Triple Test: iPod Grinds Competition into the Dirt


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Apple's revampled iPod has beaten out the Rio Riot and Nomad 3 to win top honors in a shootout published by the San Francisco Chronicle.

In the SFC's comparison, neither the Nomad nor the Rio can match the iPod "either in size or ease of use."

The big breakthrough, the SFC says, is Apple's announcement at MWNY to market the iPod to Windows users, employing MusicMatch as the MP3 conduit from PC boxes.

Where the SFC gets its fact wrong, though is on FireWire v. USB 2.0. While they're right in saying that USB 2.0 is now appearing on most new PC mobos, the notion that USB 2.0 is "slightly faster" than FireWire is just not correct. As a number of published tests have shown, USB 2.0 peripherals, like early iterations of FireWire, are not yet optimized to max out USB 2.0's bandwidth.

The SFC article itself demonstrates this point, by stating that a full CD which took 6 seconds to move to iPod took 8 minutes to get to a Nomad using USB 1.1.

The comparison praises the Apple touch wheel on the latest iPods, as well as its lower prices and slimness.

The Rio, which also has 20GB of storage, like the high-end iPod, doesn't fare nearly as well in the comparo. It's twice as thick as the iPod, and weighs 10oz, versus just over 7 for the iPod. Nomad loses points for poor ergonomics - which extend to bad port organization in the placement of the USB port and headphone jack. For this, the Rio loses by design.

The Nomad 3, at a not-inexpensive $400, does have features the iPod doesn't, the article notes - with capacity even extending to 40GB for the price of the 20GB iPod ($499).

Equipped with both USB and FireWire, the Nomad, which works only with certain versions of Windows, can do direct recording from CD without a PC, and also features line in/out.

But it's heavy - more than 10oz even without batteries.

Conclusion? iPod's in a class of its own.

Analysis: The analysts are right: there's a $1 billion market for iPod out there and, the good thing is, Apple can reinvest a big chunk of that into our next Power Macs, PowerBooks and iMacs. And Windows users will have paid for it. Delicious irony, somehow.