- The Washington Times - Monday, December 3, 2001

"Woke up this morning, got a blue moon in your eyes," or so sang A3 as I sat down at the keyboard. The sound is nothing short of brilliant I'm hearing notes that I've not heard in other renditions of this song, made famous by the TV show, "The Sopranos."
The sound is coming from something the size of a pack of cigarettes, the $399 iPOD from Apple Computer. Currently available only for users of the Macintosh operating system though that could change soon the iPOD is likely going to be one of the top gifts this holiday season, and something you should investigate even if you don't ever see yourself as owning a Macintosh. (Call me and let's talk about that, will you?)
There's a 5GB hard disk drive at the core of the 6.5-ounce iPOD, and it's that drive that holds the music you download from your Mac (I used a PowerBook G4 in testing the system). A further 32 MB of RAM provides get this a 20-minute buffer of music as protection against skipping should the hard disk get jostled as you move around.
Apple advertises the unit as being capable of holding 31,000 songs, which Apple says translates to about 66 hours of four-minute songs at a bit rate of 128 kilobits per each MP3-formatted tune. MP3 is the standard format for digital music these days (Microsoft's efforts at promoting the Windows Media Archive format notwithstanding), and "bit rate" refers to the amount of information transferred in a second. The higher the bit rate, the better the quality of sound in playback. A rate of 128 kbps is considered the minimum for good music reproduction.
"It's been one week since you looked at me," the Barenaked Ladies are now warbling at warp speed. The sound is amazing. Or did I say that already?
In something this small, replaceable batteries would be a burden and probably would be ineffective. Thus, the unit is powered by a lithium-ion battery that delivers 10 hours of playback between charges. An AC power adapter is included, and it connects to the iPOD using a FireWire cable.
The same cable connects directly to a FireWire (or IEEE 1394-standard) port on the Macintosh. When connected, the iPOD fires up Mac-based software called iTunes. The software can "rip" songs from a CD, file them and transfer the items to the iPOD. Apple claims a full CD can be transferred to the iPOD in 10 seconds because of the speed of FireWire versus the Universal Serial Bus (USB) connections PC-based music players depend on.
In my case, I had a bunch of MP3 files on a Windows-based PC and wanted to move these over to the iPOD for testing. This involved copying the MP3 files to a couple of CD-ROM discs using a CD "burner" in the PC, then downloading the files to the appropriate directory on the PowerBook. Before I even had time to customize a playlist, the iTunes software had shoved all my music something like 400 songs and the like onto the device. I was ready to roll.
You can modify the iPOD playlist from the computer it took me a few clicks to get to the right place, and then it's a matter of dragging items from the playlist to the trash can in order remove items. Separately, you can play back music from the iPOD through the computer and its speakers, keeping tunes off the hard drive if you prefer. When connected to a Mac that is "awake," the iPOD will draw some power from the host to recharge its battery.
There is a move afoot to bring the iPOD to Windows with a software product called xPod, from Mediafour. The software would make the iPOD work under the Windows Media Player, among other things, and all you'd need is Windows ME, 2000 or XP and a FireWire port. (Some Windows machines have this; notably desktops from Compaq Computer Corp.; for others, it would involve adding a plug-in board at a cost between $20 and $100, depending upon desired features. More details on the xPod software can be found at www.macdrive.com/ products/xpod/.
It's tough to find too much to disapprove of with the iPOD device, and in case I didn't mention it the sound is utterly amazing. Put this on your holiday list, or, better still, avoid disappointment by ordering one yourself. Details on the product can be found at www.apple.com/ipod/.
Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to MarkKel@aol.com, or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark on www.adrenaline-radio.com every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m. EST.

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