Sunday, April 10, 2005

iPod Overrated?

For a tech toy praised up and down as being the "best" MP3 player, how has everyone managed to miss its shortcomings?

I started out shopping for an MP3 player as a Christmas Gift over the holidays and wound up reading hundreds of reviews on all the available players. After much thought I narrowed the features that the player had to have:

1. Support MP3 bit rate of 192 Kbps or higher.
2. Drag and Drop File transfer both ways (no software)
3. Universal File Storage (not just MP3s)
4. User Replaceable Battery (Either Rechargeable or Standard)

The MP3 bit rate is often overlooked except in regards to audiophiles who understand this or just have better hearing? Generally MP3's with a bit rate below 192 Kbps when played on standard audio equipment (stereo) will exhibit numerous sound flaws including the potential lack of stereo sound. Some may argue that on very high end equipment 192 Kbps is still not good enough but I would argue that is the best mix of quality to size. Then of course you have the various encoding formats vs. bit rate but again the average person cannot tell the difference. The iPod supports up to 320 Kbps, so we are fine there.

I then narrowed down the common features that every player had but you would choose based on how you would use the player, debatable features:

1. Rechargeable Battery or Replaceable Battery
2. Harddrive or Memory Stick

This article is NOT debating these two features since these are determined based on personal preference or finances (being able to afford a more expensive player and or constantly buying batteries), how much music you listen or want to take with you, and long term reliability (Memory Sticks will last longer then Harddrives, and rechargeable batteries will fail at some point). Regardless, I was sure I would be buying an iPod and all this research would just confirm what I initially thought. What I found was the exact opposite. The iPod was way overrated.

iPod's Achilles Heel:

1. Proprietary Software - This was a deal breaker, having to use proprietary software such as iTunes is just unacceptable, especially when it is completely unnecessary. Could you imagine if Microsoft released the mPod and you had to use winTunes to transfer the files to the player? There is absolutely no excuse for this. To make it worse files can only be copied one way with iTunes. Are you kidding me? You cannot take your iPod to a friends house and copy songs off of it or too another player. Yes there are hacks but this is not the point, numerous other players feature Drag and Drop both ways WITHOUT iTunes or ANY software.

2. Nonreplaceable Rechargeable Battery - Keyword is "nonreplaceable", at least not for the average user. Anyone that knows anything about electronics and rechargeable batteries is that at some point they will fail and need to be replaced.

This whole fiasco was brought to light a year and half ago: yet I never heard about it until I started doing this research and I am sure MANY iPod owners are unaware as well. Since that site went up iPod changed their battery replacement policy (below) and have improved the battery life on the new models to 18 hours.

Apples Replacement Policy:

Out-Of-Warranty PricingPrice includes:

Repair: $249.00 USD Replacement: labor, parts, and a 90-day guarantee on materials and workmanship, plus $6.95 USD shipping. $255.95 USD total.

Battery Service: $99.00 USD: labor, parts, and a 90-day guarantee on materials and workmanship, plus $6.95 shipping. $105.95 USD total.

Still, the iPod's battery is not easily replaceable by the end user. Excuses for this such as player size and design are unacceptable. Nor is it that other popular players feature the same bad design. My point is there are good players that do not.

Recently on vacation I found the iPod (and its variants) the most widely used and talked about MP3 player (which compelled me to write this). No one seems to know the shortcomings of the iPod, nor how massively overrated this player is. Simply put no one does any research. I recently heard on the morning news an anchor say, "Most people don't realize you have to install and configure software to get songs onto MP3 players" Unbelievable! Not only is this overrated player spreading huge misconceptions about MP3 players it is setting socially acceptable standards on bad design decisions.

Update:After extensive use with the interface I can honestly say it is one of the most idiotic and unintuitive ways to use a device. Moving in a circular motion to go up, down, left and right through menus is beyond maddening and nothing more then a trendy gimmick for Apple to show off their touch sensitive interface pad. I will never buy a device with unintuitive controls.


bikuta said...

I'm actually not a huge fan of the iPod because of it's shortcomings as well. In its defense, it was one of the first MP3 players that allowed you to charge it via bus power. I don't understand why that isn't a standard feature on most MP3 players.

Andrew said...

Alot of players are good enough including the iPod but is it Overrated? Yes. Is it the "Best" MP3 Player? No. This is the whole point and what the article is about. All the players turn on, let you get music onto them somehow and you can playback the music. This would be considered good enough, right? So what makes a player better then another? What makes a player the "Best"? The fact that the iPod has blatantly obvious and IMO inexcuseable flaws in comparison to other players makes it overrated.

Andrew said...

Or I can use another player like the iRiver H10 (one example) and not need any software ever. Using third party software other then iTunes is NOT a solution. Not having to use software at all is.

Andrew said...

"It is amazingly sad that you bought everything that ipodsdirtysecret put out without doing any reasearch into THEIR background as well.

They wrote that when their ipod, which was over 2 years old, failed well out of warranty, and apple refused to repair it (obviously, since it was out of warranty). They wrote that piece out of revenge, even after knowing the disadvantages were to the ipod."
--> No it was 18 months after they bought it and Apple would repair it but for over $250.00. Literally days after the movie was published the battery policy changed.

"You also fail to point out that you can buy the extended warranty for $50, which will cover the average replacement point of the batteries."
--> Who is dumb enough to buy extended warranties? Why not just make the battery user replaceable at a reasonable cost say $25.

Who cares about iTunes DRM? I get all my music ripped off my CDs not any online store. If use standard encoding you don't need any databases and simply drag and drop the files. I love how fanboys blindly defend having to use iTunes software.

If you did simple research you would have got a player that doesn't require proprietary software to move MP3s around.

Andrew said...

Do you think Apple will ever admit that they changed their policy because of an Internet Protest Movie? Compare the date the movie came out with when the policy was changed.

They bought a new iPod because at the time the replacement policy was outrageous and they did it BEFORE they made the movie.

If you know anything about warranties or worked in retail, extended ones are for suckers. Companies like Best Buy spend a large amount of time and training showing employees how to get people to buy them. Oh and read the article AGAIN using a "design" decision is not an excuse for the lack of the battery being removable. Other players have it removeable wihtout compromising the design.

Since you are a sucker for extended warranties it does not surprise me you would be suckered by iTunes.

Check with Apple and ask them if you can do what you want with the iTunes software, including manipulating it and releasing it, then tell me it is not proprietary.

Wether a proprietary database system is better then others for music searching is debateable and not proven.

"The iPod has its disadvantages and advantages, but it's hardly what you try to make it out to be. If it were truly junk as you and other iPod bashers try to make it out to be, it wouldn't be the best-selling MP3 player around."
--> If you continue to try and put words in my mouth your posts will be removed. I never said the iPod was junk and I am not going to argue why. End of conversation.

Andrew said...

"this is crazy. use ephpod in place of iTunes, and do a search for ipod batteries. you'll find tons."
--> Did you even READ the article, I don't want to use ANY software and being able to buy third party batteries has nothing to do with the iPod's bad design of not being able to replace the battery easily.

Lonney said...

Andrew said...

"Wow! NO SOFTWARE AT ALL? How do you do that? Sigh. Even if you're dragging and dropping, YOU ARE USING SOFTWARE"
--> I don't play semantics games here. You know what I mean. I am not going to engage in useless debates about word usage or what I meant.

--> Who cares I don't want to use ANY software. Either read the article or don't post pointless responses.

Andrew said...

For the drag and drop feature to work on the iPod you have to have iTunes installed first.

The Delawarean said...

So I gathering that iRiver is my best alternative to iPods if I didn't want to purchase an iPod.

Any other takers that I should consider for drag and drop rechargables?

What do you guys think of Dells?

Andrew said...

iRiver are currently the best all round and most versatile HD MP3 players, especially the H10 as far as minis go. There are quite a few companies making decent Flash players like Creative and their MuVo TX FM series.

The Dell DJ requires software to be installed first and I found it lacking in other areas.

Kevin said...

I hate the iPod Shuffle.

no screen!?

Andrew said...

Did you even read the article? This is not about aesthetics. This is about using your brain when you purchase technology. There are plenty of other players out there that appeal aesthetically to people. Everyone is different and what they prefer in regards to aesthetics will not be what someone else likes.

All you proved are that people are ignorant and don't understand technology. They are clueless about DRM, batteries and computers in general.

Your sad excuse that people "think" the iPod is cool is not an excuse to be ignorant about technology.

Try reading the article and commenting on IT not some nonsensical irrational rant about people "thinking" the iPod is cool, falling for peer pressure and all the apple marketing.

Anonymous said...

Yes they are overpriced and overrated. My sister's ipod won't load most of its pictures, they come up black no matter how many times she submits them. I have contacted apple three times asking for help on this and they never reply.

Half the time my sister puts songs on the Ipod they don't show up. It is difficult to name the songs through Itunes, it gets jumpy and clicks off so it takes forever to name a custom cd with the correct artist.

The earbuds are cheap. I had two free black pairs identical to them come with a cheap dvd player I bought. For 300 dollars we can't get any better?

Also, no belt clip. Even the 100 dollar mp3 players usually come with those!! Heck my mini fm radio came with one and it was twelve dollars.

Oh and to use the Itunes store you MUST have a credit card. So if you have a giftcard or free song download from starbucks but no credit card you can't do anything with it. (US problem only apparently.)

I had a good amount of free downloads from starbucks and just threw the cards out. They are useless. :(

Why don't wall chargers come with the Ipod? We aren't spending enough as it is?

OK my rant is done lol. Apple does the minimum and not even that. Once you buy the Ipod, you're stuck and they know it.

I hope Zune is better. Has anyone tried those yet?

Anonymous said...

Also Apple has finally replied after a week. In order to get the Starbucks Free Downloads, you must enter your credit card.

Guess they aren't free then huh? The cards should say this on the back and they don't.

Climate Realist said...

You can replace the battery on an Ipod- I've done that on my gen 3 iPod twice. The battery works fine and on mine started to lose charge only after dropping the iPod on the floor (concrete while it was playing) a few times (accidentally!) However the battery is most definitely replaceable. Frankly after the abuse I've given it in use, I'm amazed my 5 year old battered Ipod is still working!

I Tunes does allow drag and drop and using ipod access (OSX) you can retrieve the tracks back from the Ipod.

Andrew said...

This post was about the Gen 1 iPod. The iPod Gen 3 battery is not designed to be end user replaceable regardless of if people have replaced it and is still a design problem. None of the iPods are drag and drop with Windows Explorer without iTunes - this is my point if you read the post. My criticism remains.

Matt Rohn said...

I understand that the iPod works well, it plays music, and, to some people, the control scheme makes some sort of sense, it is "good enough" for the sort of people who just want to play some music. But the controls could be much better, you shouldn't need software to move files around, and AAC only thing is just crap. But the iPod's main selling point is that it is small and looks cool and slick.

But however "good enough" it is, there are better products. I have a Cowon A3 and when I pull it out of my pocket the first thing people yell is "Holy ----! That thing is freaking HUGE!", but then they see the video quality and they're just blown away. When they hear that they don't need software like iTunes they're confused, and completely amazed at the enourmous list of filetypes it can upport.

MP3 players and PMPs should realy be more performance oriented, and less about how the device looks.

Henry said...

My very first mp3 player was an ipod mini my aunt bought for me for graduating college. It was alright, but it didn't take long before the battery meter started messing up and it wouldn't even take much of a charge. It would read half full and just shut off on me.

I researched online and bought a Cowon iAudio X5, the audio quality was freaking amazing, it showed up on my computer as an external storage drive so I could drag and drop directly to it (back and forth, too), it had an FM radio, while I didn't listen to the radio much it did present an option.

I also liked the Creative Zen (slim 16 GB version) later, too.