Sunday, February 10, 2008

To iPod or not to iPod?


If one technological device has changed my life over the last couple of years - it's the Creative Zen Nano Plus MP3 player pictured above. After buying a very cheap no-brand MP3 player two and half years ago to 'see what it does', I discovered podcasting - one of those words you were aware of previously but hadn't taken much account of - a bit like "email" was to me until mid-1995. That first MP3 player would continually turn itself off due to static, so carrying it outside on cold winters day in nylon jacket was pretty hopeless, yet I was hooked on the content so upgraded to the Nano Plus. In the two years since I bought it various radio stations around the world, plus other sources such as newspapers and magazines, have increased the availability of quality podcasts. One of the first things I really missed when I first came to Finland in the mid-90s was having access to all the media I wanted. I was reliant on very crackly World Service shortwave broadcasts and the local Finnish YLE station that rebroadcast international radio services on FM, but not always in English. But with podcasting now I can listen to as much BBC as I have time for, and now not just the World Service - although it still remains my favourite - but also the domestic broadcasters like Radio 4 and FiveLive. It makes a huge difference for me in the 'expat experience' - making my new home and old home feel not very far apart. When I arrive in the UK I really feel that I have missed very little, perhaps the odd TV-celebrity but I can easily live without that part of the zeitgeist. Add to this, I'm now more of 'global citizen' listening to a lot of U.S. radio and bits and bobs from other odd corners of the planet.

But after two years of everyday use, of being stuffed in pockets and dropped repeatedly on the ground - including from a fast moving bicycle on a number of occasions - the buttons on the Nano are giving up the ghost. Sometimes you buy things that disappoint but I can say without reservation that Creative engineered a little piece of perfection in the Nano Plus. Of course with consumer culture being what it is, Creative has since dropped this gem from their range. So I have tried the new Creative Stone Plus that seems to be the replacement but was so disappointed that after about three weeks returned it to the shop and got my money back. It was really unstable - whenever you connected it to the USB cable (which is how it recharges) it would loose it place in the track you were listening to. This maybe isn't a problem when listening to three minute pop ditties on shuffle, but bloody annoying when half way through a 50 minute panel discussion on say, the role of conservative Christians in the Republican primary race! The delete didn't work well either leaving ghost tracks on the MP3 player which it would try to play, and requiring regular reformatting to clean it up.

I've seen something like the Nano Plus, just a slightly bigger and older version being flogged off for EUR 4o in the local supermarket. But then I'm also tempted by the 4GB iPod Nano but that is also four times the price at EUR 160. My MacBook has been a great success since one friend persuaded me to make the jump to Apple, but do I need an iPod? What makes them so great? They don't even have a built in microphone which is a superb feature in my Nano that I now use for every interview I do for work, allowing me to have all the interviews as MP3 files on various computers. Oh - decisions, decisions...

Help me out dear readers. Any iPod owners please tell me if its is good or not. Are their any other Mac users out there who have a good non-iPod MP3 player that they love? I've had a look at some Sony and Philips and Creative ones but most seem to only have software that needs Windows...

It is perhaps a reflection that we have charmed lives in the first world that we get to worry about such things, but there you go. I am embracing the pointlessly consumerist and rapaciously capitalist side to my existence and really getting some angst going over this. Help me out please!

4 comments:

Katie said...

Like you for years I've had a Creative mp3 player, it gave up the ghost about 2 months ago. I spent ages deciding what to go for as a replacement, in the end I went for an 8gig iPod nano. It didn't have the radio I wanted, but I ended up buying the adaptor. SOmehow unlike 4 years ago when I had to make the same decision the Creative players weren't such a great deal.
I don't think I'd go back now, I can manage what I put on my iPod far more easily than I could with the Creative player, and doing every via iTunes is just so easy.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

Thanks Katie. I kinda guessed that the iPods probably have the best management of the whatever you have on them - and I like the idea of having a much bigger memory so that along with my podcast (and you get well over 24 hrs worth on to 1 GB), I could also have a big chunk of my music collection as well. I used to be quite obsessive over music in my twenties and can still get quite emotional listening to a favourites, but I do it much less so now because its a hassle to go and find the relevant CD and then stay where ever the CD player is. I do wonder if I got a well organised bigger memory player, I suspect it might bring more music back into my life!

The radio on my Zen is so crap, I've just kept on using a tiny sony pocket radio for that so I guess I wouldn't miss that on an iPod, but it would be annoying to have to buy an extra bit to be able to record with it for interviews...

Happy Ipod user said...

My first mp3 player was also a creative. That time having a FM tuner was a must have for me, but like you mentioned, it was pretty crappy. Eventually I gave in to peer pressure (my wife) and switched to an ipod nano (4Gb). I'm MUCH happier with it. I mainly also use it for podcasts and finding podcasts via itunes works fantastic! Also the user interface is much nicer than the Creative. Battery life is pretty good where my Creative just killed a battery in 1 week, even if I didn't use it at all. The only downside I can think of is that it is not as robust. Drop it and you will have some nasty scratch marks. I solved that solution by buying a nice leather case for mine.
Hope this helps Toby.

Quizbo said...

I can only speak as an iPod owner (30GB Photo and later a 4GB Nano), but I've never seen anything with even close to the smart, no-nonsense design, from the exterior down to song access. There's a reason these things have taken over the planet, and having the coolest look in the world is only half the story. They really are just designed so well. I would, like your last commentator, recommend buying a condom for the thing. They have cheap ones that are durable rubber and don't detract from the look or function. As for mic capability, yeah it would be nice to have one built-in, but I was never really bothered by the plugin one I've used. Add to that the seamless integration of iTunes, and IMO you're getting what you pay for and then some.

A side note, but have you checked out iTunes U? Take a peek at "Worlds of Wordcraft" - a literature / computing course at Vanderbilt... almost makes me wish I were back doing my undergraduate now... almost.

BTW - My favorite add-on has to be the tiny AirPlay fully tunable FM broadcasters. I'm not sure, but they may be illegal in Europe... but they're soooo nice. Really opens up the digital music world to be able to broadcast in the car, at parties, etc.

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