Cheaper isn’t always better

By Gus Bode

Although easily concealed, its presence is detectable by the telltale thin, white chords leading from an inside jacket pocket up to one’s ears. A godsend to many and a lecturer’s competition for the attention of his or her students, the Apple iPod has become the most popular selling high-capacity digital music player.

With the influx of similar products being put out by rival electronics and computer companies there comes a greater market to choose from. Some of the factors that cannot only make models more appealing are options, specific functions and over-all, price. While looking at the long row of different types of mp3 players the choices are many, and thus it can become somewhat confusing as to which model is right for a given individual.

The fourth generation of the signature iPod weighs 5.6 ounces and comes with either 20GB or 40GB of memory. The 20GB model sells for $299, while the 40GB model goes for $399 according to Apple.com. With the ability to store upward of 10,000 songs, the signature iPod became a highly desirable item after its first generation release in 2001, and has only grown in popularity ever since.

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But there are those who think they can rise to the challenge and get in on the digital music market. Companies like Rio, Samsung, Dell, Gateway and iRiver are offering products, which offer many of the same features as the signature iPod, and at $100 less than the Apple product.

But is cheaper necessarily better? The iPod has a more sleek design than most competitive models, and can display one’s itinerary, address book and houses various games to help pass the time. Aside from design, some of the competitive models feature built-in FM radio or even a mini microphone.

While iPod works through the iTunes music software for both PC and Mac users, the majority of its competitors are chained to the Windows operating system. New York Times reporter David Pogue noted in his article, “State of the Art; For iPod, 6 Flavor of Flattery,” that the Dell and Gateway models are considerable heavier than the iPod.

Another key feature that Apple Campus Representative Justin Davis noted about the new generation of the signature iPod is that the kit comes with a new tri-axis accelometer, which is a feature that comes in handy in case the device is dropped. The accelometer detects a sudden change in velocity and “parks” the hard drive.

When the hard drive parks that means it retracts the internal heads back from the platters inside the hard drive. This way, the impact won’t force the heads against the platters, causing them to break. Most competitive models don’t have that type of technology, which is also being placed in the newer Apple Powerbooks.

Once an individual decides he or she wants to invest in a digital music storage device, there comes a need to not only find a method of getting songs onto the device but also the necessity to get a hold of songs in the first place. To accomplish this iPod, iPod shuffle, iPod mini and iPod photo come with the iTunes program for Mac or PC.

While iTunes users can download music at $.99 per song, non-Apple devices come with software to allow its user to rip songs off CDs and use other songs downloaded online, even ones done so illegally. While an iPod still allows its user to download music and copy songs from CDs, Davis said the iTunes program has certain advantages over other programs like MusicMatch.

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“iTunes is nice and clean. MusicMatch installs spyware on your computer,” Davis said.

Davis also said online shareware programs such as Napster which offer “Napster to Go” at $14.95 per month with unlimited downloads are fine for people who use Windows, but if someone uses a Mac, “Napster to Go” won’t work, since Windows XP is required for it to function.

While manufacturers like Samsung, Dell and I-River are trying to catch up with the iPod and iPod mini, the iPod shuffle has broadened the playing field even more by providing an mp3 player that is approximately the size of a pack of chewing gum. At the BestBuy.com quoted price of $99 for the 512 MB (120 songs) or $149.99 for the 1.0GB (240 songs) version, is giving the competition something else to strive for in technology. The iPod shuffle, because of its size, can be worn on an included lanyard around the neck or just about anywhere else considering its size.

Davis said when the iPod first came out a lot of people didn’t anticipate Apple would branch out and go into the realm of portable digital music, but he saw it as something that had great potential to become a major technological breakthrough.

“I thought, ‘This is going to be something big’,” Davis said.

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