Wednesday, 23 November 2005, 12:51:58 EST
I have written before about SmartBodies. What I didn't write about is the music that is played in the facility. Most of the people that use the facility are older people; either people from the surrounding community or faculty/staff from the university. As such, the music they play in SmartBodies is horrible. They don't want to offend the older people by playing good music so it is mostly bad 80s music (and I like a lot of 80s music!) and other random stuff that isn't entertaining. They do have Sade's greatest hits album in the CD changer but it hardly ever gets played and it really isn't exercise music, to me, any way. I had to do something about this so I bought an iPod nano.
I have been using the iPod since the beginning of October. It has made a tremendous difference in my workout; basically, it has made the activity bearable. Even if there wasn't plenty of research available showing music to be influential in exercise intensity, I would still claim that music is necessary for me to work out. I need something with a good beat to keep my mind occupied and get me moving. That is not the point of this post, though.
The point of this post is to review the device. I have done this once already on a forum I run. I wrote the review after having the iPod for about a week. I am going to copy and paste that review here and then add a little to it at the end. So, here is the review:
I have been using mine for a week now so I figured it time to give some impressions.
It is damn pretty and is a good size. It slips into a pocket very easily and doesn't get in the way. There is a problem with it though, the surface scratches very easily (which I am sure you have heard about by now). I ordered an Invisible Shield for it but didn't have a chance to put it on until this past weekend. Since I wasn't able to apply the shield (more about that in a minute), which I received in the mail on the same day as the iPod, I left the plastic cover on the front of the iPod. This prevented the front from getting any scratches but the back picked up a few. The scratching wasn't too bad but I would certainly be upset to get them on the screen.
Good. I believe the only sound degradation noticeable is because of the lossy file formats (MP3/AAC). If the MP3/AAC file sounds like shit on a PC then it will sound like shit on the iPod. If the file doesn't sound like shit on a PC then you will not notice any difference from the iPod.
The earbuds are decent. They have a typical frequency response for cheapo earbuds which matches the frequency response that the actual unit can produce. My problem with the earbuds is the styrofoam covers that come with them. The covers slip off very easily and they cover the 'L' and 'R' designations on the earbuds. Because of the slippage, the earbuds always feel like they are going to fall out of my ears; especially when I am working out. The fact that they cover the ear designations is mildly upsetting. I can still move the styrofoam to the side to see which bud is which, but I would rather be able to just glance at them and put them in. The plus to these earbuds is that they are much, much, more comfortable than the Sony earbuds I have had for a couple of years. I will still be looking for suitable replacements, though.
This basically comes down to one of two questions: 1) Do you like the way iTunes manages music? or 2) Can you get used to the way iTunes manages music? Without getting into a longwinded discussion about my digital music organization history I will give a brief "yes" to the second question. I have never been a fan of "playlists" since I like to listen to albums, but I am coming to terms with the fact that no one else seems to listen to music this way any more and I will just have to live with it. iTunes revolves around the playlist mentality and if you are going to be using iTunes to manage your iPod (there aren't too many other choices) then you will encounter this full force. When you first connect your iPod you are asked if you would like to let iTunes manage the playlists on your iPod automatically or if you would prefer to do it manually.
There are plusses and minuses to both methods. Initially I decided to manage the music on my iPod manually and the podcasts automatically. I have since decided to let iTunes manage specific playlists on my iPod automatically. That is, I choose the playlists I want it to put on the iPod in the preferences and it will ignore all other playlists. I switched to this method because iTunes and the iPod keep track of certain data like number of times a song has been played and how you rate the song (out of five stars). If you manually manage the iPod then this data does not sync between the iPod and the PC. Since I am trying to get used to the "iTunes way" I want to use all the features. There are scripts to take care of this problem but that is a lot more work than it is worth. By selecting the playlists I want iTunes to put on the iPod all I have to do is connect the iPod and all of that data is synced without any other interaction on my part. Spiffy cool but there is a problem. If I want to add an album to the iPod I have to do it via iTunes' preferences; even though I have my iPod playlists in a specific iTunes "folder" I can't tell iTunes to use all playlists in that folder. The folder hierarchy does not carry over to the preferences pane.
A note about the podcasts. iTunes and the iPod will not mark a song as played until after the song has finished playing. Not so with podcasts. As soon as you press play on a podcast the file is marked as having been played. Since I have iTunes setup to automatically manage my podcasts on my iPod and to only keep the ones that I haven't listened to yet this poses a problem. I have to fully listen to a podcast on my iPod before I reconnect it to my PC, otherwise iTunes will remove it from the iPod and delete the file. This is can be a bit annoying. It should look at the last played position, which it remembers by default on podcasts, and if it has been completed at least once before performing this action. If the play position is still in somewhere between the beginning and the end of the file it should not delete it. This is one I absolutely must report to Apple as feedback.
Sort of genius. I must say, the click wheel takes some getting used to. It is very sensitive and acts in an analog manner. The faster you move your finger (I highly recommend that be your thumb) around the wheel the faster the menu selector or jog shuttle moves. So, you can quickly skip past songs in a list, blast out your ear drums, and skip way past sections of a track. Overall I like the interface and the wheel. It is much different than any other MP3 player I have used. The interface is very polished and feels more like software than some archaic thing devised just so the thing will be usable. No complaints on this one other than the sensitivity.
The Invisible Shield
This is really a requirement in my opinion. The company claims it was devised by 3M or some such for use on helicopter blades. Whatever. It does, however, seem to stand up to their claims of being awesome. The material feels sturdy and, having applied it, I no longer feel that I have to gingerly lay the iPod on surfaces for fear of scratching. If you want to keep your ipod nice and shiny I highly recommend picking buying this product and applying it as soon as possible. They ship very quickly (day or so in the mail).
That being said, the product is a pain in the ass to put on the iPod. You can read through http://www.theinvisibleshield.com/application.html, and particularly the link at the top of that page, to see what I mean. I thought the product was going to be a single sleeve like thing that would snuggly fit over the iPod; possibly slipping on through the bottom. Instead, it comes in two pieces, front and back, that you must literally apply to the iPod. The problem is in lining up the front and back with the edges of the iPod. I didn't do a very good job (it might have had something to do with my hangover at the time) so now there are a couple of edges on my iPod that pick up pocket lint. I will have to reapply the stuff when I get some extra time to sit down and fiddle with it.
Any way, if you are looking for a good MP3 player this it. It has made working out at Smartbodies a helluva lot easier (good music motivates and moves you) and is enjoyable to listen to while walking around. Getting used to iTunes really the only drawback to this thing. The 4GB size is plenty. I am only using 1.12GB right now and I have six full length mixes (some two hours), thirty-three various songs, and five podcasts on it.
There are only a couple of things I would like to add to that. 1) The earphones are garbage. They worked well for a while but blew out very quickly. I have since replaced them with a cheap pair of Sony earphones. The new earphones stay in my ears much better, are easy to distinguish left from right, and are not Mug Me White. 2) I have to reset the iPod about once per week, sometimes more. There are times when I plug it into my laptop and the laptop doesn't see the device. The iPod recognizes that it is attached to the computer but the computer won't see it until I reset the iPod. It is also unresponsive some mornings until I press the center button; when I press the center button it starts up from a completely off state like it had been reset. I imagine this is just the device having completely shut off, after having been asleep for some time, to save battery power.
The headphone issue is annoying. I can't believe they have released five generations of the regular iPod now and still haven't done anything about these headphones. They are complete crap. The reseting thing, I can live with it. It is a small inconvenience that isn't difficult to do. I have had the iPod reset once while listening to music, which in turn lost my position in a podcast, but that has only happened once. Overall the device is solid. It is a good buy if you are in the market for a portable music player.
One more thing, I have added a new item to the code section and made a change on the music page. The code addition is just a small patch for a game query API; I should have posted it a long time ago but never got around to it. The change on the music page allows you to listen to the MP3s without downloading them. This feature is brought to you by the fine folks at del.icio.us; they wrote the code and made it available for others to use. Please, if you like the songs, download them. If this little feature ends up eating too much bandwidth I will have to remove it. I just think it will be nice if you can preview the track before saving it.
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