iTunes & iPod Review

by Charles Flanagan, posted 01 October 2006

Well, I've been using iTunes for a last month or so, and I must confess that it is the best (though not perfect) music player I have used. I only used it for a day or two before I made it my default music player. (not the default in the settings, but the player I use most of the time.)

It has several features that I never really considered, which I find very nice.

First is it lists songs with “The” in the title under the first letter of their proper name, i.e. The Doors are listed under D. This means I no longer have to label artists as “Doors, The” and avoid having a HUGE number of artists listed under the.

Crossfading. I didn't know what that term meant, but once I used it, I would never go back. Crossfading reduces the volume the last few seconds of a song, while simultaneously beginning the next song at a low volume, and slowly bring it up to regular volume. This is especially nice, as it avoids the gap of silence that sometimes results when a song was encoded with a few seconds of silence at the end of it. Unfortunately, this is a feature the iPod lacks.

Tag Editing. iTunes has a decent interface for Tag Editing, which is nearly a hobby for me. All the info I would like to edit is presented in an accessible format. It even lacks that ability to name multiple tracks the same name, which was a bit of a problem for me in the past, as sometimes using my previous software I would inadvertently give all the songs in one album a the name of a single track. iPod has no sort of tag editing, though tag editing on the iPod interface would be cumbersome. Then again, it would be convenient to be able to correct small errors on the iPod, rather than have to go searching for the track once your back in front of your computer.

It has CD look up, which works automagically, and I wasn't given the option to confirm if it had found the correct album, nor could I find a setting to turn it off.

It does however seem to lack track look up for MP3 tracks. Mostly I would use that (on MusicMatch) to try to find album art, but it was hit or miss (the database is poorly maintained. Some tracks are accurately labeled, while others are mislabeled, or given some really odd made up genre). Also, MusicMatch, which originally had a free tag look up feature, disabled tag look up in a later version, and only made it available to users of the pay version. I REALLY hate when they remove features and then offer to sell them back to you.

CD burning. CD burning works exceptionally well, as the interface is quite intuitive, and there are NO limitations. MusicMatch (Free version) would limit the burning speed (and perhaps even the number of times you could burn CDs, the first 5 are free).

Info display. iTunes allows you to display a HUGE amount of information on your music, including play count and date last played, which I would think would mean iTunes is capable of avoiding repeating songs too often.

Actually I would say that iTunes is better than the iPod, though of course iTunes isn't as portable. The iPod lacks crossfading, and the shuffle feature is poor (just like MusicMatch). I keep hearing the same songs over again, while other songs haven't been played yet (after a month of listening on the train).

Also, there are a lot of things that the iPod cannot do on its own, making iTunes pretty much a requirement (I could use alternative software, but I am unsure if I would be able to access the iPod settings). Things like whether the iPod displays album art can only be turned on using iTunes.

Podcasts. Podcasts are just a marketing term for recorded content, which is often in a radio show format. Podcasts can be downloaded from a large number of sources, but they can also be scheduled for automatic download by iTunes, including getting new content when it becomes available.

As with everything Apple, they make a lot of good features, but there is usually only one way to do anything, so if you don't care for their “design choices” you are SOOL. For example, the iPod will only let you set shuffle for the entire iPod. So while there are sometimes when I want the iPod to be set to shuffle (like listening to music), there are others (like listening to a radio show) where I don't want the shuffle option on. I think the shuffle setting doesn't apply itself to videos and podcasts.

Also, it seems that some of the software is not intuitive. I had a hard time figuring out that the display artwork settings had to be set from iTunes.

One feature, that seems pretty good, but it seemed to make some presumptions is the volume leveling setting. This is so that the volume of all your songs are similar, so that you don't get some songs playing at a really low volume, while others are exceptionally high. Set it to level the music volume, thinking it would do so on my music collection (on my computer). It did so on my iPod as well (during some “downtime” when I wasn't actively using iTunes, but it was playing a song), without me specifying that I wanted it done on my iPod. Either it's a convenience, or Apple imposing what they believe you want done on you and your iPod.

One other strange thing about the iPod is that when you transfer over a play list (you cannot make play lists directly on the iPod, even through iTunes), it transfers over all the songs in that play list, so that it may create multiple copies of the same song on the iPod.

Also, there is NO option anywhere on the iPod or iTunes to delete songs from the iPod. Doing so is easy enough, but not completely obvious. The only way to do it is by selecting the track and pressing the “delete” key on your keyboard. A delete option is missing from the right click menu.

There is an option called Synchronize, which will keep only the same songs that are on your iPod in your music collection, deleting songs from your iPod that aren't in your music collection. I believe this also works in reverse, which would delete songs from your music collection, which is a VERY bad idea in my opinion.

The control wheel takes up a large portion of the front face of the device, which could be used for a larger screen. The lack of any “bumpers” and the well known scratch prone surface cry out for a case.

Of course, iTunes itself also has some short comings.

Several of those short comings are due to Apple removing features. It's a Tivo Effect, where they originally release the product which is makes the customers interests a priority, but as they get complaints from companies (RIAA?), the features are slowly eroded, making a lesser customer experience.

One of those features that were removed a long time ago was Download, which would allow you to copy your music from your iPod to you computer. So using iTunes, the iPod cannot serve as a music back up. There is alternative software which seems like it will allow you to copy your music to any computer you wish, but I haven't tried anything beyond the trial, and that was before I installed iTunes. After the trial, of course, it cost money.

iTunes also allows you to listen to internet radio, which is rather mediocre. I haven't found an overwhelmingly good station so far, while I found some pretty good stations with MusicMatch. One radio station I am listening to right now, is supposed to be an 80s station, but for some reason they played the Kingston Trio, a folk group that played in the 50s and 60s!

Also, iTunes will not let you skip over songs when listening to the radio, which MusicMatch does.

And it seems that iTunes has a LOT of commercials compared to MusicMatch. And most of those from MusicMatch seemed to be for you to upgrade to the pay version, while iTunes are just regular commercials.

Also, there doesn't seem to be anywhere to “preset” (i.e. save) your favorite radio stations.

One other thing is that the ONLY way to switch to the mini player is through the menus. You would think there would be a button for that.

Also, iTunes seems to lack skins. While the mini player is functional, I would prefer a bit more information (like displaying album art) and a better looking player. The gray colorless interface looks like an iPod from several years ago, out of date for owners of the last two generations of color ipods (or computers, which have been capable of displaying color for decades.

Ratings:

iPod
85% — Still probably the best player out there, but a bit over priced, considering it's lack of physical extras.
iTunes
89% — Probably the best music player around, but with a few short comings that keep it from being exceptional.