My 160-kbps files sounded much more robust than the music from my typical running mate, an FM radio. Still, my outdoor demands are less stringent than at home. When I hooked up the iPod to my stereo system via its headphone jack (there's no separate line output), the sound wasn't quite as good as the original CD.
Besides downloading tunes from a Mac's FireWire output (like other MP3 portables, the iPod won't let you upload music to a computer), the iPod's single six-pin FireWire port also charges its lithium-polymer battery. (Apple supplies a cable and AC adapter so you can plug it into a wall outlet if need be.) I found that the iPod fully charged in less than 4 hours and played for more than 6 hours (with volume set halfway and backlighting disabled) before requiring a power fix. The iPod's drive is in motion only a fraction of the time, since bits are transferred to a solid-state memory buffer, which helps conserve power as well as provide shock protection. In several runs, each lasting 40 minutes or longer, it never skipped a beat.
The iPod's battery is embedded, so you don't have the option of taking along spares. Apple claims that the battery will function for about four years, by which time it expects that the idea of carrying around only 5 GB will seem so quaint that people will have replaced the player anyway. Maybe so, but companies are rarely so blatant about planned obsolescence.
I'm sure Mac fans are glad to have an example of superior technology to hold over the Wintel hordes. But let's be realistic: spending $399 on a peripheral isn't the same as buying into a whole computer system. Still, hats off to Apple and its innovators. Thanks for raising the design bar and giving other manufacturers a lead runner to try and catch.
Apple - www.apple.com, 800-692-7753
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