Round 1: Is The iPod All It's Cracked Up To Be? (Debate)

I welcome you to the inaugural GoodGearGuide debate, which gives you a chance to watch as two of our staff members duke it out over a specified topic. Today's subject, "Is the iPod all it's cracked up to be?" In the blue corner we have Ross Catanzariti; Apple fanatic and iPod extraordinaire. Guess which side he'll be taking? Whilst in the red corner we have Dave Jansen; proud owner of a Rio Karma, a player so obscure it is not even sold in this country anymore.

Dave landed the first blow:

Dave: At GoodGearGuide we tend to have MP3 camps. Ross Catanzariti is an iPod fanboy while I can't stand Apples MP3 player monopoly. When I bought my MP3 player I purposely avoided the iPod. I cannot stand the iPod and the way it has infiltrated the market. Its emphasis on looking pretty outweighs its features. I want an MP3 player that delivers superb audio. I want it to play lossless audio formats, I want gapless playback and I want it to be simple to use. The iPod does none of these things.

I know people love that stupid scroll wheel but I despise it. I own a Rio Karma, which I consider to be the best MP3 player ever made. It has all the features I just listed, works perfectly, pumps out the best audio I have heard in an MP3 player and plays FLAC files. That's right, FLAC. It also has a simple interface and powerful playlist tools like the RioDJ, able to make automatic playlists on the fly based on a wide range of selectable parameters.

Since this is an older Mp3 player and was made in the days before MSC MP3 players became the norm, connecting it to a PC isn't as simple as an iPod but I'm willing to sacrifice that for better build quality. The Rio screen doesn't break when you breathe on it either, the player is sturdy and even rubberised for protection. You dont have to buy special cases or screen protectors for the Rio. The iPod is a fragile little thing and nothing that costs as much as the iPod does should break so easily. I now pass this debate to Ross, who will try and convince you that his iPod is awesome, don't be fooled though, he's wiley....

Ross: Unfortunately, Dave is one such person who is unwilling to pay a little extra money for style and class - two things which no other MP3 player on the market can compete with the iPod in. Dave is also purposely avoiding the iPod simply because of the hype these little beasts create and the amount of people who own one.

The reason Apple has a monopoly on the MP3 market is because their iPods are smartly marketed, the products themselves appeal to a wide range of people and are simple to use. You may not like the look of them Dave, but the 10 billion people (yes, I'm exaggerating) who own one and are responsible for Apple's mass market share in this product area do, so obviously that tells you something, doesn't it?

To say that the Apple iPod isn't simple to use and doesn't provide quality audio is absolute nonsense. The iPod interface is simple, intuitive and can easily be operated by even those amongst us who are technology illiterate. In addition to this, the Apple scroll wheel is far and away THE BEST control system on any MP3 player ever invented. Add to this superb software in iTunes, quality sound and easy transferring of files (from a PC or MAC) and you can start to see why the iPod is quite clearly number one.

Dave, I bought my iPod nano months ago and my screen did not break. I've sat on it multiple times. It hasn't broken. I've dropped in on the train. It hasn't broken. Yes, I've got a protective case, but that's because my iPod is a product that I would like to look after. If you don't look after it, of course it will scratch and deteriorate.

The Rio Karma is sooooo great that you can't even purchase it in this country anymore. The screen isn't colour. It can't display album art. It doesn't have a scroll wheel. And it lacks style. You see Dave, if it was an Apple product...

Dave: You will see the way my esteemed colleague has avoided the real questions and instead floundered about in prose and adoration for an obviously flawed product. He has attempted to dazzle you with claims upon claims without any evidence to back it up. Degrading himself to accuse me of being cheap is underhanded when it is clear that I don't care about price when quality is assured. The cost of the Karma is low because it is only found on Ebay, if it were available today at the same price as the iPod, i would still recommend it to people who want a real MP3 player.

Apparently what makes the iPod great is the colour of the screen and being able to display album covers; that's funny, I thought it was an audio player? I guess audio quality doesn't count for much these days... it is a shame so many people can't see past the iPod marketing to see it for what it really is, a mediocre player, made from parts supplied by the lowest bidder. Any self respecting audiophile will laugh when told to purchase an iPod just as I did when looking at my options.

Now, poor Ross may have had a chance at convincing me that Apple is better if he hadn't included iTunes as a selling point. iTunes is a virus; the worst kind of virus too, its one you willingly inflict on your PC allowing it to infiltrate your operating system and take over. It runs programs in the background sucking up precious system resources, even when you aren't using it. What's worse, when you try and uninstall it, it remains, stubborn and unwilling to leave. There is another type of program that is like this, it's called a virus. You can't even browse the iTunes network without installing their software and when you do, the songs are there but unavailable to download. Why are songs even in their database if they don't have them to download? Oh that's right, then they can claim to have millions of songs when in actual fact it's probably only 5 or 10 (now I'm exaggerating).

I will agree with only one thing Mr Catanzaritti has said and that's the fact that iPod is smartly marketed. Apple has done a brilliant job of misdirection, dazzling people with something that looks attractive with one hand while robbing them of features and quality with the other. I will not agree that the control system is the greatest ever, I still detest it but each to their own, I guess.

If you care about quality steer clear of iPod. Besides, who wants to be a sheep anyway?

Ross: Unfortunately Dave, you are wrong yet again. Making foolish statements like "the iPod is a flawed product" with no evidence to support this isn't saying much on your part. The Rio Karma is an ugly, unnecessarily chunky MP3 player, with a poor control system and worse still it isn't even available for sale in this country. Your average consumer who is looking for an MP3 player doesn't want to search overseas for a second hand product without a warranty.

A "real" MP3 player plays MP3s. That's what the iPod does and it does it quite well. FLAC files and gapless playback is good in theory, but in reality, there aren't too many people who are going to make a decision on what player they will purchase based on these two largely irrelevant points.

What makes the iPod great is not Album Art display or the colour screen. It's the simplicity and stylish design, the easy to use interface and the hassle free connection to a PC or MAC with excellent software. There is also NOTHING wrong with the audio quality of this product. Sure, the headphones that Apple include in the package are rubbish, but most people change them anyway and this problem isn't iPod specific.

Your comments on iTunes are again, way off the mark. iTunes is not a virus. It is an excellent program which allows quick, easy and hassle-free access to your iPod and your music collection. It also supports both Windows and Macintosh, which many other MP3 player software does not provide. Just like the iPod, iTunes utlises a simple interface which is easy for anyone to pick up - yes, even someone who has never used a computer before wouldn't have any problems.

You see Dave, you aren't looking at this from the perspective of the average consumer. An everyday consumer wants a simple, hassle-free MP3 player and software to play their music. The iPod and iTunes provide this in a stylish and classy package and it is unsurpassed by any other MP3 manufacturer - evidence of this supported by the mass iPod market share. People want to walk into a shop and purchase the product right then and there, not have to go hunting for second hand products on the internet. And Dave, I do feel for you when your Rio Karma does finally have its day. Obviously with no support in this country, fixing it could be quite a hassle...

Overall, the iPod is a quality product with a stylish design and unique, unmatched control system. It also has all the features you need in an MP3 player. When I bought my iPod I paid for quality, style and ease of use, three things that Apple clearly has a current stranglehold on in this cut-throat market. And for good reason...

So, what do we think? Are you swayed one way or the other? Why not reply, let us know what you think.

For my part, I would like to point out the iPod is capable of offering supreme sound quality, but at a price. There is a mod that can be performed on an iPod known as the red-wine mod, which greatly improves the sound. Red-Wine modded iPods are the choice of audiophiles across the web.

What I can conclude from the above debate is, it seems to be a battle of style and ease of use versus functionality. Depending on what you want from your player, an iPod may or may not be the right choice. Personally, I own the Sony NW-HD5 for it's superior out of the box sound quality, slim form factor and incredible battery life. It all comes down to your needs.

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Andrew Kliem

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