software that lets your Windows PC recognize and mount Mac drives. Whereas XPlay comes with its own solution, MacDrive, built in, EphPod requires you to install either MacDrive or DataViz MacOpener. Although EphPod is free and comes bundled with a 15-day MacOpener demo, a full version of MacOpener will set you back $39.95, a special price for EphPod users.
Despite the tidy EphPod/MacOpener bundle, the two-part installation caused major problems in our tests. Once we installed the full version of MacOpener, for example, we couldn't get it to load, despite repeated reboots. Once we finally got both EphPod and MacOpener running, we had to adjust several controls in each program in order to sync our iPod and see its songs.
Interface needs improvement
Once you're ready to go, simply plug in your iPod and launch EphPod. Sadly, the EphPod interface looks about as elegant as a spreadsheet. The top of the cramped screen shows the basic iPod menus (Playlist, Artist, Songs, and Contacts, along with a new item, Recent). Click one, and you'll see its contents displayed to the right, in the same window. The lower half of the window lists all the songs on your iPod in a large grid.
Unfortunately, adding songs to that grid is painfully unintuitive. You can't drag songs directly into the playlist; you must click the Add Songs button on the toolbar. If you create a new playlist--and there's no button to do so (you have to right-click in the playlist window, then select New Playlist)--and you want to add several songs simultaneously, you must select the playlist in the top window, highlight the songs you want to add in the bottom window, right-click the songs, then select "Add songs to playlist." Yikes!
Though the EphPod doesn't look like a million bucks, it earns big points for features. The software takes advantage of your 5GB or 10GB of iPod space and lets you sync contacts from Microsoft Outlook or hold any contacts in vCard format (in a special Contacts menu option on your iPod), so you can use your iPod as a makeshift PDA. If you're using Outlook, EphPod can automate contact syncing, too. EphPod can also sync the text from any Web page and load the content into contact forms, a bit like AvantGo--slick.
EphPod also includes a built-in function that lets you download music from your iPod to your computer, something that iTunes and XPlay both prohibit. This feature makes sharing music between computers extremely easy.
If you need help outsmarting EphPod's hairy interface, you'll find a fair bit online. The EphPod Web site provides help documents, a link to user groups, and a direct e-mail link to the developer, who answered both of our test letters promptly and helpfully.
Despite EphPod's rough spots, we think it could surpass XPlay in the future, thanks to its multiple features. If you're after straight ease of use, stick with the more commercial XPlay. But if you have the patience and own a PC that's dying for some iPod action, muddle through this homegrown app.