Evolution

I finally cracked and bought an iPod. I’ve had my Creative Nomad MP3 player for over 6 years so it was time . . .

mp3-evolution.JPG

I’ve gone from 6GB Creative Nomad to an 8GB iPod Touch . . . from the dark ages to the light . . . but how do they shape up?

Battery

When you consider that the batteries that the Nomad (aka DAP) shipped with never actually worked at all (there was an afterthought slip of paper in the box which detailed some elaborate procedure that you had to follow the first time you charged them — naturally nobody did) then this is a clear win for the Touch. Apple’s spec claims 20+ hours of music-only playback and although I haven’t drained it, the thing looks like it’s got the minerals. I’ve turned off the wireless too, to conserve a wee bit extra juice.

Device Interface

Another thrashing for the Nomad I’m afraid but I concede it is unfair to compare Apple’s 2007 touch screen with the tiny, dim glow of Creative’s 7+-year-old steam-powered LED. It is a revelation however, to be able to point and push as oppose to fiddling with three hard-coded buttons, using the Nomad’s interface is like withdrawing money from a cashpoint wearing mountaineering mittens.

The Apple’s screen has been criticised by some for not rendering black as true black, but it’s no big deal for me, I bought this thing for the music mainly — it’s nice to have photos and to be able to set your own background but truthfully I’ll worry save worrying about image quality for when I get my HDTV (I hear Firmware 1.1.1 for the Touch has fixed this).

I was genuinely surprised to see that the Touch’s famous interface has been ported from the iPhone (aka the brick) nicely and actually works almost seamlessly. You can pinch, flick and roll just like all those paunchy blokes in dodgy polo necks on Apple’s marketing videos do. The accelerator that converts the display to coverflow when you hold the Touch sideways works well, although I notice it can sometimes forget what mode it’s in on the odd occassion — not really a problem.

Song selection is scarily easy with the Touch. The fast locating alphabet down the right hand side of the song listings is a pretty good and it’s even clever enough to ignore extraneous the’s; in other words if you want to find The Strokes you tap ‘S’ and not ‘T’.

Features

The Nomad’s good stuff: recording capabailty (quite high bit rates possible), external volume control, good sound quality.

The Touch’s good stuff: looks very good, easy peasy to use, lightweight.

The Nomad’s bad stuff: high boot time whent he disk is full.

The Touch’s bad stuff: TBC

Durability

A hard one to test but from looks alone I can see the Nomad would stand a fighting chance if you dropped it from 2 feet up. The touch looks like it would shatter into a thousand pieces. Also, the polished metal rear of the Touch has already lost it’s shiny newness and has picked up a scratch or two. Will this be the pain that stops me getting the new version when it comes out?

Software

To use the iPod Touch you need iTunes 7.4 or higher and this, I’m afraid to say, is a step backwards. I’ve been using iTunes 6 for the past year to organise my MP3s and once I’d upgraded to 7.4 not only was I able to manipulate the Touch but I also had my entire library turn up as ‘unknown’ in the iTunes track listing.

Now I keep my MP3s on a 300Gb USB drive which obviously is problematic for iTunes, because if you start up iTunes before you’ve fired up your external drive then iTunes thinks the lib is trashed and defaults to looking in your home dir or somewhere similar. The thing is, iTunes 6.0 could handle this ok, once you’d started up your USB disk or stick, you simply went to Edit -> Preferences and changed the location of your lib to be whatever drive label the OS decided to give your storage. Alas, with 7.4 this doesn’t seem to work and if anyone knows of a way to force iTunes to re-reconcile song entries in the datbase with actual files on disk then I’ll be eternally grateful because re-adding tracks or using the ‘locate a file’ feature takes fuhevva . . .

. . . which may have something to do with an apparent memory leak. I’ve noticed that prolonged usage of itunes 7.4 with the iPod connected results in a slowing down of my machine. Grrr.

Creative don’t get off scott-free in the software stakes. Their so-called organiser suite is one of the worst examples of bloatware I’ve ever seen. Megs of disk space wasted on stupid skins and useless features.

Both devices however, suffer from having a reliance on software in the first place. It would be far easier for customers to be able to simply add tracks using explorer or equivalent.

Of course I haven’t touched upon the store feature of iTunes, but it’s not something I’m likely to use until Apple up the quality and lose the DRM. I’m aware of Mr Jobs letter of some months ago wherein he pleaded for a bit of understanding re. DRM (it’s the music labels’ fault) but now that we have Amazon.com with its $0.99 high-bit-rate songs and no DRM, the march has been well and truly stolen . . . I wonder if I’ll ever need to buy a track from iTunes now?

Comments

2 Responses to “Evolution”
  1. Jonny E says:

    As I’m sure other people will rush to tell you, Paul, the iTunes Music Store does sell DRM-free music from EMI. But only EMI. The reasons for the DRM has always been at the insistence of the record labels, and not Apple. Amazon, as you correctly point out now sell a fair number of tracks DRM free, and this is to be applauded. However, this is basically at the behest of the labels who wish to break the iTunes ‘monopoly’ on selling digital music. It’s by no means an act of philanthropy on the part of Amazon or the labels. The long term strategy of the labels has always been variable pricing – less for the newer music, more for the older back-catalogue.

    Until now, iTunes has been in the dominant position to demand equal pricing for all music, which in a digital format is sensible. Storage costs for new and old music should be pretty much equal, therefore so should the costs. You could argue, cynically, that the reason the labels wish to have variable pricing is so they can continue to push the latest bland pop acts at low prices, build up a following and then charge more later.

    As a music fan yourself, I’d be interested to hear your views on this. And somewhat sadly, DRM seems to be becoming more prevalent rather than less. If we _must_ have DRM, and I’m far from convinced we must, I’d rather have Apple’s implementation than, say for example, Microsoft’s… (cough, iPlayer, cough)

  2. pcoletti says:

    My own feeling is that ultimately DRM will die out. Jobs wants it gone (See here.) and the labels are still resisting . . . for now. However, for reasons I mention here the end is already in sight. Power is shifting from the labels back to the artists as they realise that CD/MP3/Vinly/Cassette sales are not going to be their primary source of revenue any more. In the link above I reckon live performance will become key (as once it was in days of yore) but it could well be something else like songs on demand . . . there are plenty out there who’d pay The Proclaimers £3,000 for a bespoke written-to-order, wedding song. How about £25,000 for a Madonna birthday chant?

    Whatever happens, the artists will not want their music downloaded with secrets. Of course there will be some stragglers and die-hards who refuse to give in (the BBC iPlayer being a good example you spotted) but if artist-power is the jab then hacker power is the right cross. I predict that iPlayer’s DRM will be hacked within 12 months and the Beeb will release a fix . . it will be hacked again etc etc . . repeat for about two years until some enlightened executive decides it’s easier to give folks what they want unlocked than to take 12-year-old kids from Uzbekistan to court.

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